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Evaluating Your Worth

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When applying for a new job, it can be difficult to determine the difference between a fair wage, a greedy wage, and an unacceptably low wage. With experience, you can make an estimate of a good wage based off of your previous salary and awareness of your competencies vs. other applicants to narrow the margins. But where do you start when you're new to the field? In this blog, Vet Locum List will take some of the mystery out of the numbers to help you determine your starting worth. Although the examples are specific to veterinarians, the general principles apply across all disciplines of work.

Know Thyself

When you are planning to discuss wages with your potential employer (or are preparing to discuss a raise, for that matter), it's a good idea to not only have a value in mind, but also a justification for why you believe that number is appropriate. No matter what your case, self-awareness will always be the most essential tool for evaluating your worth. Therefore, in order to be able to determine if you are either being undervalued by your employer, or are conversely overvaluing yourself, you need to be able to sit back and objectively evaluate your abilities, particularly in the following areas:

To be able to determine your realistic worth, it will be helpful to evaluate where you sit in these categories. Remember, you will not be the best out there for each point in the list, and you don't have to be either! If you believe you are a perfect 10 in each category, you're probably already overvaluing yourself to some degree and should get an honest friend or colleague to help you with your critical evaluation. Some of these points will take some time to properly consider, and bigger isn't necessarily always better. For example, speed has a fine line. Being quick in consults is beneficial in bringing in more business per day, but some people who are slower in consults are just taking their time to be thorough with their clients, which can increase client satisfaction and business in the long run. At the same time, where speed in surgery is usually a sign of efficiency, being quick doesn't always equate to being a better surgeon. However, taking two hours to complete a spay isn't ideal either. In this regard, you will want to be able to evaluate yourself to a reasonable standard, which is ideally in comparison to someone with ~5+ years experience making a full and reasonable wage.

Your self-evaluation of your skill set won't be perfect the first time around, probably because you may not be aware or certain of what your ability to do each thing is in regards to day-to-day practice. Don't fret, your general idea will be enough, and if you error on the low-side now, be sure to request a reevaluation in six months when you have more experience to reevaluate your position.

Work-Time Breakdown

Once you have completed this assessment, let's take at a look at how to use it. The following is a generic breakdown for a general and emergency practice veterinarian (each clinic will differ slightly). An experienced veterinarian will be able to complete ~100% of this on their own:

Work-Responsibility breakdown for practicing veterinarians
Focusing on general practice, this mathematically equates to (Vaccines: 1.00 x 40%) + (Simple Medical: 1.00 x 30%) + (Hard Medical: 1.00 x 10%) + (Spays / Neuters: 1.00 x 15%) + (Other Surgeries: 1.00 x 5%) = 100%

However, new graduates will not be able to perform 100% of these components on their own to begin with and will likely need mentorship for a portion of their day. Over the first six months, for someone who needs mentorship for an average of ~15% of the day, your distribution may look more like this based on where your competencies will likely lie from your education:

Example of average new graduate capacity in general practice for the first six months
Mathematically this equates to (Vaccines: 1.00 x 40%) + (Simple Medical: 0.90 x 30%) + (Hard Medical: 0.50 x 10%) + (Spays / Neuters: 0.80 x 15%) + (Other Surgeries: 0.30 x 5%) = 85.5%

In this scenario, a new graduate would be able to do ~85.5% of the work independently, with help needed in irregular spays / neuters and simple medical cases. Significant help will be needed with harder medical cases and surgeries, simply due to your lack of experience as clinical presentations stray from textbook standards. But we're not done...

Mentorship takes time. On average, explaining and teaching takes approximately double the time it would take for your mentor to just do the task themselves. So, for the ~14.5% of your day's productivity lost through being mentored, ~29% of your mentor's productivity is now lost teaching. To put this into context, in the time it takes you to do one spay, it's not a stretch to believe they could have accomplished two. Therefore, for the 3 spays that the two of you could have performed, only 1 is being accomplished in that timeframe. This is the work / mentorship tradeoff. Someone did it for them (hopefully), they'll do it for you (even more hopefully), and you'll ideally pass that knowledge on when the time comes (and it will take up your time up then too!). It takes a lot longer to create a competent experienced veterinarian without mentorship, so taking this time now helps the clinic in the long run.

Productivity loss due to mentorship needs

If you look at the productivity loss due to mentorship, this equates to reduced production between yourself and your mentor. At this stage, this loss of productivity has to come from somewhere, which is most sensible to be reflected in your starting wage. This isn't to say these values come directly from your wage (that's far from legal), but paying you the salary of an experienced veterinarian isn't going to happen either. But there's still more...

Like it or not, time is of the essence! You are going to be SLOW as a new grad. This shouldn't be viewed as a negative thing, everyone starts here, but you need to be able to take this into consideration with your self-evaluation. Your mentor may seem insanely quick sometimes and you don't need to be able to match that, it comes with experience. To start, you'll probably be 50%-75% the speed of an experienced vet. Although this will change with time, it is a fair way to start. However, when you consider that you will only tackle 50-75% of what an experienced veterinarian sees in a day, and can only handle about 85% of these cases on your own to start, well.. you get the picture. In considering this though, if at six months you have demonstrated you can handle everything thrown at you, that's negotiation power in your pocket as well!

Other Important Factors

So there you have it, you may have graduated a veterinarian, but you all shouldn't be lumped into the 'new graduate' category. Your skills, your required or requested mentorship, and your speed will vary depending on each individual person, so you will have to do the math yourself to determine where you stand. In this regard, there are a few other things to consider:

What we provided above is a general breakdown of what to consider, but you can tailor this to where you are applying. For example, perhaps you lack surgical experience, are great with the clients, and are applying to a clinic that has someone specific do the surgeries and only needs you for consults. In this case you are of greater use to them than to a clinic where you are sole charge and responsible for everything that walks through the door. Like any supply and demand market, your worth to the clinic fluctuates based on how much your skill set matches its needs.

The veterinary job market (as with any market) is subject to the laws of supply and demand. If you're looking for work in an area where everyone wants to be, but only one job opens every year or two, you are likely going to have to take whatever is offered to you (within reason). On the other hand, today's market has high demand with little supply, so employer flexibility needs to be higher (also within reason) in order to acquire veterinary staff. In these scenarios, whoever is 'low' on the supply-demand spectrum has the upper hand in their negotiations.

Statistically, veterinarians only stay in the field for ~5 years post-graduation (due to a number of factors, such as burnout, need for change, family creation, etc), which means that ~20% of those salaries are new graduate salaries. What this means is that you shouldn't base your starting salary off of the reported average, but what a full-time, experienced veterinarian is making. For example, the average veterinary salary in Australia is listed as $80,000 per year, and full-time experienced vets can be expected to make $90,000 - $100,000 with good negotiating power. Obviously this will vary on the location and specific needs of the clinic, however if you look around at the job postings and speak to other vets (particularly locums!), you'll be able to gather an impression of the average salary that experienced veterinarians are acquring in that area.

It is human nature to want a lot for nothing, but that doesn't mean it's practical. Desiring a full wage comes with responsibilities. If you have decided surgery just isn't for you, for whatever reason, you can't expect to match your peers in terms of income. Maybe you're happy to do everything asked of you, but like to take a break after each consult to do the most thorough records known to the veterinary world... in the end, your productivity will likely be reflected in your wage.

In considering the business portion of veterinary clinics, it is your employer's job to pay you less to increase profits. This doesn't (necessarily) make them evil, but just indicates they're doing their job. In negotiating your salary, they will have more experience negotiating a salary down and will have reasons to throw at you (not enough money, have to approve it through HR, not approved to go higher than '$_", you're a new grad, etc.) that will coax the inexperienced veterinarian into a lower income. Trusting that you will be offered an equivalent salary to what you're worth isn't a prudent option, so make sure you have done the appropriate research and calculations before your interview. Following the lessons in this blog (as well as following blogs) will set you up well.

Modern Award (an Australian focus)

In creating these blogs, we try to remove our biases and provide only evidenced-based information. However, although we haven't found this statement written speficially, we feel confident in stating that the veterinary modern award values are not sufficient for the population they represent. To our knowledge, the Australian government does not publish their mathematical rationalle for modern awards, however we can do a simple calculation here, contrasing the value with the modern award for nurses (who have arguably had better representation in influencing their wages). As a disclaimer, we are not picking on nurses and believe a good nurse is worth every penny paid, however there are several factors to consider in relation to finanicial cost and duration of education, possessing a doctorate, work opportunities abroad, etc.

At the time of writing this, the modern award for a level 1A veterinarian is $23.93 per hour, regardless of time or day worked. The rate for an introductory nurse is set at $17.70 standard, $26.55 for the first three hours betwen 1pm & 9pm on saturday, $35.40 after three hours, and $35.40 on sundays. Again, this is not to say nurses are overpaid, but to point out that modern award between the two professions is not reflective of the level of training, education, cost, time, legal liabilities, or that without a veterinarian, there is really no veterinary clinic. Veterinary surgeon level 4 (the highest pay level for an experienced veterinarian), falls short of the Sunday introductory nurse rate at $33.85, whereas a level 4 nurse can acquire up to $44.98 on a sunday. To view a PDF of this document, click here (current as of this blog, an updated version is available through the Australian government). It is interesting to note that modern award for human medical practitioners also dictates financial bonuses per hour of work on weekends, demonstrating this is a veterinary-specific issue.

The point of this isn't to stir up a rebellion or to trigger distaste for your field or coworkers (your nurses can be extremely valuable and make or break your practice, so be good to them). The point we're trying to demonstrate is that modern award has been significantly undervalued for veterinarians and shouldn't be considered the gold standard. When negotiating your salary, it's better to look at what's par for experienced veterinarians, then to assess where you stand comparatively.

Final Thoughts

You may have noticed we haven't provided you with a specific starting salary to ask for, and of course, this was on purpose. Where it doesn't take much math to determine that the standards set by minumum wage are inadequate for the profession, providing an alternative isn't within our jurisdiction. Instead we have provided you with the basic principles and tools that you will need to assess where you stand in the field. Remember, you will be the best (and often only) advocate for your own worth, so do yourself the justice of evaluating your worth properly.


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