Fair compensation: Step 1 on the journey to improved retention

If you’re looking for the number one way to keep quality team members from leaving your practice, start by looking at their paychecks.

By Kristen Green Seymour

Experiencing high turnover in your practice? A quick glance at the payroll might offer some insight into why. 

According to AAHA’s 2023 Stay, Please study on the factors that support retention and drive attrition in veterinary medicine, a lack of fair compensation isn’t just the top reason people leave their jobs in clinical practice—it’s the top reason by a huge margin, especially for the roles that traditionally make the least in a practice. (In fact, the study found that fair compensation was nearly twice as important to nonveterinarian roles as it was to the DVMs who were surveyed.) 

But the role of compensation doesn’t end there.  

It’s also a strong driver of retention. It’s not the number one retention factor for any individual role, but it does rank second or third for certain team members (associate DVMs, credentialed technicians, practice managers, and medical directors)—and, across all roles, it ranks as the fourth most important factor in making people want to stay. 

So, what we’re saying here is that money matters. It matters when it’s done well . . .  and it really matters when it’s not. 

Here’s how various roles in vet med ranked fair compensation as a retention factor that keeps them where they are: 

chart from AAHA's stay please retention study

And here’s how they ranked fair pay as a factor that drives them away from their jobs: 

Chart from AAHA's stay please retention study with fair pay ranking

What’s fair is fair—or is it? 

Now, realizing the importance of paying all team members appropriately is a tremendous first step, and so is acknowledging that “fair” with regard to compensation can be a bit subjective.  

Obviously, fair compensation for a veterinary assistant with little experience looks different than fair compensation for a practice manager who’s been in practice for a decade, and an associate veterinarian with a few years under her belt will probably have a different idea of what fair compensation for her work should be. 

What doesn’t change, though, is the fact that “fair” should be determined by the market you’re in and the person doing the work—not by the practice’s budget. And, aside from the fact that one could argue that paying working professionals (at least) a living wage  is the right thing to do, “fair” is not determined by the financial need of the team member in question.  

That doesn’t mean you can’t take those things into account when deciding who gets a raise, of course. Your practice’s budget has an obvious impact on what you can offer—and there may be times when you must consider a team member’s financial situation in order to make sure they can stay.  

But, when it comes to your budget, making tweaks (like optimizing technician utilization) to increase profitability can go a long way in making those salary bumps an easier option.  

And, when an employee seeks a raise because of their own financial needs, providing them with a clear path for career advancement (in which higher wages are tied to certain skills and responsibilities) can help to ensure raises are merit-based, even when they’re initiated by the employee. 

Throughout April (and beyond), we’ll share expert insights and tips for: 

  • Determining what fair compensation is 
  • Conducting a compensation audit 
  • Creating a tiered pay structure with clear opportunities for development and advancement 
  • Identifying opportunities to save money within your practice 

Stay tuned to NEWStat, Trends, and our LinkedIn feed, where we’ll be sharing additional findings, interviews with subject matter experts, and more—through April and beyond. 

 This article is part of our Stay, Please series, which focuses on providing resources (as identified in our Stay, Please retention study) to retain the 30% of all veterinary professionals considering leaving their clinical practice. Here at AAHA, we believe you were made for this work, and we’re committed to making clinical practice a sustainable career choice for every member of the team.  


Kristen Green Seymour is AAHA’s Copywriter and lead writer on the retention study research. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.   



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