For technician retention, money matters

It’s not all about the Benjamins, but a lack of fair compensation is the top driver of tech turnover. However, meeting the financial needs of this role might not be as big a stretch as you’d expect.

By Kristen Green Seymour

Fair compensation matters—and while AAHA’s recent study on the factors that impact retention and attrition showed that a lack of fair compensation is at the top of pretty much everybody’s list of reasons for leaving, it’s particularly important to certain roles, including customer service representatives (CSRs), veterinary assistants, and credentialed technicians. 

When vet med doesn’t pay the bills 

This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Many of us would argue that techs in particular are chronically underpaid for the crucial work they do. In fact, according to a 2022 demographic survey by NAVTA, even though over 70% of credentialed technicians have earned an associate degree, one third of them hold a second job (often a full-time one).  

That’s not a choice these working professionals are making because they don’t know what to do with their spare time. That’s a choice they’re making because they love being a part of veterinary medicine, but too often, the work they do in clinical practice doesn’t pay enough to pay the bills. 

(No, really. According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, the average living wage for a single adult with no children in California is $56,825.  

In Colorado, it’s $51,644.  

Even in Missouri, where the average living wage for a single adult with no children is $42,024, once you factor just one child into the equation, that amount jumps to $71,239. Add another child to this Missouri-based adult’s life, and the average living wage is over $90,000.) 

Tech pay on the rise 

The good news is that, between 2016 and 2022, the average annual vet tech salary increased about 25% (from $41,600 to $52,000). That’s promising, but when we’re looking at salaries so close to the living wage for a single adult with no children in many states, that means practices aren’t just competing against other veterinary hospitals when it comes to compensation—they’re up against countless jobs in other industries, many of which might offer more money along with shorter hours and less challenging job requirements. 

Why all the tech talk? 

The credentialed technician isn’t the only role for which low pay is an issue; assistants and CSRs also fit that bill. However, we’re focusing on credentialed technicians in this article because of key findings from two separate AAHA surveys. 

First, there’s the recent Stay, Please study on retention and attrition factors, which found that this role is statistically more likely than assistants or CSRs to plan on leaving their current job but remain in veterinary medicine, either in a different practice or in another type of job within vet med.  

That indicates that these folks are committed to veterinary medicine and they don’t want to leave—they just want to find a way to put food on the table without needing to add a second job to the mix. 

Techs are hard to replace 

Second, a 2022 AAHA industry survey designed to capture how those in the profession viewed the future of vet med (including growth and hiring, the nature of changes in the profession, tools for future success, and impediments to future goals) found that credentialed technicians were statistically more difficult to replace than assistants or CSRs.  

The survey found that, on average, a credentialed technician job position remained open for over a year (12.8 months) after being posted.  

In comparison, DVMs took even longer (14 months for a part time/relief position and 15.4 months for a full time DVM).  

Veterinary assistants and support staff positions remained open for 9.7 and 9 months respectively. 

What it takes to keep a tech 

It’s important to remember that compensation, alone, isn’t the solution. Credentialed technicians who responded to the Stay, Please survey named the ability to practice modern and/or sound medicine, along with being part of a staff that works as a team as top factors inspiring them to stay.  

And, while a lack of fair compensation was by far the top driver of attrition for techs, opportunities for career development and advancement, appreciation for work, and caring or inspiring leadership were also key factors in the decision to leave. 

Still, in addition to being the No. 1 attrition driver and No. 3 retention factor for techs, compensation has the benefit of being concrete, and while it might be challenging for some practices to find room in the budget to increase their tech’s salaries, it’s arguably the most tangible factor we can address. 

And fortunately, that 2022 AAHA industry study revealed not only how much technicians believed they should be paid for their work, but also how that number compared to how their colleagues responded. 

By the numbers: What “should” techs be paid? 

First, let’s keep in mind what NAVTA found—that the average annual salary for credentialed technicians was computed as $52,000, and the median salary was $45,700. 

Overall, respondents to the 2022 AAHA survey said they believed credentialed technicians should be paid $57,063 in order to match their responsibilities in practice. Here’s how the responses broke down by group: 

What other job roles believe techs should be paid to match their responsibilities: 

  • Technicians and assistants: $61,711
  • DVMs: $55,335 
  • Practice managers, hospital admins, and medical directors: $54,631 
  • CSR/line staff: $49,667 

When credentialed technicians say that fair compensation is important, we need to understand that these valuable members of the team aren’t looking for a $50,000 raise. They’re looking for wages that match their responsibilities. The average response, across all roles, is just over $5,000/year more than the current average salary. That’s not unreasonable, right? 

Of course, it’s also not pocket change, especially for practices that are already running on a tight budget and would need to find the money for multiple technicians. However, the fact remains that increasing compensation for the quality employees already on staff is a simpler, kinder, and less expensive option than losing those team members. 

Finding the money: Increase tech utilization 

Understanding what fair compensation looks like is one thing; actually paying it is another, and one of the most important changes a practice can make on the journey to improving compensation for techs is to increase tech utilization. Practices where veterinarians rarely perform tasks that credentialed techs can take on show an average revenue increase of 36%.  

And, aside from making the practice more efficient and profitable, technician utilization is closely tied to job satisfaction, which aids in retention efforts. 

The 2023 AAHA Technician Utilization Guidelines include practical tools for implementing optimal tech utilization, including goal worksheets, workflows by role for everyday clinical examples, utilization assessment tools, and more.  

In addition to optimizing technician utilization, practices may want to consider implementing tiered pay with clear descriptions of the skills and responsibilities tied to each tier, ensuring that higher wages are directly connected to quality work.  

Follow up next month in Trends 

Interested in learning more ways to provide a higher salary for technicians? Keep an eye out for the May 2024 issue of Trends, which will feature an illuminating interview with Karen Felsted, CPA, MS, DVM, CVPM, CVA, of PantheraT Veterinary Management Consulting, who shared additional tips for increasing practice profitability to ensure there’s money to pay people appropriately. 


Kristen Green Seymour is AAHA’s copywriter and lead research writer. 

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.  

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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