2023 Vet med hiring and retention trends

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The global pandemic and the Great Resignation have contributed to the most severe shortage of talent that I’ve witnessed in my more than 25 years of working as an executive and veterinary recruiter. And now, as we come to the end of 2022, one of the most intriguing questions on people’s minds is, “What does 2023 hold for the veterinary profession in terms of hiring and retention?”

2023 Veterinary job outlook

Before we get to the answer, allow me to set the stage for where we are. Veterinarian jobs will grow by 19% between 2021 and 2031, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook updated by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in September. In terms of raw numbers, this projection translates into between 15,000 and 18,000 veterinarian openings that will go unfilled by 2031.

According to another report released by Mars Veterinary Health earlier this year, there will be a shortage of 15,000 veterinarians by the end of the decade. However, the updated numbers released by the BLS makes the Mars projection quite possibly a best-case scenario.

Considering these latest statistics and all that has happened during the past few years as well as what I’ve seen and experienced “in the trenches” of the job market, I have put together these hiring and retention trends for veterinarians in 2023.

5 Veterinarian hiring and retention trends for 2023

#1—Salaries are rising dramatically.

This is the law of supply and demand in action. When something is in demand and there is a short supply of it, then it becomes more valuable, and by extension, more expensive. Let’s start with the fact that I’ve seen no offers accepted by a veterinarian in the past year below $100,000 in base or guaranteed salary. In addition, new veterinarian graduates—and even students who have not yet graduated—are asking for $100,000 to $150,000 in salary and receiving it.

I’ve seen general practice veterinarians with three years of experience or more asking for at least $140,000 plus production. I’ve seen emergency veterinarians asking for $200,000 or more. The reason: They say they can earn more money with relief work, so the salary has to make sense to take a full-time position with a single employer. Offers on both coasts are up to between $250,000 and $300,000 in some cases for experienced doctors who are medical directors.

The law of supply and demand also had an effect on ProSal. We used to see ProSal in the range of between 18% and 22%. Now we’re seeing it in offers to candidates up to 25%.

#2—Almost 100% of offers include a sign-on bonus.

Typically, the sign-on bonus is in the range of $10,000 to $20,000, but they’ve been increasing toward the end of the year. We’ve seen more $50,000 sign-on bonuses lately, and there have even been some bonuses in the $100,000 to $250,000 range, especially if the candidate is willing to make a multi-year commitment to the practice.

While a great company culture and superb employer branding can go a long way, an employer will also more than likely have to shell out a sign-on bonus to hire its preferred candidate.

#3—Work schedule is very important in offer packages.

As you can see, candidates know they can get the money they want. Since that’s the case, they’re also negotiating for the schedule they want. In fact, the things that we see get negotiated the most often are paid time off (PTO) and money for continuing education. Employers must accommodate the schedule demands of veterinarian candidates, and those demands include:

  • More doctors are requesting not to work weekends.
  • Four-day work weeks. Some practices are saying 32 hours per week is full time.
  • Some doctors are requesting to work only three days a week.
  • PTO offers are averaging three weeks and some, up to four weeks.

Because salaries have increased so dramatically, some candidates are willing to negotiate on salary in order to get the work schedule they want.

#4—Noncompetes are becoming more unpopular.

This, perhaps more than anything else, is a reflection of the veterinarian shortage and the leverage that candidates have in the job market. Some veterinarians are refusing to accept noncompetes, and in a trend that might have been unthinkable at the beginning of the century, there are employers that are willing to pay to defend veterinarians in court who signed noncompete clauses and agreed to join their organization anyway.

In short, if you make an offer to a veterinarian, don’t automatically expect them to sign a noncompete clause as part of their acceptance. They may not agree to it.

#5—Veterinary professionals are continuing to change jobs more frequently.

Although the Great Resignation isn’t in the news quite as much this year, workers are still quitting in droves. You might not think that’s the case, with high-profile layoffs at companies like Facebook and Twitter, but the number of people voluntarily quitting their jobs has remained steady.

In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the country was averaging 4 million quits per month through the first nine months of the year, putting it on track with 2021. Not only that, but the share of unemployed Americans who quit or voluntarily left their jobs and immediately began looking for new employment rose to 15.9% in September 2022. This is the highest reported level of so-called “job leavers” as a percentage of the unemployed since 1990.

In addition, according to data from LinkedIn earlier this year, Generation Z is switching jobs at a rate 134% higher than they were in 2019. You read that correctly: The number is 134% higher, which means more than twice as frequently as they were just a couple of years before—and they were already changing jobs rather frequently.

What does 2023 hold for the veterinary profession in terms of hiring and retention? According to the BLS and other sources, the same things that it held for the profession in 2022: stiff competition for talent—and that’s why employers must be prepared to meet these challenges and overcome these obstacles, now and in the future. Keep in mind that everything you do to successfully hire a veterinarian can be done to retain them. First and foremost, as indicated above, any practice that is paying their veterinarians less than $100,000 in guaranteed base salary is at risk of losing their doctors—unless they are also willing to negotiate on work-life balance factors such as PTO and work schedules.

Stacy Pursell is a Certified Employment Retention Specialist and Certified Personnel Consultant with more than 25 years of executive search and recruiting experience in the animal health industry and veterinary profession. Reach out to Stacy at thevetrecruiter.com.

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