Boost your income without losing your mind

Any veterinary professional willing to ‘work smarter’ is probably more than capable of offsetting some of the financial woes headed our way 

It might be time to go on some interviews. It can give you an idea of what you are worth and help you decide if you want to stay where you are or move on.
It might be time to go on some interviews. It can give you an idea of what you are worth and help you decide if you want to stay where you are or move on.

Inflation, interest rates, gas prices—none of these are headed in a good direction as of late. Sure, gas prices might be turning around as of this minute, but no one driving anything but a Tesla is holding their breath for anything but continued financial pressure from this and almost every economic sector.

Warmongers, politics, weather events, pandemics…There is a lot of blame to spread around, isn’t there? Add in your specific circumstances (a new baby on the way, a wedding you have been putting off, the higher interest on your credit card debt, your crazy-expensive commute, etc.) and it is no wonder you worry about expenses.

Yet, when it comes to considering our incomes as a potential solution, many of us tend to slack off. We assume working just a little bit harder to offset our rising expenses is too stress-inducing, inexpedient, or just wishful thinking. Perhaps you believe harder work in the context of your salaried existence is fundamentally fruitless and struggling to eke every last penny from your every working minute is mindlessly Sisyphean. Alas, it doesn’t have to be that way!

As veterinary professionals, we are fortunate enough to work in an industry that currently offers plenty of opportunity for upward mobility. While getting ahead may mean significant change for some of us (a geographic move, a change in employer, new hours, or even heading back to the classroom), veterinary medicine currently remains in the spotlight as an industry with an upward trend.

There is no doubt about it. Despite economic pressure on all fronts, most veterinary practices in almost all major metropolitan U.S. markets are still bustling workplaces where veterinary workers are in short supply. Any veterinary professional willing to work harder—or just smarter—is probably more than capable of offsetting some of the bigger financial woes possibly headed our way.

Sure, I’m an incorrigible optimist. I’ll own that. However, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Here are some ideas I will throw your way in case you are feeling a surge in your willingness to think positively:

No. 1: Relocate yourself

Is it time to move on to a new job (not necessarily in another city)? Be honest. Make a list of pros and cons. Have you outgrown your practice? If you are at year one to five, you probably have. Making another switch once you hit your full stride may be necessary, too, especially if you are the kind of person who truly evolves (I sincerely hope this is all of you).

Right now—during this pandemic semi-lull—seems like a great time to me. New hires are being offered more than you might imagine (with a little negotiation, often well beyond what you see in the ad listings). Veterinary professionals who have not switched it up in a long while and feel overworked, underpaid, and undervalued, are in an excellent position to find a job where they can hit the re-set button and secure excellent terms you might have thought impossible based on Indeed alone.

This is especially true if you have been working in a corporate setting and you have maxed out your earning potential in your desired role at your company. Perhaps you would like to consider independent practice, where the bonuses are not typically capped and the percentage bumps can go higher and arrive more often. Think about it. Especially if it means a more painless commute, better health insurance, or another cost-saving benefit. 

No. 2: Renegotiate your base pay

Have you tried this yet? If you haven’t in well over a year you are past due for the conversation. It might mean getting out there and taking a couple of job interviews so you can come back to your employer with a better understanding of what you are actually worth, but there is no better time than now to get your butt out there on your only day off (I know it hurts) and check out your options. This way you will have less fear and more leverage when you sit down to hammer out a deal.

No. 3: Restructure your compensation

Base pay can be hard to renegotiate in some areas and at certain kinds of practices. A lot of time, it is because employers do not want to justify your higher base relative to another key employee. Yet, it doesn’t mean you cannot work something out.

  • Squeeze out an increased percentage point on your bonus compensation (or even a half-percentage point).
  • Ask to be paid bonuses monthly rather than quarterly (this typically means a bigger bonus payout).
  • Suggest some kind of benefits to offset your scariest expenses (a gas allowance, for example).

You would be surprised at how far creativity can get you with an employer who really wants to keep you happy, but cannot offer you the moon.

No. 4: Realize your bonus potential

Let’s say you are not able to get a better deal in a place you’ve made your home. No worries. You still have options in the bonus department:

  • Spend a weekend brushing up on your cytology so you can get excited about doing more FNAs, skin scrapes, ear discharge analyses, tape preps, and the like.
  • Are you running bacterial confirmations on your suspicious urine samples? Enough fungal cultures?
  • Recommend new telehealth specialty services to your employer.
  • Consider honing your surgical, dental and/or local anesthetic skills at the world’s least expensive wet lab (a.k.a. watching YouTube while practicing).

There are so many ways you can increase your bonus potential—even just by paying more attention while taking histories and performing physical exams. When all else fails, read Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher for help negotiating with clients, employers, and everyone else in your life. When your incentives are properly aligned and effectively utilized, your employer, your clients, and your bank account will thank you!

No. 5: Revisit your career trajectory

Is it time to consider going back to school? Perhaps apply for a residency program. Head back to the ER for a spell. What about making the switch to small animal medicine? Getting AVBP certified? Sliding into a management role? Right now might be the ideal time to revisit the bigger picture.

No. 6: Reconsider something on the side

You have done this before, right? Whether you worked a job back in college or had to juggle two jobs early on in your career, most of us have danced the side hustle before. I write columns and make house calls. What does your side hustle look like?

No. 7: Realign your thinking

Finally, try setting your brain to “gratitude” mode whenever possible. You can either choose to come to work feeling like all the crap hanging over your head is about to hit the ceiling fan, or you can arrive knowing you are working in a profession you elected because you love it and choose to be grateful for it.

I’m not saying we can always control how we feel, but we can control how we act. To wit, practicing gratitude—remembering how hard we worked to get here and why we do it—can be instrumental to ensuring we behave in ways that make us more effective at what we do (and happier while we do it). It does not necessarily come naturally, but, as with any other skill, it’s a tool that can serve us well, but only if we continue to use it. Good luck!

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, owns a small animal practice in Miami and is a passionate blogger at Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.

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