How millennials and generation Zers are affecting the veterinary workforce

As the industry transitions to the next generation of practitioners, we can expect to see a rise in ad hoc positions

As people mature and progress into the workforce, the previous generation works to identify differentiating characteristics of their successors (and vice versa), the result of which is a shift in mentality. Consider baby boomers, who were followed by generation Xers, who were followed by millennials, who were followed by generation Zers. No doubt, it’s rather complicated to map out how everyone can be integrated into the workforce collectively and in an amicable manner. No matter the industry, the labour force is in a constant state of change due to the process of adapting and accepting different norms within these generational groups.

The veterinary industry is currently facing an influx of millennials and gen-Zers who are building a significant presence in clinics and hospitals. Consequently, specific market challenges have come to light. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding.” What can be gleaned from this is the preceding generation should use the opportunity that aligns with legacy and practice transferability to write the guide for the generation that is to follow, helping lay out a framework for continued growth and success. In essence, this means mentorship.

When we assess the new wave of veterinarians who have been entering the marketplace, their aspirations are centred on physical and mental health, as well as stability. Conversations with millennial and gen Z veterinary practitioners have shifted to work-life balance, amendments to compensation structures to encourage flexibility, increased vacation time as a perk for tenure of employment, and ad hoc placements. The shift in core values has given way to baby boomer and generation X practice owners questioning how to hire and retain associates and locums effectively.

Changing times

Historically speaking, the career path of a veterinarian adhered to the following road map: graduate from veterinary medical school and associate, or take on a locum position (or both) for a number of years to gain experience. This was followed by settling down and planting roots by identifying a general location as to where one would like to reside and practice. When the time was right, one would purchase a practice to oversee the operations and entrust to a high level of commitment toward serving the general community as best as possible, including options for extended hours to retain strong client relationships.

Times have changed. Achieving work-life balance is the primary goal of the incoming workforce. This has become ever more prevalent, stemming from increasing pressures centred on quality of life. This new wave of veterinarians is looking for flexibility and stress reduction. They reject the preceding generation’s encounter with long work hours, balancing family life, and working in high-pressure and deadline-driven environments. As a result, they are choosing a lifestyle that moves somewhat away from this framework.

Evolution in delivery of care

One of the ways millennial/gen Z veterinarians are working toward achieving work-life balance is by looking for employment opportunities offering flexible hours, which has the added benefit of reducing stress. Some business models within practices provide re-occurring weekly schedules, which includes evenings and weekends. This gives way to the millennial/gen Z veterinarian to lean toward locum or associate opportunities where long-term commitment is not a necessity.

In light of the drive and desire for flexibility, third-party employment market entrants have embraced the opportunity. Companies now exist where a practice owner can post an ad hoc position for a veterinarian to come into a practice for a specific day and time period. The main benefit of this model is that it provides an added degree of flexibility, which also helps with work-life balance.

When we look at the impact of shifting generations, it’s important to understand how this may affect the method of delivery of care, practice valuations, and practice transferability. In terms of method of delivery of care, with third-party-based platforms promoting ad hoc services and associates staying on for a short-term period, clients wouldn’t have the opportunity to build a personal connection with those particular practitioners. This is not inherently a negative, as the key relationship would reside with the practice owner.

We may, down the road, witness an impact on practice transferability, especially with a potentially smaller pool of owner-operator practice purchasers. This may open the door to a higher number of veterinary practice consolidators or investor veterinarians in the industry accessing practices based on niche acquisition strategies.

As the veterinarian industry transitions to the next generation of practitioners, we expect to see the model of delivery of care evolving and a rise in ad hoc positions. Opportunities exist for current practice owners to embark on a path of mentorship with the next generation of practitioners to help ensure continued growth and success

Kathryn Buis is the regional market leader, Healthcare Finance GTA, for BMO Bank of Montreal. She can be contacted via email at Kathryn.Buis@bmo.com.

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