I’m unsure what workshop has instilled the notion of “perks” to keep employees happy but I have to respectfully disagree with it. I will admit, knowing there is going to be a free lunch after a rough day is nice but I can’t help think of better uses for that money. It seems as though there is always enough money for free treats or lunches but when it comes time to discuss raises or 401k matching the money magically disappears.
I know running a business is not an easy task but I can tell you as a person who started at the bottom it is easy to feel discouraged regarding job security and respect when you are barely paid slightly above minimum wage. In the veterinary clinic, the veterinarians are ultimately the ones who make the decisions and the money to keep the practice open but without the support staff, we could never be as successful. We ask so much of our support staff daily but a lot of the time their pay does not reflect that. Technicians are burning out. They are seeing jobs at grocery stores and fast-food restaurants that are offering higher hourly wages and frankly less stress than their current jobs. A love of animals sometimes isn’t strong enough to keep them in the business. Some of them are getting stolen away by corporate practices that can offer higher wages. Some are just leaving the field altogether.
Recently I created a survey for technicians and shared it with some other clinics to gather data. It was anonymous and had simple questions so I was able to gather this information without bias. The questions ranged from how long have you worked at your current practice, to hourly pay range, and the affordability of living on their own. Out of all of the responses, even with seniority and higher pay, not one technician could afford to live on their own. Most technicians’ pay ranged from $11 an hour to the highest and most senior at $17 an hour. Many technicians admitted to having side jobs, despite working 40 plus hours a week as a technician. All technicians felt severely underpaid for the type of work they are required to do. The majority, but not all, went to veterinary tech school and have acquired sometimes up to $40,000 in student loan debt. Let’s do some math to get the full picture.
Say I am one of those technicians that are paid $11 an hour. With taxes and potential healthcare taken out, I am making roughly $1300 monthly if I am lucky to work a full 40 hours a week. With my student loans at about $300 per month on standard repayment, I have about $1000 dollars left over for rent, utilities, phone, weekly gas and food, and clothing – not including emergencies. In most cities- even rural areas- rent alone can cost between $550-800 for a studio apartment. If you want to save money and find a roommate most two-bedroom apartments can be as much as $1000-1400 depending on the city- not including utilities. If you do the math – every month that person is in debt. For a lot of the younger veterinary technicians, unless you are married or have help from family, you cannot afford to be on your own. Even when you look at the math on the technicians making slightly more, they still are barely scraping by if they want to enjoy their jobs and life.
We complain about not having good help or people who are willing to work the hours we do but we forget how little these people are paid. The lives of many of our patients are in their hands and technicians deserve better. We cut costs with generic medications and discount services for our best clients but when it comes to our own staff we undercut their worth. As with any company, the workers may be replaceable but the people themselves truly are not. Maybe this means we increase everyone’s base hourly or maybe we start treating them like the crucial part of the hospital and start them on a salary? Either way, we need to pay them better and hopefully stop the burnout and loss of good employees. Remember, the business may rely on the veterinarian but without the support staff, we cannot truly function.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Nicole Palumbo is a 2012 graduate from the University of Illinois. She is originally from the south side of Chicago but chose to move to Northwest Pennsylvania for her first job out of veterinary school. She works with small animals, exotics and also volunteers her time at the local wildlife rescue, typically performing surgeries and exams on the many raptors that are admitted to the facility. Recently she has taken a job with an emergency/general practice closer to Pittsburgh. With time she hopes to focus more time on wildlife medicine and also obtain specialization in feline medicine.