Episode 57 – Addressing the Balance Between Profit and People in Veterinary Medicine with Matt Salois, PhD

Let’s be honest. We need to make a profit to keep our practices open. But what is the cost of running a veterinary business without taking your team’s wellbeing into consideration? Today you get to hear the numbers when it comes to recruitment, burnout, staff turnover and all things workplace wellbeing. Mr. Matthew Salois, PhD is an economist who is deeply involved with the people side of veterinary medicine. That might sound like a surprising mix, but Matt provides a valuable and deeply knowledgeable perspective for our veterinary industry. Have a listen and let us know what you think!

More about Matt Salois, PhD
Matthew Salois, PhD is currently the President of the Veterinary Study Groups, Inc. (VSG), where he is responsible for enhancing the economic and cultural success of more than 1,800 veterinary member practices. 

Most recently, Matt was the chief economist and head of the veterinary economics division at the AVMA between 2018 and 2022, where he applied his skills in economics, business, and communication to support the daily lives of veterinarians. 

From 2014 to 2018, he served as director of global scientific affairs and policy at Elanco Animal Health, supervising a team of scientists in veterinary medicine, human medicine, animal welfare, economics and sustainability. His group devised and executed scientific engagement strategy, and built collaborative partnerships with universities, non-profit associations and scientific societies. 

Matt is also an adjunct professor of applied economics at the University of Florida, where he previously taught and advised graduate and undergraduate students. He earned his Ph.D. in Applied Economics from the University of Florida and holds an M.A. in Economics and a B.S. in Health Services Administration from the University of Central Florida.
Find him on Linked In (you’ll want to so you don’t miss his amazing puns!)
More info about Veterinary Management Groups/Veterinary Study Groups

Resources that Matt mentions:

Find out more about The Whole Veterinarian at our new website!
Instagram: @thewholeveterinarian

Stacey Cordivano 0:08
Hey there, it’s Dr. Stacey Cordivano. As a veterinary professional, you can learn to be happier, healthier, wealthier and more grateful for the life that you’ve created. This podcast is here to help you find the resources to do just that. I will speak with outside of the box thinkers to hear new ideas on ways to improve our day to day lives. Together, we will create a community of veterinarians working towards positive change. Welcome to the whole veterinarian.

Stacey Cordivano 0:46
Hello, hello, hope you’re doing well. I’m really excited to introduce you to my guest today, Matt Salois and I connected on LinkedIn a while ago. I had seen him speaking at the AVMA economic summit a couple of years ago and started following him there. And although I don’t log in a lot, every time I do I get to laugh and have a small moment of joy because Matt has the best dad jokes. And so make sure you’re following him on LinkedIn if you’re not already. But he also has a wealth of knowledge and a really interesting background that combines to make what I think is a super unique and helpful perspective on our industry. So formally, let me introduce you to Matt Salois. He is currently the president of the veterinary study groups VSG, where he’s responsible for an enhancing the economic and cultural success of more than 1800 Veterinary member practices. He was more recently the chief economist and head of the veterinary economics Division at the AVMA. He also has a background in higher education and animal pharma all of which helped to create this really interesting perspective on Vet Med. I’m so thankful for the time he spent chatting with me about recruitment, retention, and really creating a more supportive work environment. I hope you’ll glean a new perspective after listening to this chat. I know that a few of my ideas were certainly challenged and expanded. And I’m so thankful to him for that. So please enjoy.

Stacey Cordivano 2:28
Thank you so much for joining me today, Matt. How are you?

Matt Salois 2:30
I’m doing great, Stacey. Thanks for having me.

Stacey Cordivano 2:33
Yeah, I’m excited. I feel like I could talk to you or ask you about a billion different things. But first, do you want to introduce yourself to any listeners that do not know who you are?

Matt Salois 2:45
Yeah, absolutely. Appreciate that. So Matt Salois. I am the president of veterinary management groups. I’ve been in that role for about three months now. going really well. Prior to that, I was chief economist at the AVMA for about four years or so. And before that, spent some time with Elanco animal health. And I’m just really happy to be chatting with you today. Stacey.

Stacey Cordivano 3:09
Me too. Thanks for being here. So I first got to know you through your work at AVMA and the economic summit and things like that. And I find you very interesting, because I know you must be a numbers person. But in everything that you share, you do also seem to have a big focus on the personal aspect of veterinary medicine. And I think that’s a unique and helpful for us veterinarians take on things rather than just being purely numbers focused as some economic people must be.

Matt Salois 3:44
Yeah, yeah. Some folks their eyes just sort of glaze over when they hear the word economics or economists there. And that’s a that’s a fair opinion, for sure. No, but I appreciate that. I think you know, I don’t know how familiar you are or your maybe your, your listeners a number of personality profiling, right. And Insights is one that I’ve come to know and describes people through their colors. And blue is definitely a dominant one for me, which is very analytical and numbers driven and detail oriented. But surprisingly, my dominant color is green, which is just people and engaging in interacting with others there. I love the numbers, but putting into the context of how it can support people just so important and more interesting to me, honestly.

Stacey Cordivano 4:25
I don’t actually know that personality profile, but I love all of that stuff. So now

Matt Salois 4:31
you’ll have to look at new insights discovery yeah

Stacey Cordivano 4:34
perfect. Okay, so like I said, I feel like we could have gone a zillion different directions and maybe we will by the end of our conversation, but

Matt Salois 4:41
it sounds like fun.

Stacey Cordivano 4:42
I’m gonna start with a really big question because I feel like for me, it’s complex in the work that I’m doing here and and the work that I do as a business owner and things like that. So what is the first thing that comes to your mind when people bring up the dilemma of being more profitable in veterinary medicine, while also considering the strain on an individual veterinarian and their well being.

Matt Salois 5:10
Yeah. Oh, gosh. So we could spend a lot of time just on that question. I think it’s wholly complicated. And I think in addressing that balance between, you know, profit, and people, it’s become increasingly more complicated. And I think, you know, we just take a step back to reflect on, you know, our journey, as, you know, as a society and as an economy. You know, in a few short decades, I think we’ve come a really long way and recognizing the importance of expanding beyond mere profitability as a priority for businesses. I’m an economist, so it’s no surprise, you have to be profitable, right? So you need to be economically sustainable if you’re going to survive and thrive as an organization. And it’s the right thing to do for your people as well. If you’re not profitable, you’re not supporting their sustainability as employees and team members, right. So that’s critically important. But I think we’ve seen you know, and we’ve witnessed this through the, you know, the great minds of individuals like Adam Grant and Liz Faslane and others who really, I think have demonstrated for us all the importance of prioritizing people in any organization for profit, nonprofit government organizations, when you do that, in my opinion, I think a lot of the data shows is that you become more successful as an organization. Prioritizing your people is really, I think, a lever in some ways for for managers and leaders to position their organization for success, including profitability, amongst many other metrics to

Stacey Cordivano 6:44
those are great references, and certainly very inspirational. Do you come across practice owners that don’t understand that or aren’t willing to wrap their heads around the idea that by supporting their team members, they actually will end up being more profitable or more productive?

Matt Salois 7:05
You know, I think if we take an honest answer that question, it’s, it’s yes. And those managers and individuals, they’re out there in any profession or industry. So it’s not singular to veterinary medicine. I think sometimes we think we’re, we’re special or we’re different. And, you know, what, a lot of ways we are. But it’s still an industry in an organization that’s comprised of people, and people are people, right. And so there is still challenges and gaps with respect to maybe where some managers or leaders of a veterinary practice or any organization for that matter isn’t wholly recognizing or willing to accept the reality of a true leadership and what it means today, which is very different, like we mentioned, a number of shoots a few short decades ago, it’s it’s there. You know, I I am the the eternal optimist, though. And that, you know, I think they’re definitely not the majority. And I do think it’s a shrinking number of managers in veterinary practices as we continue to evolve and transform as a profession, ourself. And admittedly, I think, to be fair, it’s become harder to be a manager and a leader to an ever complex, seemingly ever more volatile and uncertain society, economy and environment. It’s difficult.

Stacey Cordivano 8:25
So I’m in this position where, you know, I’m a practice owner, I’m involved with AAEP for changing some of the practice ownership, ideals or goals, considering our retention issues that we particularly in equine sector have, yes, not that not all veterinary medicine doesn’t have. And then I’m also involved with this project and on social media with a lot of younger veterinarians. And I see this huge disconnect. And I struggle, aside from just educating both sides better, right, for the younger vets, what it actually costs to employ a veterinarian and come up with their salary. And for the older veterinarians, you know, better management and workplace culture topics.

Matt Salois 9:10
Sure ,

Stacey Cordivano 9:11
I guess I struggl to connect the two in a way that, you know, might benefit both sides. So I was curious if you have any insight on ways that we or the veterinary industry in general can be bridging that gap?

Matt Salois 9:25
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think you’ll find a lot of different answers and approaches here. And I think there’s a vast number of things that that you and others in your position can do. For me. It all starts with intent and being intentional. So you have to want to go down this road of taking care of your people and positioning your your practice your business, whatever it may be, as one that’s culturally thriving for your people. And to your earlier question, that doesn’t need to be nor is it ever really separate from your goals as a business manager to be profitable, I think we’re learning ever more the role of developing a cohesive team and creating an engaged team that is surrounded by feelings of psychological safety. They will prioritize their work, they will be more productive. And that will translate into more success for your business. But as a leader and a manager, you have to be intentional about it, it’s not going to happen on its own. And it’s certainly not an easy or overnight process, either. You can’t decide to turn the ship and expect you know, real change in a short amount of time, you know, with anything that generates and exudes true success, you know, it takes consistency, over a period of time, chipping away at it, and leadership and developing a team that’s cohesive, that’s engaged, that’s thriving is truly no different there.

Stacey Cordivano 10:55
psychological safety is a huge passion topic of mine, I’ve submitted a paper for AAEP this year. So I’d love to dig into that actually, with you if you are willing. So just to reiterate, psychological safety is the idea that a person can be comfortable, open, safe to ask questions without fear of retribution. And how do you see practice owners? Well, in my opinion, it sort of needs to come from the top down, right to create that place. What do you see as ways that owners or managers can increase psychological safety for their team?

Matt Salois 11:31
Great question. You know, and I think a lot of it’s going to depend on the circumstances of the practice, specifically, what they need to do what their situation looks like. But I think a common denominator for everyone is making sure that there’s an establishment of trust. I think a lot of us think that there’s trust without really understanding the presence of it. And true trust means an ability to say what you want in a respectful way without retribution. And that’s going back to your definition of psychological safety there. If you have that trust, and that psychological safety, you will find that a practices or a team’s ability, for example, to manage conflict is is far more successful there. And that goes to the second step, establishing the trust. And then secondly, addressing conflict, there’s always conflict, no, no organization that’s built up of people is conflict free. The challenge here is to address it proactively. Whether it’s something significant, like a caustic member of your team, that you’re not willing to let go because there’s a labor talent shortage, or just for whatever other reason, or something more more shallow, like members of your team just don’t feel like they’re advancing in their career. I mean, that that’s also a conflict too. And all that ties back into retention and these other metrics that that we look at to look at the health of the organization from a people perspective. So being intentional about establishing trust about establishing ability to manage conflict successfully, those are, those are common denominators, I think that represent really solid starting points for any manager or leader.

Stacey Cordivano 13:10
Okay, and then let’s switch a little bit to that issue of retention and recruitment throughout the entire veterinary industry. What are your feelings on where we’re at currently?

Matt Salois 13:21
Yeah, bad. It’s bad. It is. And I, you know, I used to sugarcoat it, I think, but I don’t think that does much service for anybody. So, you know, no surprise here. I’ll pull out the data on this. And this is data from the American Veterinary Medical Association. But when we look at turnover amongst veterinary professionals and compare them to other health professions, they’re amongst the highest of them. The average turnover for a DVM is approaching 20%. And that’s more than twice an average turnover for a physician working in private practice. And amongst the ones that we looked at turnover for veterinary technicians is the highest even higher than a registered nurse in human medicine, which have notoriously high high rates of turnover. So it’s it’s a significant challenge. And it’s also it’s not the disease, it’s the symptom. I think we really have to look at it through that lens. When you have high turnover. Oftentimes, it’s a it’s a signal of low engagement, low trust, low psychological safety, and also high in efficiency, low productivity there. And so it’s a good leading indicator, I think, to establish where we are as a profession or even as an individual practice in terms of what’s happening within your practice from a people side. And it’s definitely something that we’ve got to focus on and prioritize as a profession and every individual practices well,

Stacey Cordivano 14:52
that turnover rate, does that also tie into the cost of burnout. I know you were in a group that did a study on the cost of are now in the veterinary field. And it’s a one to $2 billion cost annually. And I have to imagine that turnover rate, and all that you just mentioned is sort of all inclusive and that

Matt Salois 15:12
it is. and you know, just briefly, really enjoyed doing that work with Dr. Clint Neal at Cornell University in Charlotte Hansen on staff at the Econ division at AVMA and, you know, really, the purpose of that was to put an economic lens on something that truly is more than just an economic problem, but wanted to demonstrate that there’s an economic impact to burnout. And while those numbers are staggering, you know, this literature is pretty well staked out in other professions. I think we’re kind of lagging here and veterinary medicine and bringing this to the forefront. And I think we’re getting past this. But I think, you know, we really need to be at the point where we’re not going to address burnout through individual actions like diet, sleep, exercise, and things like that, not to discount that those are really important things that are part of any healthy lifestyle, right. But the ownership of burnout really is in the workplace. And in the work environment, that’s where the source of burnout is. And so that’s where if we’re going to take an upstream approach to solving this issue, that’s where we need to be focused on is in the work environment, how we, how we address it there. And so when you look at a problem like turnover, you know, this is wholly tied to, for example, some of the challenges we’re experienced in our workforce. I mean, there’s so much discussion on workforce in veterinary medicine. And again, it’s a very complex problem. But imagine how better off a practice would be if their turnover was in the single digits. So you know, 20% of you’re losing one out of five d VMs. In a given year, and the turnover for technicians is approaching 50% or more, you’re in this constant cycle of having to rehire and anyone who’s been in a position of hiring knows that the challenges involved in that it’s very time consuming, right. And then nothing to say, of all the other challenges of once you on board that person and secure hire, you know, it takes generally at least people a year to become proficient in their responsibilities. And not to say anything about the cultural dynamic, right? Getting to know your colleagues and working, particularly in a practice where you’re dependent upon understanding how that person works into the dynamic between technician and DVM, for example, it takes a while to get on that successful rhythm there. And so it’s hugely problematic, you know, look at that turnover and the rate and we can, our jaws can drop, but there are all these unmeasurable problems that happen in an environment of high turnover. And so just imagine how much better off we’d be in our workforce situation as a profession, if that turnover was reduced to single digits, it would go up huge, huge way.

Stacey Cordivano 17:49
And so I assume that those upstream changes do not look like pizza parties on Friday, and I don’t know what else. Yeah. What are some examples of organizational changes that well, even like a small practice could make? I’m not talking about a big corporate owned practice?

Matt Salois 18:09
Sure. Sure. I mean, I think it can for sure, right? I mean, so not to discount that. Who doesn’t love a good pizza party? Right. But if that’s, that’s all you’re doing, obviously, you’re falling short. There was a great article that came out last year in the New York Times. title that was good news. There’s there’s a labor shortage, you know, kind of provocative, right? written from a an economist at at MIT. And, and the point to the article wasn’t, it’s really accessible by anyone, just Google it and give it a quick read was that we can’t just look at the shortage. From the employer perspective, obviously, there’s pain points there, as an employer, if you’re trying to hire and spillover effects to your staff, you know, you’re you’re short staffed on the ones that are there. But the consequences of a labor shortage, and through the eyes of economics here is that you’re really forced to focus inward more on your current employees. There’s nothing like scarcity to really drive the value of anything, and labor is no different. And so it really forces employers to look at pay benefits culture. You know, I think, discussions around for example, in our profession around wages and earnings of of technicians has always been important. But goodness, have we ever talked so much about it in the last 12 to 18 months and made significant progress, right. And we have to ask ourselves, would we have made that progress in the absence of the labor situation that we’re in? I’m not so sure. And so to address the workforce challenges in veterinary medicine, it’s going to need to look at some of these upstream issues like addressing mental health needs, providing better pay and better benefits, providing professional development, increasing utilization of all staff members, especially technicians, which we know aren’t always in aren’t often effectively utilized, focusing in on the employee experience and their engagement. I can’t talk more enough about ways to improve productivity and efficiency. It’s not everyone’s favorite topic, but that is going to be so crucially important to getting us through our workforce challenges from the talent perspective that we’re in. But it’s also going to help I think, pay dividends towards wellbeing as well. Because everyone’s working a lot harder these days. And if we can focus on efficiency, and productivity and create less stress and strain in the work environment, not only does it benefit, the practice and the ability to provide patient care, but then it also provides a dividend to wellbeing because you’re not suffering so much through your job and through your work actions there.

Stacey Cordivano 20:45
Yeah, your day to day improvements. Exactly. So I imagine that some are all and maybe this is a broad assumption. But some of these topics are why you have moved into the position at VMG to try to help practice owners work through things like this. Is that a fair assumption?

Matt Salois 21:03
Yeah, very much. So it’s a tremendous opportunity to work at a much more micro level with practice owners and veterinary practices more generally, I’d love to the work at AVMA a lot of it very policy driven and macro level and focus. And it’s really rewarding. What VMG offers is an opportunity to help shape and reimagine individual practices and support them in a way that’s really granular and really, really micro. And so for, for the better of everyone. Just to be clear on what VMG is. It’s a it’s a study group that through benchmarking and the development of community creates a system of support for every practice owner, there’s benchmarking that takes place. And I think the really magic ingredient here is the in person meetings that take place between small groups of practice owners where they can share in a confidential and secure environment, a trusted environment, share their success stories, share their pain points in their challenges, take deep dives into their practices and discover through a community how they can make each other better. And you know, for me, going back to that green insights, you know, profile. This is just the sweet spot, right? I think community has always been important in veterinary medicine. But now more than ever, we’ve all been on this journey for the last two and a half years of trying to figure out life in this new environment, which seems to be ever more uncertain, ever more volatile. And I can’t imagine a more important time to have a communities to lean in on for support. And that’s what BMG is,

Stacey Cordivano 22:41
yeah. 1,000% agree community support in whichever fashion we can find it is vital to surviving veterinary medicine

Matt Salois 22:49
Absolutely. It’s so easy to fall out of community,

Matt Salois 22:53
I think that’s one thing we have to be mindful of. And not just through COVID. Right. I mean, that certainly did it for any number of reasons that are obvious. The other one is when you’re so busy, the easiest thing to pull back of is community and, and so I think to push that to elevate the importance of it in a moment where everyone is so, so burnt out and so busy, is so important and to prioritize. And again, be intentional about it.

Stacey Cordivano 23:18
Yeah, I’m very guilty of just slogging through the day and not really focusing on the bigger picture. And that being sort of the height of my burnout. And I think that taking a step back and leaning on other people for support is probably the only thing that pulled me out of it. So I agree, I think that it’s really important to make it a priority. So I appreciate the work that you’re doing over there and providing that I asked all of my guests what is one small thing that has brought you joy this past week?

Matt Salois 23:49
Oh, goodness,

Stacey Cordivano 23:50
I didn’t warn you about that one

Matt Salois 23:52
no you didn’t. So well. I’ll share this because it was just so recent. So yesterday was Father’s Day, and there was a Lego convention nearby and my kids are really into that. And so we went and we we met I don’t know if anyone’s familiar with this the show called Brick masters. It’s a Lego competition that’s on on TV. And my kids are really into it. So they get to meet it. But at this convention, there was a Lego challenge you could participate in. And so we did we split my family of six into groups. The My boys are really into it. My daughter just starting to get into it. Long story short, she wins the Lego challenge. And just her face glowing with delight around because she’s been hard on herself. You know, her brothers are a little further along or they’ve been doing it for a couple more years. But she did this and it was just showcased her creativity and a really fun way and just gave her the push that she needed to say I’m all in on this and it made her day the rest of the day. She was just beaming and to see that as a parent to see your children so happy, which is there’s no greater reward.

Stacey Cordivano 24:57
That’s awesome. That’s a great moment. I love that. Well, thank you so much for all the insight you’ve shared. It’s been a really interesting perspective. I really enjoyed it. And thank you. Thank you for being here.

Matt Salois 25:08
Yeah, I enjoyed it too. Best wishes, Staecy for you.

Stacey Cordivano 25:11

Stacey Cordivano 25:12
Thanks again for listening. I so very much appreciate the time you spend with me. For more information or to sign up for our monthly newsletter, please check out the website at thewholeveterinarian.com You can also connect with me on Instagram @thewholeveterinarian. If you love this episode, please do me a favor and share it with a friend or if you feel so inclined, leave a review on Apple podcasts or Spotify. Thanks so much and I will talk to you again soon.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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I’m Stacey

I want veterinarians to become happier, healthier, wealthier and more grateful for this life that we’ve created.

I understand the struggles of a stretched-too-thin veterinarian. I have also learned that with some individual work, there is a brighter side to veterinary medicine. Personal and financial development strategies have helped me find a happier place in my life and in my work. I hope to share resources that will resonate with my fellow veterinarian to allow you to become a more whole person.

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