Money talks ... but doesn’t say it all! - Veterinary Practice
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Money talks … but doesn’t say it all!

I JUST want a job. After those many years of university, the prospect of being a vet and finally having the job you have aspired to for so long is exciting.

The “terms of employment” are almost secondary to the anticipation of beginning work and, let’s face it, after living off a student loan payment for three months, the thought of a monthly wage of the same value is great.

Negotiating your first salary is very difficult, mainly because you don’t know the ins and outs of what is included and what can be included.

Some jobs will come with a straight wage whereas other jobs come with a package which may include accommodation and/or a car. Your salary package can be very dependent on the type of work you do – jobs where you complete your own out-of-hours tend to pay more generously and average salaries vary depending on location and workload.

Mixed practice or large animal jobs where you are “out on calls” usually come with the provision of a car. That car can be a pool vehicle, on which you don’t get taxed but may not have use of the same car all the time or be able to use it for private use.

Avoid frustration

Alternatively, like me, you get a specific car for your own business and personal use. In that case, you are taxed. It is important to establish whether private mileage is included in the deal and adjust your tax code accordingly – there is nothing more frustrating than finding out nine months later you are being taxed for private mileage yet are paying for your own!

Positions as assistants in practices usually come with the offer of accommodation. In many cases, bills such as council tax, electric, water and gas are also included within the accommodation component of your package.

It is therefore essential to establish this as bills can amount to around £2,000 per annum, especially if lucky enough to be offered more than one position. Housing itself is usually tax free if your job involves out-of-hours work.

Another important thing to consider is the RCVS retention fee, i.e. the fee you need to pay to be MRCVS and practise as a veterinarian. I have just paid my retention fee of £294, hardly a small sum but a very competitive one when compared to the fees medics, dentists and the legal boffins pay for their professional membership.

Nevertheless, it is a sum which adds up. Many employers recognise the necessity of membership in order for you to work and thus pay this fee as part of your salary. If, like me, that isn’t the case, remember the fee is tax deductable and can be partly reclaimed against the tax you are paying.

It is healthy as a new graduate to be a member of organisations such as BSAVA, BEVA or BCVA, depending on your primary workload. Memberships are, in my experience, relatively good value for your first year graduated and come with the benefit of reduced cost CPD and support/access to journals.

Membership payments

I think it is advisable to request your employer pays your membership to the most relevant organisation as the information it provides can be very useful in your first years of practice and will reduce their CPD bill.

If not included in your salary, joining yourself is still beneficial and membership fees for these organisations should also be tax deductible. I had my BSAVA membership paid for and then joined BEVA of my own accord, and have found these memberships of great value.

In addition to the discipline memberships, there are the more uniform BVA and SPVS memberships. Again, membership is often included within a salary, as BVA is in my case. It is usually cheaper for BVA membership linked to your employer as practice memberships can be taken out rather than individual memberships.

Fascinating reading

I joined SPVS personally as membership was not included and again this can be offset against tax, even though membership is extremely reasonable for a new graduate. This gives access to reduced cost CPD and congress, for example, and access to discussion boards which, if nothing else, can be fascinating reading.

As a new graduate you will require a lot of support and starting salaries reflect that dependence. Most jobs will come with an initial trial period to make sure the partnership will work between new assistants and the existing staff and in the cases of my fellow 2009 graduates and me it is agreed that at the end of the trial period a review of our development and salary will happen then.

Unfortunately, this does not always happen and if this is something discussed at an interview, it may be advisable to ask what the likely salary increase will be providing the trial period has gone well.

Ask for this in writing so as not to end up in the situation where a pay rise is not forthcoming, or is significantly less than expected.

Bonuses can also form an important part of a salary. Bonuses benefit the practice as they help improve productivity and employee morale and benefit the individual by providing incentives. Examples ofbonuses can be based as a percentage of TB testing income, OOH income or turnover and can form significant parts of a salary.

Establishing the bonus scheme in place and how that will benefit you as an individual could make all the difference when comparing jobs – a TB or OOH bonus-related pay would certainly help reduce how much I dread both of those tasks!

All of these above mentioned points should be addressed in a contract of employment, which should also detail your working hours. As a profession we very rarely start or finish on time and have an hour’s lunch break and much of this is relied upon as goodwill. Overtime for vets, certainly in private practice, seems a rare occurrence. On the whole, vets accept this as a fact of life as a veterinarian but this extra work can become less appealing when other aspects of your “package” are not as you expected or you didn’t realise how much the details can differ.

When looking for that first position, it is important to remember the salary is not the primary factor to be considering. It is, however, an important and highly variable and technical component.

I would urge new graduates to really consider the whole package and not just the cash-into-account part and be forward with potential employers to find out exactly what is and what isn’t included in the terms of employment.

As Picasso said, “Action is the foundational key to all success.”

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