Musings of a Veterinarian

Probationary Periods: How Long is Long Enough?

January 22, 2011 By: Dr. K Category: Practice Management

Nearly ever practice owner will experience the unpleasantness of a bad hire. Initial and working interviews can weed out the riff raff but occasionally a crumby employee slips through the process. Having a written probationary work policy is key to preventing painful and non-productive early employment snags. Below is a list of essentials to include in your policy.

Term Limit

A probationary period requires a time long enough to develop basic skills but not so long that floundering employees are permitted to wreck havoc on your practice. All employees must exhibit the ability to take direction and instruction immediately. Veterinary assistants and Veterinary Technicians should exhibit proficiency in their respective basic duties within 1-2 months of employment. Newly graduated veterinarians should cruise through basic appointments after 3 months of training and should feel confident to handle more complicated cases by six months. By the end of their first year, veterinarians should be confident to handle nearly any case that comes through the door in a systematic, diagnostic manner. Experienced veterinarians require 1-2 months to acclimate to a new practice, fee schedule, and appointment schedule.


Expectations and milestones must have clear definition in the policy. Ex, “By the end of week two, the employee is expected to perform XYZ duty to full capacity without assistance.”

Veterinary assistants should be proficient in basic animal restraint, basic veterinary communication and jargon, cleaning, and basic history taking. Development of these skills should take no longer than one month. More complex training is only pursued once the basics have been mastered.

Licensed veterinary technicians are presumed to have base knowledge of animal handling, blood handling, and anesthesia monitoring among others. Highly technical performance is reasonably expected following the initial 1-2 month acclimation period.

Newly graduated veterinarians must be comfortable with routine physical examinations, basic spay/neuter surgeries, and simple medicine case work-ups. Development of improved diagnostic skills, surgical skills, and client relations will precipitously increase over the next year but continue for their entire career.

Practice owners hiring experienced veterinarians should already have knowledge of that individual’s skill set. An expectation of improvement and expansion of skills is doctor dependent.


Without an adequate outline of the hospital’s responsibility in training new hires, a practice owner/manager cannot rightly impose probation period guidelines on an employee. Expectation of performance without training is fruitless and frustrating for both parties.


Reviews are essential for new hires to have the knowledge to change behaviors and improve skills. An initial review should occur within the first 30 days of the employment period as this gives the employer the opportunity to address shortcomings before the employee becomes habituated to bad habits, complacency, and inadequacy.  Repeat reviews within three months of employment are then used to mark improvement. Of course, excellent performances also require rewards in the form of increased pay, PTO, and/or expanded duties.

A probationary period is the safety net that prevents a new employee from slipping under the radar. Written expectations of performance allow both parties to objectively evaluate the employees performance. If an employee is not measuring up, his/her termination is in the best interest of patient care and your business.

2 Comments to “Probationary Periods: How Long is Long Enough?”

  1. Best Tech Ever says:

    Good post! It sounds like you have a lot of good ideas and information that every practice could use. I sure hope that you aren’t experiencing any inadequate employees at the practice you work at now! I know how frustrating it can be to have to deal with employees that aren’t making the progress that they should be.

  2. One of my pet peeves.. Hiring and expecting too much too soon. I hear stories of new employees, even as partially trained vet nurses, being expected to close and lock up a clinic alone in their first three days. I know it causes anxiety just working out cash ups, security codes, answer machines…. one girl crept back in at midnight, as she realized she had forgotten to set the answer machine.

    The new 90 day employment rule here in NZ might mean stringent records and probation would be required as they cannot terminate employment without proof of failure to perform etc… be interesting to see what happens.


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