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  • Writer's pictureJosh Vaisman

Fairness in the Veterinary Team

Running for the sake of running is stupid. If I’m not chasing a soccer ball – or trying to steal one from an opponent – I just don’t see the purpose. I’ll take that belief with me to my grave.

Go ahead. Try and change my mind.

So why write a blog post about marathons?

Because marathons can make veterinary leadership decisions more fair. Duh.

I’ll explain.

The New York City Marathon is an annual event of epic proportions. It doesn’t only boast one of the largest marathon rosters in the world (53,000 runners) but spots in the event are among the most coveted. So coveted, in fact, that it became a cutthroat practice for potential attendees.

When you have a limited resource (53,000 spots in a race) and an outsized demand for the resource (possibly ten times that who want to run the race) how do you allocate that resource fairly?

The people who run (haha – pun intended!) the New York City Marathon figured out how. And it’s clever as heck.

When I managed veterinary hospitals the idea of “Fairness” came up a lot – from writing the schedule to granting vacation time it was a constant balancing act of being generous and equitable.

If only I’d known about the NYC Marathon’s allocation method. I bet I could have significantly upped my fairness cred while reducing my need for headache-killing Aleve.

Here’s how it works. They split the 53,000 spots into 4 buckets. Each bucket has a different system for allocating its spots meant to fit a specific demographic.

  1. Lottery – The first bucket is quite simple – 10,000 spots accepting up to 100,000 entries. Everyone has an equal shot at winning a spot so if you enter, you’ve got 1:10 odds. Anyone can enter but if you enter this way you can’t go for a spot in any of the other buckets.

  2. Merit – The NYC Marathon tries to maintain its reputation by attracting elite competitors along side the more casual runners the Lottery might attract. To accomplish this, they set aside a chunk of spots for the best-of-the-best. To get in by merit you must have completed a marathon from a list of qualifying races in under 3 hours, 15 minutes. For the record, I’m not even sure I could clean my house in under that time, much less run 26 miles.

  3. Buy It – A certain number of spots are set aside for people to buy their way in. This is primarily done by one of two methods. First, you can raise money for an NYC approved charitable foundation. This is typically $2500 or more. Second, if you’re from out of the country, a limited number or spots are provided to travel agencies who you can pay several thousand dollars to and receive your trip, accommodations, and a spot in the race.

  4. Earn It – Finally, if you’re disinclined to play the lottery odds, can’t run 26 miles faster than a gazelle, don’t have friends who can donate to charity to the tune of $2500, and aren’t an independently wealthy European runner… can earn your way in. NYC Marathon provides a list of qualifying marathons and if you complete 9 of them, in any amount of time, AND you volunteer at a 10th race…boom! You earn a spot in the next NYC Marathon!

So, what does this have to do with fairness in a veterinary team?

By way of example, let’s take holiday vacation requests.

You know how it goes. You’ve got a team of 15 techs and CSRs and all of them want the week of Christmas off “to visit my 104 year old grandma, possibly for the last time.”

How might a NYC Marathon style allocation system help us? Here’s ONE way it could work:

  1. Lottery – Decide how many people or how many total days off you’re willing/able to grant for the time period in question. Everyone who wants time off during that period gets their name in the lottery. Randomly select names and award time off accordingly. If you’re choosing total days as your metric, the first person gets to select when and for how many days they are off. The second person does the same. On and on until all the total days off available are accounted for.

  2. Merit – Ah, but let’s say you also want to have a component that rewards people time off during the holiday based on merit. Great! Maybe you want to grant 6 holiday requests total. You might keep 4 in the lottery and grant 2 based solely on merit. What merit? That’s up to you! You could choose tenure (which I wouldn’t) or you could make something up. For example, most positive mentions in client reviews over the past 6 months.

  3. Buy It – I do not advocate you actually selling time off. I’m pretty sure that’s illegal. Or at least immoral. However, you could come up with clever ways to have people earn it! Maybe you keep 1 spot in the Merit category and put the other 1 in the Buy It category. Then, this spot can be “bought” by beneficial behaviors. For example, most shifts covered the previous 6 months or most public hospital events volunteered for in the prior year.

  4. Earn It – For this category, if you choose to use it, I encourage you to get creative. For example, perhaps your hospital has a core value of “Supporting our Community”. What if you gave first choice for holiday vacation time to the person who volunteered the most hours at a local shelter this year?

These are a few ideas for increasing equity in handing out a limited resource in a veterinary team. But they aren’t the only ideas.

Play with it, make it your own, customize each bucket or create new buckets to maximize both what will work with your team and make things more fair for everyone involved.

A couple notes to help make it all work as best as possible:

  1. Be clear in how the buckets work

  2. Be explicit in communicating the system

  3. Share it well in advance so everyone knows what to expect

  4. Protect against the system being “gamed”

Regarding #4, here’s what I mean.

The NYC Marathon system works so well because it covers all bases. The rich folks who want to participate have a reasonable avenue for joining the party in the Buy It bucket. But the people who can’t afford to Buy It can Earn It or play the risk of the lottery. And those who work their butts off to become elite runners don’t have to Earn It, Buy It, or play the Lottery. There is no motivation to find a workaround because everyone is accounted for.

What’s your system for making things fair in your team?

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