How many of you have a specific strategy within your practice to reach out to the youth in your community? I was asked a few days ago to outline what we do at our practice and, judging by the reaction I received, I wondered how many practices don’t have a program…….and more specifically, why not?
In our business, we’re always trying to identify target market groups. We have “A” clients, “B” clients, breeders, performance horse owners, etc………why wouldn’t we include “future” clients on that list? In truth, to call kids future clients may be true, but to call them future pet owners is inaccurate, as I often find them to be as involved in the future of their family pets as anyone else in the household. From a purely business standpoint, I always get excited when I deliver a treatment plan to a client while their children are present…….you can just see it in their eyes – how can I refuse to do everything possible to save Fluffy? My kids just wouldn’t understand……..The truth is, kids understand way more than most adults ever recognize, but that can be our secret.
That being said, however, my interest in reaching out to the youth in our community is not just a business decision. I’ve been involved with kids all my life, and in many ways, they are more fun to interact with than some adults. They still have the wonder in their eyes and excitement in their body language as they interact with animals…….its a great reminder of why most of us work in this field.
In our practice, we take a multimodal (is this not the word of the day??) approach to educating the kids in our community. We conduct hospital tours – free of charge, and as often as any group would like, big or small. I also visit pre-schools, our local Head Start program, and public schools grades K-12 to speak about various topics related to the veterinary field - most often about career planning. I would be nowhere without the collection of samples that I take on the road. Extracted teeth, bladder stones, parasites, growths, etc., you name it, I have it. Whenever the audience is tired of hearing me talk (usually way before I am – just ask my own kids), I break out the samples. The kids either become future Veterinarians or have some pretty serious nightmares. So far…….no calls from parents or attorneys.
Once local students are in high school they have several options for career exploration at our practice – we partner with the high school’s short term shadow program, giving kids a half or full day of observing; we partner with their Health Occupations program, which is a full year of rotations at area medical facilities including ours; and most importantly, we participate in their Structured Work Experience program.
Every school year from October through May, we have at least one high school student that spends approximately two hours per day in our practice working just the same as any other employee. The students work for free, BUT, if we wish to hire them as employees, they must be paid for the time they work for us during school as well. We have recruited many, many great employees through this program, and we typically expect to hire at least one per year – several have been with us way beyond high school. We also work extensively with the local Community College and Veterinary School in our state to provide externships whenever needed.
The final leg of our youth outreach program is a series of week-long, 2 hours per day, Veterinary Camps during each summer. We started the program solely because we felt that we had something to offer kids in our community. We asked a local youth organization to conduct the signups and keep the registration fee – we provide the facility and instruction, they make about $1,500 per year. We do a session for kids ages 5-8 and a session for kids ages 9-12. They learn about spaying and neutering, safety, animal handling, regular veterinary care, and some things that can be done at home if necessary. We take a field trip to the local Humane Society (to reciprocate, I speak at their camps as well), we observe surgery and dentistry, we get to watch one of our equine Doctors for a day, and the kids all learn to apply a bandage and administer an injection (they each bring a stuffed animal to be vaccinated). Every student vaccinates their own stuffed animal, under very close supervision, for two common stuffed animal diseases (trade secret, sorry). They are welcomed to come back anytime each year for a booster, and many do.
I can’t overestimate the unintended value that these programs bring to our practice financially. While we don’t hate that, the primary goal is to assist in developing responsible pet owners and future veterinary enthusiasts. Personally, when I went through school, nobody took the time to let me explore any career field, let alone this one. The program creates goodwill, its good business, and it’s a lot of fun. If you’re not doing some of these things, maybe you should ask yourself why not? It doesn’t take a great deal of effort; it just requires an open mind and an open door.
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