The first week of the Veteducation 5th International Online Veterinary Conference (that's the Virtual Exhibition Building on the right) is drawing to a close and there's one more week to go. Each day I upload another free resource to the Vetanswers Virtual Trade Stand and admire how nifty I think my virtual stand looks (see image below).
I would like nothing more than to have a Trade Stand at every (Australian) veterinary conference but the fact is that as a small (well micro really!) business there’s no way I can afford it.
I was discussing this topic with Gillian Shippen (Pets Need A Life Too) when we caught up for breakfast recently. Gillian had been invited to speak at the Science Week Conference on the Gold Coast run by The Australian & New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists and a number of attendees had commented to her that they would have loved to have seen her stock on a Trade Stand.
If you’ve ever wondered why it is that at nearly every conference you attend in Australia you see pretty much the same trade stands the answer is simple – the cost!
For example at the upcoming ASAVA Conference on the Gold Coast in August a 3m x 3m stand is $5,300.00. For that you receive the shell, your name on the fascia panel, 2 lights, one power point, carpeted floor (!) and company profile and logo printed in the Program Guide. I’m not picking on the ASAVA – all conferences charge similar prices depending on the length of the conference and the expected number of delegates attending. To give you an idea of other conference trade stand costs (some are inclusive & some exclusive of gst):
Once you have the stand you’ll also need:
This all adds up to approximately $5,000.00 to $8,000.00 for a trade stand per conference and that's really being fairly conservative! That’s a lot of money for a small business. In Gillian’s case (Pets Need a Life Too) that’s an awful lot of environment enrichment toys and in my case, well as membership to Vetanswers is free it’s just an awful lot of money!
I totally understand that most of these conferences are run by not-for-profit associations and trade exhibitions are an important form of revenue BUT these prices also mean that many small businesses with perhaps new and innovative products are not able to showcase them.
And for the delegates it means trade exhibitions are often full of the same big companies with marketing budgets that can afford to attend.
To be honest I don’t really know. All I do know is that many of the amazing small businesses out there with products you would probably love to know about just can’t afford to show them to you. Well not at conventional conferences anyway! Maybe Veteducation’s virtual Trade Expo really is the way to go?
One last thing – when you are at a conference and you’re forced to visit the Trade Expo because that’s where all the food is, just keep in mind just how much these companies have paid to be there and maybe wander over and pick up a brochure or two. You never know – you might just find out about a product or service that could make a huge difference to you, your staff or your patients!
So tell me what you think? As a delegate what would you like to see in trade exhibitions? As a veterinary supplier what do you think of the current prices of trade stands? Does anyone have a solution on how to get an increased variety of trade stands without a drop in revenue for the Associations organising the conferences?
I hear this all the time, “We practice better medicine”. Really? Is practicing great medicine even really that hard? Yes, when you first get out of school, learning all the real world medicine can be a challenging task. After a few years though do you really think your hospital is THAT much better than the one down the street at the practice of medicine?
I probably have a few people pretty mad at me about what I just wrote and yes, I agree you do practice better medicine than the guy down the street who has not upgraded his treatment protocols since the early 80’s.
What really makes your hospital special is the way your team makes your clients and their pets feel. Your hospital’s customer service is what can truly separate you from the animal hospital down the road.
My team and I have had a few great and not so great customer service experiences lately. In one week, Nicole visited a hospital and stood in the lobby for 4 minutes before someone at the front desk acknowledged her. At another hospital she was placed on hold for 9.5 minutes (no, that is not a typo) while calling to check in on a patient of ours. These may have been isolated incidents- the hospitals may have been very busy but this is NOT GREAT customer service as a matter of fact it is not even good customer service.
Not to be all negative, we have many GREAT customer experiences and one this week was a practice manager agreeing to come in on a Sunday to discharge a surgical case of ours because the owners live 2 hours away and were going to be driving back by the hospital on Sunday. It made me feel great that she was willing to come in let alone how appreciative the owners were that they did not have to make an additional trip.
Please don’t think I am saying you need to be open on Sundays but most people don’t bother going the first mile let alone the second mile! What she did was a great example of doing more than what is expected which is how GREAT customer service should be defined.
Great medicine should be a given, but if you really want to make your hospital stand out from the one right down to road, you better figure out a way to deliver the BEST consistently GREAT customer service you possible can!
After working for many years as a psychologist in a range of industries (most recently in my counselling business), and through my Doctoral research with Vets and their well-being, I was ready to make a shift with what I do and focus on coaching rather than counselling. Working as a wellbeing coach for veterinarians enables me to work with compassionate vets who love what they do, and help them to avoid burnout – meaning they can keep their head in the game and continue to build a thriving practice, but also having a life they love.
From as early as I can remember, I always wanted to be a Vet and have always loved animals. However, I soon realised that I was way too queasy to be a Vet, nor did I think I would ever be able to euthanize an animal. It was by chance that a locum working at our regular vet practice mentioned the high rate of suicide that vets have (twice as likely as other health professionals, and four times as likely as the general population!), and I “knew” I had to do something to help. I started my Doctor of Education degree a few years ago, which is focusing on vet well-being and looking at Positive Psychology as an intervention.
Feeling stressed, overwhelmed, depressed, no motivation, not wanting to go to work and feeling sick or anxious at the thought of going to work, ruminating over all the bad things etc. Generally the thought of “I just can’t do this anymore”. Some of the contributing factors to this are pet euthanasia, compassion fatigue, dealing with unrealistic expectations of owners, and financial issues (such as knowing they could help an animal but the owners are unable to afford treatment – resulting in euthanasia).
Seek help! There are lots of sources of help available – telephone help lines, seeing your GP, seeing an experienced psychologist etc. Personally, I believe that prevention is better than cure, hence my decision to work as a Coach with veterinarians to provide them with effective coping strategies to deal with the demands of the job, to try and avoid things getting to burnout stage. Alternatively, they can talk to me and I can lead them in the right direction as to what help would be most appropriate.
My research is focusing on the phenomenology of being a Vet, and in particular, what is so difficult about pet euthanasia (which we know from other research is a major contributing factor to Vet burnout and suicide). Unlike other research in this area though, we are also looking at an intervention in order to try and address this problem from a more proactive perspective. If the research is validated, we hope to see it form part of the core curriculum for future Vet students at Uni.
Yes. This came about after the sudden death of our 12-year old Burmese cat (Dakota), which was followed three weeks later by having to have our beautiful Labby-X (Caddy) euthanized. Caddy was nearly 16 years old, but was one of the most amazing dogs I have known, and we had a very special bond. I started journaling prior to and after her journey to the Rainbow Bridge, which I am hoping to turn into a book one day (it also has self-help suggestions in there as well). It became apparent to me when we lost our pets (and even during the prior losses of other pets we have owned) that there is so much stigma around pet loss, and some people just do not understand how much grief there can be when you lose a pet. So I decided to try and break down this stigma by specialising in this area.
Certainly from the research I have read and conducted so far, the main issues are around euthanasia, compassion fatigue, dealing with owners, and financial issues (which contribute to burnout and suicide). I think there is a risk of this trend continuing if there are not appropriate interventions put into place. I also think those working in the industry should put their well-being first, and not be afraid to seek help if they need it.
Being proactive – working with a coach or mentor to learn effective coping strategies and ways to deal with the demands of the job.
None that I can think of! Except I guess letting Vets (and Vet nurses and support staff) know that there is help available, and I offer a complimentary 10-minute strategy session to see how I can help them, and if they are suited to my coaching programs.
Oh – also, that we are now offering animal-assisted therapy as part of our services for our “Pawsitive Psych Solutions” business. In fact, we recently received funding from Gold Coast Medicare Local to run a pilot program on well-being incorporating animal-assisted therapy. One of my own Labbies (Jenna) is training to become a therapy dog, and was amazing!
If you have any questions to ask Nadine about her 'Wellbeing Coaching' for Vets or anything else at all why not ask her in the comments section below?
Nadine is a fully-registered psychologist with a Master in Training & Development degree. She has an extensive background in training, counselling, and occupational rehabilitation and has worked in a variety of organisations and industries for over 25 years including health, education, retail, hospitality and financial services. She is also a Member of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA).Nadine is currently undertaking both Doctoral research into the benefits of positive psychology and veterinarian well-being and is studying a Certificate IV in Companion Animal Services course as well as currently training one of her gorgeous Labradors (Jenna) to become a therapy dog. She is one of the few known practitioners on the Gold Coast to specialise in positive psychology, and the only known psychologist on the Gold Coast (and possibly Queensland and maybe Australia!) to specialise in pet grief/loss.
By Vetanswers Guest Blogger Dr Diederik Gelderman, Turbo Charge Your Practice
This is the first in a series of Guest Blog posts from Dr Gelderman on a topic that is very close to his heart: Take Back Your Life in 7 Steps
You long to feel more in control of your days, but the reality is you're frequently racing just to catch up and keep up.
Home and family used to be the bastion where once-upon-a-time we could go to relax and unwind is now just a place of inexorable demands.
This is the story I hear over and over at every level in Veterinary practice, from front-line receptionists and veterinary nurses all the way up to practice managers and practice owners.
I'm convinced it doesn't have to be this way and that the solution has to do with deeply embedding a series of simple practices into your life.
I have seven in mind, but remember, it's not realistic to add them all at once (assuming there are a number you don't currently do). The suggestions as to these seven (below), are in order from the most basic and fundamental, to the highest level.
Sleep is often the single most undervalued behaviour in our lives and the one with the most immediate power to improve our experience in every waking moment. If you sleep in the 6-6½ hour range, like the average ‘Westerner’, just one more hour of sleep a night will leave you feeling more physically energized, emotionally resilient, and mentally clear.
What’s more – getting that extra hour of sleep will SIGNIFICANTLY increase your performance output and your productivity.
The only way though that you’ll ever know this to be true for you though, is to TEST this premise and see what results are delivered. This is far too scary a step for most of us to take and therefore we will continue to try and get by with inadequate sleep!
It's not only good for your heart's health, but also for your mental health. Our body is designed to operate in ‘waves’. Just look at our; respiration, heart, blood pressure, peristalsis, EEG, etc.
Do some form of exercise that significantly raises your heart rate for 30 minutes at least four times a week and move frequently during the day.
Sitting is the new smoking and the (negative) impact on our bodies and on our lives is significant indeed.
Find some way to move more and it’ll serve you well.
Food is fuel. Lean proteins and complex carbohydrates are high-octane fuel. You're best off when you keep feeding your internal furnace in small doses throughout the day, beginning with breakfast.
When I work with my one-on-one clients I find that many of them are lacking in resilience, energy, enthusiasm and are concurrently gaining weight.
When we look at their eating habits and behaviours and tweak them slightly, they’ll typically eat more frequently, eat larger quantities and have much more energy, enthusiasm and resilience whilst loosing weight.
Human beings aren't designed to work continuously. We're meant instead to move between spending and renewing energy. Ideally, take a break every 90 minutes, even if only to spend a minute or two breathing deeply.
We work like automatons or computers and ever since the Industrial Revolution the mantra at work-places has been; faster, harder and longer. This is analogous to being a marathoner who never stops – who burns down!
We aren’t machines and when we start to behave and function like sprinters working with high intensity for a short period of time and then having ‘focused’ time for rest and renewal, we will get a lot more done and of a higher quality.
We're far quicker to notice what's wrong in our lives than we are what's right. We’re also far quicker to notice what someone has done wrong than what they’ve done right!
At least once a week, hand write and mail a note of appreciation to someone who deserves it, telling the person precisely what you're grateful for – in some cases this person may even be yourself.
When you learn to focus on what people do RIGHT and mention it to them, you’re well on the right path to developing a High Performance Team
Developing your own High Performance Team has got NOTHING to do with their level of skill or their level of pay or the hours they work, it has everything to do with their leader, the amount of feedback and recognition they get and their personal ‘emotional bucket’.
We're so preoccupied with the urgent that we rarely take time to think about what it is we're doing. Set aside 15 to 30 minutes at the end of each work day (or in the evening) to reflect quietly and without interruption on what you learned that day, and what your highest priorities are for the following day.
Tied in with this is the concept of ‘taking time off work for holidays’. There’s a significant correlation between work output / job performance and the number of annual days holidays that a person takes.
Having no holidays; thinking that you can do without them and still continue to be equally productive is just as big a myth as sleeping one less hour to work one hour longer! Both cases are flawed in their thinking as the outcomes prove.
Many people are not always ‘straight’ with us. They don’t say what they mean. This stifles conversation and relationships. Once you know how to read the micro-expressions and the ‘tells’ that ‘give it all away’, and understand what’s really going on and being thought (rather than what’s being said), then your whole relationship with those around you will change for the better.
So these are the 7 key steps to taking back your life; are YOU ready for the challenge?
If you have any questions for Dr Gelderman about his '7 steps to take back your life' - why not ask him in the comments section below?
Guest blogger, Dr. Gelderman is a certified NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer. He began coaching veterinary professionals with his Turbo Charge Your Veterinary Practice seminar, in 2004, to a small group of associates. In 2009, the seminars expanding internationally to Hong Kong, NZ, Europe and the US.
Dr. Gelderman has coached and consulted with more than 350 Small to Medium Enterprises in a diverse range of industries. For more information visit 'Turbo Charge Your Practice'.
You can see that glimmer in the owner’s eye; they have something exciting and new to tell you. They have taken their pet’s health and well being into their own hands and done their own research and made a change of feeding better food. I am always impressed at the lengths these owners will go to seek out the truth as to what they are feeding their pet. Most will read past the label that says dog food and see important, trusting words such as organic, natural and grain free. This extra two seconds of reading has been essential to their pets well being and now as a result they will lead longer, healthier lives.
Or better yet the owners that have gone above and beyond and don’t trust any of the commercial dog foods and cook exclusively for their pets. They buy deli meats, frozen peas, boxed rice and chicken by the pound from the large chain supermarket and cook everything up for their dog and bonus he loves it! This happens to all of us and usually there is a feeling of helplessness. The easy and most time saving thing to do is say the standard line of these are the research backed diets I recommend and then get out of the room. But more and more I find myself wanting to be an educator (or at least a provocateur), and whether the owner wanted it or not they have invited a conversation.
So when owners are proud about the time and extra effort they put into deciding what goes into their pet’s mouth I ask if they know where that chicken specifically came from, and how was it raised, what the chicken was fed and so on. I never get answers and I am not expecting them. I am merely asking questions to insight thought. More beyond our pet foods the majority of us are all pawns in a marketing free for all. It’s not about the quality of what we put in our bodies but the brand, the message, what makes us think we are taking care of ourselves. The very marketing whitewash that has swept over human food sales is now sweeping over pet food.
My wife certainly wanted to make changes and she did put in the time and researched what she was feeding her family. Then we made changes, more local, but more time and money. My uncle changed his entire lifestyle and bought into a farm and for the most part eats what he sows. Is this practical for most people, of coarse not. But more and more I see people who know something is awry and want to take matters into their own hands, only to take quick and cheap shortcuts that make them feel better but in the end is not making one ounce of a difference. Are there quality commercial dog foods out there? I believe so, but it takes time and diligence from both owner and veterinarian alike to look into it. Can an owner make their pet’s food at home? Sure but ideally they should buy local, have it analyzed at the nearest veterinary school or nutrition laboratory and adjusted accordingly (which can be both timely and expensive).
There is a swell of people that question what goes in their own and their pet’s mouths. Unfortunately most don’t know where to go to find the answers. Some answers can be scary, take time to derive and expensive. I am not even close to a human nutritionist, but when I see an owner bring up the topic I feel it is part of our oath to not give answers, but ask more questions. I am trying to inflect thinking, to many I may come off as a jerk. To most owners I rarely make a connection, but maybe one time I may be affecting more than the pet’s health.
For me between running a busy surgical practice, being a wife and mother, writing this blog and all the other things on my never-ending to do list it is a challenge to find time for ME.
That being said I also know that if I don’t take time for me I can’t be the person I need to be for anyone in my life. So how do I find the time for me?
I think all of us are wired differently, but I find the only way I can make time for me consistently is to take time at the start of the day, which means I get up really early-like 5:30 am. It has taken some getting used to (mainly going to bed early enough to do it) but I am a different person when I have this time alone each day.
What do I do? I spend about 20-30 minutes reading, journaling and thinking in my office.
I am one of those people who can be really addicted to technology so the iPad™ and iPhone™ stay in the kitchen because I will get online and check my email or surf the web if either of those devices are near-by.
Recently, I moved my teapot into my office so I won’t be tempted to check my email “just for a second”. This really is the only time I can be certain I will not be disturbed and I have come to cherish this time each day.
I have been doing this consistently for the past couple of years and I can tell you it makes all the difference in my day. Those days when I am a slacker and don’t get my “me” time in the morning I feel more anxious and the day never goes as well as it does when I take that time for me first thing in the morning.
We all have a lot on our to do list every day but how about putting you on that list first?
Do you have any daily rituals that help you handle all the pressures you have to deal with every day?
Read more of my posts at www.catalystvets.com
I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who works for an animal hospital I do not do work for (you will understand why I am telling you that in a minute) and she was very frustrated with her work situation.
From her perspective, there is a serious lack of communication from the practice owner. She says to me “no one knows what is going on but then again why would we because the boss isn’t telling us anything.” Wow, I would cringe if any of my team ever said that about me.
What I have learned as a business owner is that unfortunately NEGATIVITY always fills a communication void. Yes that is an always because I believe it is unfortunately our natural default to assume worse rather than the best.
Back when I was just starting my practice, I would start freaking out about why a particular hospital had not called me in awhile- did they not like me anymore, were they not happy with the job I had done or did I do something to irritate them (yes, I am much more neurotic than I may seem to be on the surface-part of being a surgeon is getting good at hiding my true feelings!)?
Well more than 9 times out of 10, they just did not have any surgery for me-imagine that!
Communication when you are the one in charge can be draining- you hear yourself talk about the why behind what you do (purpose) and the way you are going to what you do (core values) day after day and you get sick of hearing them!
What we as the leaders of our hospitals must always remember is that we cannot communicate enough with our team. About the time you are really getting sick of talking about your hospital’s core purpose and core values they are just beginning to get cemented into your team’s DNA.
Communication is also essential when it comes to keeping your team informed with how well your hospital is doing financially. I am not saying you need to have open book accounting, though that is an option, but your team needs to know when things are going well and when they are not. They have no idea-unless you tell them!
One thing I have learned in both business and in my personal life as well is that is it way better to OVERCOMMUNICATEthan under communicate and let negativity fill that void.
What is one thing you need to talk about at your next team meeting that you maybe have been avoiding?
You can read more of my posts at www.catalystvets.com
Before You Quit
Everyone has their limits. Mine was crossed on a busy Friday halfway through the morning's appointments. I sat in my car, parked in the back lot of the library. A peaceful area covered by the shade of towering ancient trees. This was my quiet place, frequented on lunch hours or when I just needed a moment to think.
Clutching my cell phone I tried to dial my husband's number through a blur of tears and trembling fingers. Then I noticed it was barely eleven o'clock, he wouldn't be on lunch break for an hour. I threw the phone onto the seat next to me and rolled down the window. The events that took place that day ran through my mind like a bad mp3 track on repeat mode.
The reality of veterinary technician work turned out to be quite different than how I first imagined it. There's a reason they refer to on the job training as trial by fire. Expectedly so, my first year was a struggle to keep my head above water. I wish I could say each day I managed to survive the training was another victory, but to me it felt like drowning.
However my stubborn nature won out and eventually I learned my way around the office. With my new confidence I hustled through exam rooms, assisted in surgery, and developed flawless radiographs as well as any of the senior Veterinary Technicians. At last, I thought I could do it all.
Years passed and the glamour began to fade. Even the unpredictable nature of the work seemed commonplace. Soon I found myself in a nasty state of compassion fatigue. Here in the midst of those foggy days, with one overwhelming Friday morning and too many demands coming toward me at once, an observant DVM asked if I needed to take a break and I said, "Yes."
That's how I ended up sitting in my car alone at the back lot of the library, losing it over what was suppose to be my dream job, but turning out to be a living nightmare. I wanted to quit right then and there. Convincing myself that it was never the right choice for me anyway. I tried to imagine working somewhere else, anywhere else that didn't involve the emotionally draining tasks of veterinary medicine.
Walking away might've seemed like the easiest solution at the the time, but the fulfillment and happiness I was missing would only be found within my ability to stay. Once I stopped feeling sorry for myself I wondered; what if I could change how I felt about my job.
It came down to one question;
Am I doing everything I can?
Once I faced it's honest answer a whole new concept came into view, one in which I controlled my own future. Over time I realized I could be doing many things differently. The first being to improve my own education. If I wanted to learn about something new it would be up to me to find those resources. I also discovered my ability to improve the workplace for others as well as myself. Instead of complaining about ineffective policies and procedures I made it a personal goal to improve these areas within my reach. By enlisting the help of my associates we presented ideas to management and I discovered I could make a positive impact on my surroundings at work. And to be honest, that felt pretty good.
I also learned how to recognize the signs of burnout and how to get out of it. I don't think I'll ever be exempt from those moments when I'm overwhelmed by this taxing, but rewarding choice. Should that day ever come I'll know it's then that I truly need to move on. However until then, when I'm weighed down by grief, crumbling under the pressure or beating myself up for a simple mistake, I remember that day I decided to stay and ask myself the question again...
Am I doing everything I can?
By Dr Liz Chmurycz, Russell Vale Animal Clinic, NSW, Australia
In veterinary consultation rooms all over the world, this question is being asked, in one way or another. Who would’ve thought though, that the way we ask this question can make a huge difference on how the consultation plays out, and how satisfied the client is at the end of it?
During the 2014 AVA Conference on Best Practice, there were many sessions dedicated to different aspects of the client – animal interaction, as the focus was on how to do the best thing by all parties. Dr Coe’s sessions in particular focused on communication between vets and clients, and within the veterinary team itself.
The ultimate goal of every client interaction is a great outcome – a satisfied client, a (hopefully) healthy pet/herd, and a contented happy vet. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always end that way. Sometimes we can prevent that, and sometimes we can’t.
A better outcome can start by the words that come out of our mouths (as veterinarians). How you ask the question "Do you have any concerns today?" can make a big difference in the final outcome – from client satisfaction, engagement, and of course from the pet’s perspective, a happy healthy pet.
Changing words from “What are you feeding your pet” to “Walk me through the last 24 hours”, and“Do you have any concerns today?” to “So what concerns do you have today”, can make a big difference on the quality of the information that is shared by the pet owner, according to Dr Jason Coe.
We know that in many cases, 80% of the diagnosis is in the quality of the history, so being able to get to that gold nugget of information without making the owner feel defensive is a real skill. And the beauty of communication is it is a skill that can be learnt.
A classic example that springs to mind is the vomiting dog, who ate half a pork roast the night before, but when the owner is asked “What do you feed your dog” they just say “kibble”. What do you think they would’ve answered if they were asked “Walk me through the last 24 hours”?
Communicating well in a consultation is not about personality and it isn’t an issue of 'you either have it or you don’t'. Connecting with a pet owner in a consultation room is a skill than can be learnt, practiced and mastered like any other skill. You don’t have to be a natural to master it, but you do need to be willing to learn.
To my surprise in the sessions on communication that I attended, the majority of the audience were vets who had been practicing for longer than 20 years (including me). It surprised me because you would’ve thought we were masters at communication after all these years. But Dr Coe made a valid point “Experience is excellent at reinforcing habit” (in other words, we may not always learn and listen).
Why did I attend these sessions on communication? Because I wanted the exact same outcome for a sick pet that a loving pet owner has. I want a satisfied owner with a healthy pet. And listening to the questions that were asked during the session, all of my colleagues felt the same.
There are always going to be clients who prefer the dictatorial approach of “you will do this and this”, but mostly clients are invested in their pet’s wellbeing through their intensive internet research and advice from friends, and this bossy approach in modern veterinary practice simply will not work.
As vets, we are always striving for client satisfaction and improving our communication with our pet owners is the best way of achieving that.
If you have any questions you would like to ask Liz about the sessions she attended at the 2014 AVA Conference, feel free to ask her in the comments section below.
By Brenda Tassava, Halow Tassava Consulting, Inspiring others to reach new heights
I’ve been teaching veterinarians, practice managers, and other small business owners to use social media since 2009. My first steps into this world were by way of Twitter and Facebook, followed quickly by learning to blog. I was fascinated by the ability of any person or business to self-publish their own words, photos and even videos.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve witnessed and even been a part of small business success stories where Facebook was a user-friendly platform that allowed the smallest of businesses to benefit from exposure that would have previously cost hundreds of dollars in advertising. Today, small businesses are getting squeezed by what used to be the friendliest of platforms: Facebook.
Let’s face it…we knew this was going to happen when Facebook became a publicly traded company. They have a financial obligation to their shareholders to focus on profitability, just like any other company. As idealistic as the founder sounded when he proclaimed that Facebook would always be free, everyone has bills to pay; this includes the second most visited site in the world on the Internet, according to Alexa, a company that ranks website traffic on a global scale.
After several years of a free ride, we’re now decrying the changes we’re seeing on Facebook that indicate a pay-to-play system.
I think the answer should be yes. Veterinarians might not have liked to pay for their yellow pages advertising, but $2,000 or more each month was once a very real part of our advertising budgets. We celebrated the shift from traditional advertising to the new paradigm of social media sharing and marketing. What we’ve forgotten is that marketing is the action or business of promoting and selling products and services, including advertising, which comes at a cost.
Veterinarians and small businesses really have two options, which aren’t exclusive of one another:
How do we know what we should be paying for Facebook promotions and ads, and whether or not that amount is going to get us the reach we’re seeking? Chris Penn of Shift Communications created a Facebook Page Cost Calculator , built with an algorithm that uses a page’s current number of likes to help small businesses answer this question. In the case of Vetanswers, with 1189 likes, to have one post seen by 100% of your audience is budgeted at $5.95 per day.
Social media strategy is all about engagement, but engagement doesn’t happen without reach. You’ve got to reach your audience before you can interact and engage with people. The future is going to require that you budget for being social.
The biggest shift we may see in the coming months is a trend towards better content. After all, if you have to pay for content to be seen by your entire audience, it had better be good, right? In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with this evolution. I’ve been teaching and preaching quality over quantity for years, and we still see businesses struggle with what they should post. No one person has time to do this right for an extended period of time without facing burnout.
It’s time to take a team approach that gets your staff involved in collaborating to produce higher quality content that is a reflection of your practice. Collaboration takes the creative process and supercharges your ideas, which leads to compelling content for your audience.
Now that we know the rug can be pulled from under us when we place all our efforts on one social media site, it’s time to diversify our strategy. Employ multiple social media platforms to act as outposts, drawing your audience into your true hub, which should be your website, not your Facebook page.
If you have a question or you'd like to comment on Brenda's take on the current situation with Facebook Business Pages tell us in the Comments Section below.
If you'd like to read more about what Brenda thinks of Facebook have a look at her blog post: HTC Discovers New Illness in the Veterinary Community (especially if you're between the ages of 52 - 68 years or you think you mught be suffering from 'Age Related Facebook Phobia' (ARFPh)!
Brenda Tassava (CVPM, CVJ) is a veterinary practice consultant and partner at Halow Tassava Consulting, based in the United States. Ms. Tassava is the author of the book, “Social Media for Veterinary Professionals”, published in 2011. HTC is currently in the middle of their 2014 Social Media for Veterinary Professionals Workshop Tour, where they are teaching hands-on social media strategy to veterinary teams in 20 U.S. cities. For more information about HTC and the tour, visit their website at www.halowtassava.com/events.
You can also connect with Brenda on:
By Danielle Lambert, Snout School, Social media support for veterinary professionals
Have you had this sort of conversation “with Facebook” lately? You’re not alone! Here on Vetanswers, Judy recently wrote a blog asking Facebook what its problem was. With Facebook reach on the decline for the majority of businesses, many are in a panic. After all, the term 'reach' describes the number of people who actually see your Facebook posts. Many veterinary professionals are becoming disgruntled, wondering what the point of using Facebook is if no one is going to see their posts.
Stop and think for a second – why have you spent time on creating Facebook posts in the past? Did you perhaps want to educate pet owners, bring in more new clients or retain current customers? Think of your answer. If it’s anything like: “Because having a Facebook is important!” – YOU ARE IN TROUBLE. Facebook is no longer a place where you can go and post any bit of information that you want to get out there to your audience. It is now a strategic tool that must be skillfully implemented in order to reap the benefits of its massive power.
And – yes – Facebook is still powerful. It has 757 MILLION daily users, and I know about 80% of my veterinary practice’s clients who use social media are on it. (I’m a little obsessed with surveying my clients.) Knowing that, I am still strongly dedicated to leveraging Facebook for my animal hospital.
Maintaining communication and a connection with your clients can be critical to retaining them, and Facebook can be utilized to achieve that goal. My main suggestion is to celebrate the heck out of your veterinary practice’s patients. Have a vet tech get a quick photo of any new patient that comes in for a visit. Utilize that photo as a “welcome post” on Facebook, celebrating the new patient. Current clients will continue to feel “in-the-know” about the goings-on at your business, and that new client will feel forever bonded after seeing their beloved pet get 15 minutes of Facebook fame.
TIP: Just posting the photo to Facebook isn’t enough. Remember, Facebook is now a strategic tool. Be sure to evaluate your Facebook Insights to choose a good time to post the photo, and ASK for engagement on the photo. The more comments your post gets, the more reach it will achieve. Simply stating, “Guess this new puppy’s name!” can spark of a string of reach-boosting comments. Using this strategy, I’ve reached over 100% of my clinic’s audience.
You put posters up in your waiting room, and you put an ad in the local newspaper about your veterinary clinic’s new evening appointments. Yet on the night of the launch, your appointment schedule is only half-booked. Sound familiar?
Well, if you have something you absolutely need your clients to know about, Facebook can help. My practice recently added in some evening appointment hours, and we used a highly-targeted Facebook ad to announce them. Facebook ads allow your veterinary practice to strategically reach more of your clients.
TIP: I’m not just talking about “boosting” a post. While boosting a post can be useful from time-to-time, I recommend creating “unpublished page posts” and running them as ads. While your results are going to vary, I was able to book 10 appointments over a long holiday weekend using this strategy by only spending a few dollars per appointment. Be sure to use an engaging image and ad copy!
Facebook is still a fantastic marketing, communication & educational tool for your veterinary practice. As mentioned before, it’s the social media platform that my hospital’s clients use the most. However, veterinarians are going to need to become more educated about using Facebook and more involved in strategically planning their posts. In the face of declining reach, properly-created Facebook ads can assist veterinary businesses in reaching their target market.
At the end of the day, I believe it is also important to survey your clients to see which other social media platforms they’re using, such as Pinterest or Instagram, and start presences on those sites. Not only that, but branching out into more modern and convenient forms of communication, such as texting, is crucial to a veterinary practice’s success. Your veterinary practice doesn’t own Facebook, but you do own your client list. If you’re goal-oriented and never forget that fact, you’ll continue to succeed no matter what Facebook does.
If you would like to ask Danielle a question about what she does with social media in her veterinary hospital or about Snout School, I know she'd love to hear from you in the comments section below!
Danielle K. Lambert is a social media coach and veterinary practice manager. She’s the founder of SnoutSchool.com, the only social media tutorial site created by a veterinary professional, for veterinary professionals. Danielle bases her coaching on experience gathered as a veterinary practice manager at Quinebaug Valley Veterinary Hospital in Danielson, Connecticut, US. In her spare time, she enjoys taking too many iPhone photos of her Brussels Griffon, Archer, and screaming at Tom Brady every Sunday.
I recently read “Influencer: The Power To Change Anything” by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, and others. “Influencer” outlines a number of methods you need in order to create lasting change within your business, your family, yourself or even the world.
One of the case studies was a large regional medical center that had over the last 13 months received decreasing patient/customer satisfaction scores. Clinical care was not the issue but people felt that they were not being treated with care, dignity or respect. The hospital director brought the executive team together and he asked, “How do they fix this?” Two teams were formed and they went about finding the positive deviance. Find the health care professionals who routinely scored high in customer satisfaction in areas where others did poorly.
They were not looking at systems, pay, and the carpet in the employee lounge but were instead focusing onBEHAVIORS they could teach others- behaviors that were both recognizable and replicable. They interviewed both these high performers and former patients.
Eventually they identified the following 5 key behaviors they believed led to high customer satisfaction scores:
Make eye contact
Let people know what you are doing and why
End every interaction with “Is there anything else you need?”
They then created a strategy to influence these behaviors. The result? As all the 4000 employees started enacting the 5 vital behaviors, service quality scores improved dramatically for 12 months in a row. Within a year, this same hospital achieved best in class among it peers and is now a recognizable best in class among its peers.
Wow all of that by making sure that everyone did these 5 things! I believe these are behaviors that would benefit your hospital as well. Probably a lot of you are intuitively doing some of them but is the rest of your team? And is everyone doing them every time? That is what will separate your hospital from the one a few miles down the road- creating predictably great experiences for your clients and their pets.
Do you have certain phrases or behaviors that ensure your team is delivering the level of customer service that you desire? Any behaviors that you have recognized in your “high performers” that make them stand out?
You can read more of my posts at www.catalystvets.com
When I put my dog, Tyrant, to sleep last year, he was 18 years old. I loved that dog like no other, I think we all have that "one" special dog that crawls into our hearts and simply implants themselves there. And its a permanent procedure. No matter how bad that dog was, how "gross" or unflattering some of his geriatric changes ever got, I felt nothing but adoration when I looked at, or simply thought about, him. I have more stories about his mischievous behavior then most parents have about their toddlers, so I will spare that digression- save it, perhaps, for another time. However, with each new antic I fell more and more in love with my Ty-man.
When Ty was a puppy, he was adorable- as all beagles are (I am bias, of course). He had the long, soft velvety ears typical of the breed. His tricolors were a slick, impressive black mixed with the perfect combination of cinnamon and milk chocolate. His white spots could not have been brighter if I bleached him. Tyrant's eyes were big and brown and oh so conniving. I could not take him for a walk in my complex without someone stopping to pet him or kiss him or pick him up. And he was fun; to say he was social would be an understatement.
As he grew up, his coat started to fade, his paws were permanently stained from saliva- he was an obsessive licker. His eyes became hazy and eventually the lenticular sclerosis (a common change in older dogs) overshadowed the beautiful brown beggers that he was born with. His teeth became worn down and yellow. His smell changed from that of an appealing puppy to a chronic old dog stench, you could say. But I loved him even more. I loved him so much as a geriatric that I did not believe I could ever love another dog again- he just filled my heart.
When I had to put him to sleep last year, due to chronic IVDD and seizures, it was heart wrenching. I lost a piece of myself, as we all do. That was my buddy, my companion, my little man. Now, everyone who was in my life over the past 18 years, knew Ty. No one ever wondered how I felt about him or what a loss I would suffer in his passing. My friends and family were supportive and I did not lack a shoulder to cry on.
With that being said, the process of saying goodbye to my Tyrannasourasrex, was not without some level of disappointment. Of course I was disappointed that the time had come and I had to let my boy cross the rainbow bridge, that goes without saying. I expected that and all the feelings that go along with the grief of losing someone you love.
What I was not prepared for, however, was the most common response or, shall I say, the most resounding sentiment from those around me- friends, family, loved ones and strangers alike. What I am referring to is the simplifying exclamation of - "Whoa, he was 18!" and anything relating to this- "18, well of course you had to put him to sleep", or the shoulder shrug, eye roll or deep breath following the same theme- "well, he was old". Yes, I realize that he was old- by any standard, mathematical or scientific conversion system you chose to use- he was old. I get it. He was past senior or geriatric, even. My buddy was ancient! I KNOW!
But what I do not understand is this, should it be easier to say goodbye because a pet is older, less attractive, less social. Did I deserve less empathy simply because my dog was 18 and not 6 when I lost him? Aesthetically, Ty was probably not the most appealing- judging from the decrease in number of people anxious to touch him on his walks, or the nosey nancy at the pet store who turned her nose up as she remarks.."ehhh, someone needs a bath..." No. He didn't need a bath. I bathed him. His stains were permanent, his hair didnt have a chance of growing back, his warts weren't going anywhere. Sure, his gait was a little more stiff as the years went on, he bumped into a rogue wall now and then, he panted more, at times, for no reason. As he aged, he became less interested in saying hi to strangers- human and animal alike. And whether you are in the veterinary field or not, you should know that this is the normal progression of an aging pet, or one would think this was common knowledge.
I have noticed more and more, and probably more now after experiencing this loss of my own, that this is not an isolated incidence of lack of empathy towards our senior pets and their owners. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say directly or indirectly to me that a patients problem is that he/she is old- I would be a millionaire. And my question is this- why is there such a lack of empathy towards our pets and those who love them as the pet ages. For me, each day I spent with Ty in his later years and months- the more strongly cemented our bond was. As an emergency doctor, now, I see and hear this all too often- "he's 10, Doc!"...and I think to myself, so what?? So he doesnt get a chance, because he is a little older? His parents dont deserve our greatest of efforts- they should just have expected this? I strongly disagree.
Our geriatric pets and their owners deserve just as much, if not more, of our care, concern and empathy. This profession isnt simply about caring for the young and healthy- and thank goodness- how boring that would be! In fact, the opposite is true- in this field where our companion animals are living longer and longer, it should be our priority to learn even more about how to give our geriatrics the highest quality of life medically possible- and instead of minimizing the loss of a senior pet, blowing off the significance of the 17 or 18 years the pet was alive, we should offer not just one, but both shoulders for the owner to cry on. These days, most human relationships dont even last as long as our pets do- and of these relationships virtually none of them end with the amount of love we still have towards our pets on the day we have to involuntarily say goodbye forever.
The name Arianna Huffington may not ring any bells with you but Huffington Post probably does. As the women behind the hugely successful Huffington Post she is someone who seemingly had it all- money, power and a lot of resources yet as she found those are not what make for a fulfilling life.
After a medical scare, she started questioning the crazy life she was leading. By the usual measures of success, Huffington was hugely successful, but was this even sane or sustainable?
In her book, “Thrive” she challenges us to redefine success beyond money and power-what she calls the Third Metric. It is a great reminder that having “it all” and defining success the way the world wants you to may not actually be the key to having a fulfilling, purposeful life.
I think we all realize there is way more to life than our careers, having a bigger house or more and more “stuff,” but we all need a reminder every once in awhile- or in my case a lot of reminders!
“Thrive” is centered on 4 pillars- Well-being, Wisdom, Wonder and Giving.
Well-being- According the Huffington, Women in stressful jobs have a nearly 40% increased risk of heart disease, and a 60% greater risk of diabetes. Here in the United States most people are chronically sleep deprived-not only us but also our kids. To quote Huffington “ According to a study from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, sleep deprivation reduces our emotional intelligence, self-regard, assertiveness, sense of independence, empathy towards others, the quality of our interpersonal relationships, positive thinking and impulse control”.
The bottom line is if you are not taking care of yourself, it does not matter how successful your business is!
Wisdom- this is something that is sorely lacking in out world today. How many times have we seen seemingly smart people make the craziest decisions? These people may be intelligent but being intelligent does not make someone wise. Wisdom is taking advice from trusted sources and learning from our past experiences.
Wonder-This may sound kind of hokey but wonder is all around us. How often do we take time out to appreciate it though? I know I am way guilty of having too many things on my to-do list to take time out of my day to enjoy the world around me.
Giving- Again, in our busy world giving of our time and energy may seem impossible but what all people who do serve others know is that they are the ones that benefit as much if not more that the people they are helping. Huffington references numerous studies that clearly show the benefits the “givers” receive including one that “found that volunteering was connected to lower rates of depression, higher reports of well-being and a significant reduction in mortality risk.”
“Thrive” reinforced many beliefs I already had and has served as an inspiration to keep me doing some of the things I am already doing but it also made me try some new things- like making getting enough sleep every night a non-negotiable.
I really enjoyed this inspiring book and bet you will to. If you would you like to win a free copy of “Thrive” just leave a comment below and we will pick a winner on June 14th.
To read more of my posts go to www.catalystvets.com
Tara the tabby cat is the most recent animal hero to make rounds on the Internet. The ferocious feline was caught on tape saving her family's 4-year-old son from a dog attack. You can see the video here.
But those of us who know and love pets aren't surprised. While your clients may think of themselves as caretakers for their pets, their pets are often looking out for their needs, too. Who here has ever had a bad day and come home to a gregarious greeting from the family dog? You just can't contain the smiles when the pooch does the "happy to see you" dance. And the last time you were upset, did you look down to realize the kitty snuck into your lap to offer comfort?
More and more, we're beginning to recognize—and celebrate—the benefits of pets, whether it's the military dogs at work with human companions in foreign countries, the service dogs who offer help and support or the family pet. And that's what I think pet owners may sometimes forget, just a little: There's a hero inside every pet. Their love for us—and attachment to us, despite our flaws—shows how heroic they truly are.
My parents had a miniature poodle named Schroder. He was the baby before I existed. And the day my parents brought me home from the hospital, he marched into my bedroom and pooped on my new pink carpet. He was not my biggest fan. But six years later, he saved me and my 3-year-old brother.
It all began across the alley, where a new neighbor moved in with a pair of Dobermans. He kept these two dogs in a fence that they could easily conquer every time the whim took them. They'd been badly treated and teased by children before, so our mother warned us to stay clear. And we did.
It didn't help. Every time we stepped into the backyard, the dogs would bark. We tended to stay close to the back door, where we could easily duck inside. And each time they jumped the fence to roam, my mother would call animal control.
But one day, we got lost in play. The Dobermans didn't bark this time, and we didn't notice them until our mom started screaming. I made it to the back door, but my brother was still far behind, and the dogs were lightning bolts. As my mom opened the back door, Schroder—tiny, gray and yipping like mad—shot past, interrupting the Dobermans before they reached my brother.
My mother shuttled us into the house, still screaming as she raced after the dog. My brother and I watched from the screen door as one of the Doberman lifted and shook Schroder, then threw him away. Mom reached the dogs before they could grab hold of Schroder for another shake and toss, and they fled back to the safety of their yard and over the oh-so-escapable fence.
Schroder recovered, and we stopped going into the backyard. Soon afterward, we moved away.
I suspect inside most pets is a love for their families that can stimulate heroic action, whether it's sitting with us to offer comfort in a time of sadness or grief or literally leaping to our rescue when danger threatens.
If you need a good reminder for pet owners about how amazing their pets are, you might start with the cat video on the Leadership Challenge Cat Care page, "Rebranding the Cat." You'll notice there are no logos on it—that's because we've made it for you to share as you see fit. You can post it on social media, use it on your website—any way that you communicate with your pet owners.
I'm glad we take the time to stop and celebrate these pets with amazing stories—and I think it doesn't hurt to stop and look at the pets around us and know that there's an amazing hero inside them, too, even if they have different ways of showing it.
Team Channel Director, dvm360
I am guessing that it would not be news to you that many veterinary practice owners are struggling. Yes, there are definitely practices out there doing well, but it is not true of all of them. In the last few years, I have seen one veterinarian lose his practice and know of a couple of others in our area that are really struggling even though we are located in one of the best areas of the United States to live and to own a business.
I do not believe that these practice owners should to be in the position they are in, but I have noticed some commonalities with the struggling veterinarians who I know.
The biggest one is that they don’t have a strong support system in place.
I am not talking about people who are working in their hospital instead what I mean is they do not have a group of colleagues who they can talk to about their struggles and challenges. We are only lying to ourselves if we believe our struggles are unique to us. We all have many of the same issues going on, yet instead of being vulnerable and open, these people choose to shut down, blame others and basically bury their head in the sand.
I honestly, think there was a time that you could as the practice owner get away with this type of behavior- you certainly were in survival mode rather than thriving but it was still sustainable. Unfortunately, times are changing and our profession is becoming more competitive and saturated, which means it is more challenging than ever to run a profitable animal hospital.
The second thing I see is these veterinarians are scared to change.
Even though the situations they are in are clearly not working, they either don’t take the time to step back and gain perspective or they are too overwhelmed to even know were to begin so instead they do nothing. This will not work.
One of the best things we do with CatalystVETS is have community groups. These groups consist of 4-5 veterinarians who commit to meeting monthly in order to better our practices and ourselves. It is incredible how much we learn from each other and we also realize that “I am not the only one struggling with this issue.”
These community groups allow participants to have wise counsel and to have accountability we all need in order to get things done.
Do you have wise counsel? Do you have a group of trusted colleagues who you allow yourself to be vulnerable with- if not, then why not? Do you think you are too good for that? Do you think you must have all the answers?
What I can tell you without a doubt is that one of us is never going to be smarter than all of us and it is time for us small business practice owners to start working together rather than trying to compete.
Are you interested in joining or starting a CatalystVETS community group? If so let us know and we can help you get one started!
You can read more of my posts at www.catalystvets.com
We know Facebook are constantly tinkering with their algorithms (the mathematical equations that determine which posts are seen on newsfeeds & which aren’t) but I’ve noticed that recent ‘tweaks’ have caused a dramatic decrease in the number of people seeing posts on their Newsfeed from Vetanswers. Have you noticed similar decreases on your Pages?
I might know a little more about the use of Pages than some but I know a lot less than many so the opinions that follow are purely that – my opinions and I would be more than happy to hear from Facebook experts.
I think the big question I now have is...if you have noticed a large drop in the ‘reach’ (Reach = the number of people that actually see what you’ve posted on their Newsfeed) of your posts what does that mean for the effectiveness of your veterinary practice Facebook Page?
Facebook have always said that if your post is interesting and engaging to your audience then it stands to reason more people will comment, ‘Like’ & Share. This will increase the algorithm of the post and cause it to appear on more Newsfeeds. But now my question is "How is it possible for those that have ‘Liked’ my Page to engage with the information if they never get to see it?" I just can’t see how a Post that is only seen by 1% of those that have chosen to ‘Like’ my Page is ever going to have much of a chance to engage - no matter how fascinating?!
A popular post on Vetanswers used to be seen by 30% of the Page ‘Likers’ but over the last few months this percentage has dropped to lows of below 4%.
Most weeks I used to pay to ‘sponsor’ a post – usually a link to a Vetanswers blog post – and for $5.00 I would be given an estimated reach of around 800 to 1,500 with an actual reach of around 1,000 and would often gain around 7 or so new ‘Likes’ to my Page. I thought that wasn’t bad value for $5.00.
Now? Well for $5.00 for a Sponsored Post, Facebook offers a reach of only 310 to 820 – which is effectively the 30% ‘Reach’ I used to receive from a normal (free) post. To achieve a Reach of anywhere near the 1,000 views I was receiving for a sponsored post I would now need to spend $22.00! No thanks - all payments to Facebook now suspended!
Here are some stats from a few recent posts – 2 in particular I’ve already written about – that proved particularly popular without having to pay to sponsor them:
Interestingly this Post that was seen by over 14,000 people has been removed from the Vetanswers Timeline by Facebook. This information appears on my ‘Insights’ page but not on my Timeline. Why Facebook, why??
And another post on the toxicity of chocolate proved to be a winner over the Easter weekend & was seen by over 3,000 people...
And finally a link to a fun video also proved popular from a ‘Reach’ perspective (over 1,000), although not so much from a Share, ‘Like’, Comment or New Likes perspective
Interestingly from what I can see, none of these post generated any new 'Likes' for my Page!
I know I could dramatically increase the number of Views, Likes & Shares of my Posts by only posting cute & funny images or wittily captioned cartoons but that’s not what Vetanswers is all about. My aim is to help you manage your business more successfully so although a bit of fun is good I also believe it’s important that I share information that’s useful – even if it’s not going to go viral. But that’s my choice.
My opinion? Well I will admit to being concerned for the future direction of Facebook and in particular Business Pages. I suspect the ‘honeymoon’ is over and our (relatively) free ride is at an end. At this stage I no longer think Facebook offers your Business the same amazing opportunities to connect with a wide ranging audience that it used to offer. Maybe users have just 'Liked' too many Facebook Pages and Newsfeed really have become too crowded. Or maybe Facebook are not making the financial returns they require. Whatever the reason for the changes, I do believe as a social media platform, Facebook still offers good opportunities to connect with a smaller more passionate group of clients & potential clients – those smaller numbers who actively engage with your posts (and not just the cutesy ones either!).
I still firmly believe though it is absolutely essential that every veterinary business has a Facebook Page and that the Page is updated daily, or at least a few times a week with a range of posts that are a balanced mix of educational, interesting, fun and cute.
According to Social Media News, Facebook still has nearly 11,500,000 Australian users which means that many if not most of your clients and potential clients are still using Facebook. They are just unlikely to be seeing your posts! Many people still use Facebook as a pseudo Business Directory. If they want to find out about a new business or even search for local businesses, then Facebook is often where they go first. Sure they may look for your website but that’s often a static resource. They’ll search for your Facebook Page and then look for what sort of information you’ve been sharing. How interesting & useful is it? How recent is it?
So what are your thoughts about Facebook? What have you seen happening to the number of people viewing your posts? Do you agree with me or have I got it completely wrong?
Dr. Justine Lee is the CEO and founder of VetGirl, LLC, a subscription-based podcast and webinar service offering veterinary continuing education (CE). Previously, she was on faculty at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine (2003-2008) and the Associate Director of Veterinary Services of an animal poison control center (2009-2013). Dr. Lee graduated veterinary school from Cornell University, and completed her internship at Angell. In addition, Dr. Lee completed an emergency fellowship and residency at University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Lee is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Emergency Critical Care (DACVECC) and a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology (DABT).
Dr. Lee has been published in numerous veterinary journals, including the JAVMA, JVIM, JVECC, and JAAHA. She is one of the editors and authors of The Five Minute Veterinary Consult Clinical Companion: Small Animal Toxicology textbook (Wiley, 2010) and the Veterinary Clinics of North America Small Animal: Emergency Medicine textbook (Elsevier, 2013). Dr. Lee has also published several veterinary book chapters, and has been aired on radio and television to promote preventative medicine, animal health, and the overall well being of pets. Dr. Lee is the author of two humorous pet reference books entitled It’s a Dog’s Life… but It’s Your Carpet and It’s a Cat’s World… You Just Live In It. She currently is a contributing author and blogger for Pet Health Network. More information can be found at www.drjustinelee and www.vetgirlontherun.com. (see more info on Dr. Lee below interview)
Rebecca: Tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you end up in veterinary medicine, and how did you get where you are now?
Justine: It was a lifelong dream. I’ve wanted to be a veterinarian since I was seven. I’m actually really fortunate I had that career path, because I honestly don’t know what I would do otherwise. I guess it’s just something I’ve always been passionate about.
I’m most appreciative of my parents, because they’ve always been completely supportive of me becoming a veterinarian. I’m a first-generation Chinese-American, and Chinese parents stereotypically want you to go to med school. I’m glad my parents have always fostered my passion for veterinary medicine!
Justine: I did my undergrad at Virginia Tech, which had a strong animal science program. Then I went to vet school at Cornell. There, I was in the first class to go through a 100% problem-based learning curriculum, and actually really struggled with it!
Rebecca: Yes, I remember that. We had one class at NCSU that was problem based. It was a disaster for me, too!
Justine: Although I struggled through my first three years of vet school (where I got Cs), I was able to shine where my passion was – in clinics! After all, C stands for “clinical”! After a year of As in clinics, I finally upped my GPA to a B- (3.0). Thankfully, we’re taught in vet school that C equals DVM. I didn’t think I was going to get an internship because I was a C student. However, because of my strong clinical year, I obtained an internship at Angell in Boston. After my internship, I went to Penn, where I did my emergency critical care fellowship and residency.
Justine: When I finished my residency, I took a position at University of Minnesota. I was on faculty there for five years, and that’s what led me to Minnesota.
Ultimately, I became a bit burnt out because I had been doing ER for about 17 years. I developed compassion fatigue. I always promised myself when I became fried or experienced burnout, I would take time off.
I ended up taking three months off just to mentally regroup, travel, and enjoy life. After my break I went into veterinary industry. For the last five years, I was the Associate Director at an animal poison control based out of Minneapolis.
Working in veterinary industry was really interesting because it taught me how incredible our veterinary field is. We have so much diversity and opportunity. You can be a general practitioner or a specialist. You can go into industry or teach. You can also go into public health and research.
I never would have thought that I’d go into veterinary industry, as I’m such a clinician at heart. It ended up being a unique position, where I was able to build on leadership skills and different skill sets (marketing, customer service, social media, etc.). This past September, I left that industry job so I could spend more time focusing on my work-life balance, and to build VetGirl.
Rebecca: That had to be a scary leap, huh?
Justine: It was, but I basically had organized multiple part-time positions. Currently, I have four to five part-time jobs that all combine together and become one full-time job (well, slightly more than that).
Rebecca: The other advantage of veterinary medicine is having the flexibility to practice that way. How many physicians can work part-time or piece together several part-time jobs into a full-time job? That’s typically unheard of in human medicine, and it offers veterinarians so much variety in our profession.
Justine: Exactly. Basically, I work at an emergency critical care specialty clinic in the Twin Cities one day a week. One to two days a week, I do scientific writing or blogging for Pet Health Network through IDA. I also spend a few days a week working on VetGirl and/or lecturing, both nationally and internationally. This is my true passion, as I love to deliver clinically relevant continuing education that’s practical. I love being able to give veterinary professionals one or two take-away points from my lectures to help improve their quality of care to their patients.
That’s one of the reasons why I ended up founding VetGirl – to be able to provide continuing education with smart technology – from a smart phone or tablet!
Rebecca: You speak at a lot of the International Veterinary Seminars (IVS) don’t you?
Justine: Yes, I’ve been with IVS for the last eight years, and I absolutely love the ability to travel to a fun location, lecture/learn, and meet great people!
Rebecca: Yeah, that’s a nice gig, and their meetings are in great places! You may have already alluded to this, but what do you love most about veterinary medicine?
Justine: Besides the animal interaction, I love being able to save lives and help promote the human-animal bond. For me, one of my passions is to be able to communicate appropriately to a pet owner. This hit home when my own pit bull was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was my first dog ever (as an adult), and I had gone through a lot of “stuff” in life with him. After being on the other side of the table, it really changed how I communicate with pet owners.
Rebecca: Do you have concerns about where we’re going – where we’re headed as a profession right now?
Justine: I wrote a blog about this exact topic about a year ago through Exceptional Veterinarian Team (now Veterinary Team Brief). There are several things I’m worried about. I love our profession, but I think two of the main things we need to worry about are 1) the increase in an all-female field, and 2) the growing veterinary student debt.
While I’m all for women in leadership (as I’m a huge advocate of Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In), I do think there are some concerns about becoming an all-female profession. We don’t want the risk of becoming a pink-collar profession, such as seen in the nursing field.
I think it’s really important for us to stay firm in how we practice as scientists, promoting One Health. Not only are we promoting the human-animal bond, but we’re also promoting one health between species. In other words, we’re promoting health and awareness of zoonotic diseases, and animals as markers for human disease. We need to make sure we continue to promote research and a higher level of science.
Another concern is that we, as females, are generally poor negotiators for ourselves.
Rebecca: I’m horrible.
Justine: As a result, we end up seeing a lower salary. When I finished my internship, I was offered the same position as my male intern-mate at $10,000 less, and this was back in 1998.
Justine: It still happens. As it becomes a female-dominant field, I think we have to be the best advocate for ourselves in veterinary medicine. There are some countries (like Norway) that are flooded with an over-abundance of female veterinarians. They may not be negotiating well. And as a result of having a surplus of veterinarians, many are graduating without paid jobs.
We need to:
(a) Advocate for ourselves well,
(b) Negotiate well, and
(c) Do everything we can to make sure that AVMA or our clinical governing bodies look out for us.
In other words, we need to make sure our profession/market isn’t flooded so there are still jobs available for everyone graduating. One of my biggest frustrations with veterinarian schools right now is that they continue to increase their class size (for tuition dollars).
Justine: I really think veterinarians need to be more aggressive reaching out to their AVMA delegates so they can have a louder voice about this surplus of veterinarians. Five years from now, it’ll be too late. We must fix this problem now!
Rebecca: No doubt. It’s pretty scary. Like you, I always wanted to be a veterinarian. I never want to be in a situation, where if somebody says to me, “I want to do what you want to do”, and I’m going to have to say, “No, don’t do it.”
I have changed my tune a little bit. Now I say, “If you have to go into debt to do it, I’m not sure I’d recommend it. However, if you can do it without debt, then absolutely. You’d be golden.”
Justine: I think that’s a big concern, especially with more females going into the field. If females focus and prioritize on family, then they don’t start their own small business or buy clinics. We create problems where we’re no longer becoming small business owners (I’m really a huge advocate of women becoming small business leaders). Women need to be more aggressive about “leaning in”, to prevent our field from moving in the wrong direction.
Rebecca: Absolutely. That’s definitely what we’re promoting with CatalystVETS, and what we believe in, too.
Rebecca: Because it’s not headed in the direction it needs to.
Rebecca: What about the idea of VetGirl? How did you come up with it? How has it taken off? It’s a great idea.
Justine: Thank you. I actually came up with the idea ten years ago when I was studying for my emergency critical care boards. I remember wanting to go for a hike with my dog or run in the woods for mental health. Instead, I was stuck inside studying for boards! I felt guilty going out to exercise when I knew I should be studying!
Rebecca: Been there. Done that.
Justine: All I wanted to do was put on my Walkman (this was pre-iPhone days) and have someone teach me as I was running. A few years ago, when I was studying for my toxicology boards, I felt the same way. That’s when I reached out to Garret Pachtinger, a fellow criticalist. Garret and I created VetGirl, a subscription-based podcast and webinar service that offers RACE-approved veterinary continuing education (CE). It’s designed to be tech savvy, where you can get 20 hours of CE through your Smart Phone as long as you have Internet access!
As an emergency critical specialist, I’m a total multi-tasker. I like to run, I like to exercise, and I like to learn at the same time! With VetGirl, you can learn while you’re commuting to work, walking your dog, or running!
I often get asked about the name VetGirl. The name is based off the popularity of “girl” in pop culture right now. But it’s also aimed to focus on our predominantly female field. It’s aimed for the demographic of veterinarians that grew up with a Smart Phone in their hand.
I’m really excited and passionate about VetGirl. I think it’ll help revolutionize the way we learn, while keeping us up to date on veterinary literature simultaneously. We released VetGirl in July of 2013, and have been excited to see it grow. With a subscription to VetGirl ELITE (which is $199 a year), you get access to 20 to 24 hours of CE that you can stream from your smart phone!
Rebecca: Wow! That probably provides enough CE credits per year for any state. What a great idea.
Justine: I’m excited.
Rebecca: That certainly helps with that work-life balance, because I tell you, it’s hard to get away to go to meetings. I was supposed to go to one earlier this year, and got snowed out. I couldn’t get out of the airport.
Rebecca: How has the response been?
Justine: It’s been great. We’re really excited because of our growing social media following (we have about 23,500 fans on Facebook). Our subscribers love it, and have given us nothing but positive feedback. They love our CE because it’s clinical and practical.
We’re trying to adapt the technology and improve it. Right now, it’s only streamable, which means that you need Internet access to listen to the pod casts and webinars. Our goal down the line is to make it downloadable.
Rebecca: That’s great.
Justine: Yeah. You can get a ton of free online CE nowadays through different veterinary companies, but VetGirl really prides itself on having clinically relevant, practical CE that’s presented by board-eligible specialists. We’ve done about 15 webinars already, and thousands have viewed our content and love it!
Justine: Yeah. It’s definitely a fun process. Originally, when we first released VetGirl, our primary focus was emergency critical care. Since then, we’ve expanded it to include more diverse topics such as toxicology, oncology, ophthalmology, internal medicine, surgery, cardiology, and more!
It’s been really exciting to see it grow. Again, we have a huge diversity of CE topics. We just had one on backyard poultry. We even have several coming up on suicide awareness (and the prevalence in veterinary medicine), on wildlife, and on practice management. It’s been fun. It’s been neat to see it grow, and to see people really enjoy it and love the practicality of it.
Rebecca: Yeah. Absolutely. That’s awesome. We’ll definitely make sure we provide a link for our readers so they can take a look at that, if they don’t know about it already.
Rebecca: What about advice to new grads?
Justine: My advice to new grads – and my general philosophy in life – is to work hard and play hard. I know there are a lot of discrepancies in the way different generations work (e.g., Baby Boomer versus X, Y versus Millennial generations). I do think that during your first three years as a new veterinarian, it’s so important to develop your skill-set. Work hard for a top quality practice, and put in your time. This may be 60-80 hours a week initially, but it’s important to really develop your clinical skills in the beginning of your career.
Also, I think it’s important to stay broad and diversified so you can do it all: see emergencies, do surgery, be able to dig into some internal medicine, yet knowing when to refer. The most important advice for new grads is to know that you’re going to make mistakes. We’ve all made them. Just don’t make the same mistake twice. Work really hard; acknowledge that you’re going to make mistakes; always continue to learn; and aim to constantly improve your quality of care.
Rebecca: That’s great.
Justine: Another is to live frugally. I’m a big believer in this – especially as veterinary school debt grows tremendously. With smart financial advice and guidance, you can pay off your loans in 10-15 years.
Rebecca: Absolutely. It shouldn’t take 30 years, or whatever insane amount the “experts” recommend.
Justine: I was really fortunate. I paid mine off in 11 years, and that was with one internship – one super internship – and three years of residency. Until last March, I drove a Hyundai. It’s really important that people live within their means and realize that they have to live in a frugal manner to be able to get themselves out of debt. Otherwise, they’re going to be completely stressed out from that heavy financial burden. Nobody wants that. It slowly eats away from your passion in veterinary medicine.
The third thing is ‘work hard and play hard’. Veterinarians need to have an outlet. This is really important because of the statistics that show veterinarians are at a higher risk for suicide, depression, and mental health disorders.
Make sure you have non-veterinarian related habits or hobbies. I didn’t start playing sports like ice hockey and ultimate Frisbee until I was 30. I didn’t start running until I was 35. In my spare time (ha ha), I love to read, garden, hike with the dog, and travel. It’s so important to have an outlet away from veterinary medicine so you can turn your brain off.
Rebecca: That is great advice. What do you think veterinary medicine is going to be like in ten years?
Justine: I’m going to try to stay optimistic. My projection is that in ten years, veterinary medicine is going to be predominately female, with less business ownership and more large corporate companies owning veterinarian clinics. I think there will be a lowered respect level (by the general public) for veterinarians, and it continues to get worse, with more competition between veterinarians.
I’ve seen veterinary medicine change significantly in the 17 years I’ve been a vet, and not necessarily in positive ways. When I graduated, there was no such thing as social media or online reviews. We never had to deal with these things. Now, veterinarians are much more in the limelight.
We also need to utilize our AVMA delegates more to make sure that our voice is represented. They’ve done a great job in certain areas (such as the Farm Bill). We need to make sure they are addressing future issues such as student debt load, mental health, and an over-abundance of veterinarians.
Justine: Also, we need to step back and look at our profession on a global level. Why are veterinarians getting so burnt out that they don’t want to own practices? Why are they depressed? Why are they committing suicide? Are we becoming a pink-collar profession with a lower respect level and a higher debt load? What do we do about this?
But I’m going to stay optimistic. With baby steps and improvements in leadership, we can keep our profession strong. We do need to be progressive, move forward and be aggressive about making sure that we as veterinarians are viewed in a positive light – especially among pet owners.
Rebecca: That’s great stuff. I think you’re entirely on point on that. Hopefully, people like you can help that happen, and help move the industry in a positive direction instead of a negative one, that’s for sure.
Justine: The funny thing is, I never thought that I, as a C student, would be a small business owner of VetGirl.
Rebecca: I get that. I never thought I would be a small business owner, either.
Justine: It’s really important that we stay optimistic. My general philosophy is everyone has great ideas. People don’t always take the time to take that great idea to the next level. I really encourage future veterinarians or new grads to still stay positive, to stay passionate about the field, and to make sure we are moving in the right direction.
Rebecca: Anything else you’d like to add?
Justine: Actually, we are very passionate about a free webinar on suicide awareness in May. It will air May 21, 2014. You can find out more about it on our VetGirl website. Jeannine Moga, MSW, a social worker who is at NC State, and Eden Myers, DVM are hosting it. Veterinary medicine is very relational – we want to take care of our colleagues, right?
Rebecca: I guess I didn’t realize how common these issues are in veterinary medicine. It’s just so sad and crazy. That’s one thing that scares me about the debt load, too – people dealing with compassion fatigue multiplied by debt. That’s not a good situation at all. We will be sure to get that out to everyone we can.
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with us. It’s been a great interview, and I so appreciate all the great things you are doing for veterinary medicine.
(continued bio from above)
Dr. Lee lectures throughout the world on emergency, critical care, and toxicology, and is passionate about providing clinically relevant CE. Recently, she was honored with “Speaker of the Year” at the North American Veterinary Conference (2011) and the Association des Médecines Vétérinaires du Québec (2012).
VetGirl is hosting a free webinar on suicide awareness and prevention on May 21, 2014. It will be from 7pm-8: 30 pm EST will provide you with 1.5 hours of RACE-approved CE.
During the webinar, Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW and Eden Myers, DVM will be discussing the prevalence of suicide in the veterinary profession in order to raise awareness and to empower attendees to prevent suicide within our community.
A brief review of the recent literature will inform you of current thinking regarding epidemiology, detection and prevention of suicidal behavior. They will also debunk some of the most common misconceptions regarding how to handle issue of suicide in your personal and professional life.
As you may know, recently a veterinarian in New York City committed suicide. This is a real problem in our profession and it MUST stop!
This webinar, thanks to VetGIrl can be watched in the privacy of your own home, BUT we need YOU to help spread the word.
Please forward this to as many people as you know, share it on facebook, tweet about it on twitter-whatever you have to do- get this important webinar out to as many people as you can!