What is your strongest asset you ask? Well all of us feel that we provide the highest quality medicine, that we are compassionate and give leading veterinary care. That our DVM'S are the most talented and brightest around town. The truth is that we are all in the veterinary field because we love animals and believe that we can make a difference. All the while who is focusing on your clients needs? Who is giving the undivided attention to the owner of that cat or dog? They have taken the time to leash up their dog or carry their cat to us. We could truly be the best hospital in our area but how will our client’s distinguish us from the guy down the street? Well I'll tell you how! Our team!! Your internal customers are just as important as your external ones. If you are able to guide, coach and develop your team to their fullest potential the rest will follow. Great employees equal great business. Your team will make or break you. They are the reason that you receive a word of mouth referral or people like you on facebook. What takes you from ordinary to extraordinary is a team that is empowered to make decisions and feel like they own the business.
Of course everyone is asking how you ever find such a team. You lead by example, showing your team that they make a difference. That you are willing to listen, learn and grow. That sometimes it's ok to give a little to gain a lot. You may be surprised at the talent that you already have under your roof that you may of just not realized yet. Do you regularly ask your team how they are doing and what you as an employer could be doing better. It's as simple as measuring where you are and setting goals to improve. Start by making sure that all your team members have had a review in the past 6-12 months. Ask them to come prepared to their review with a self evaluation as well as what their expectations of their role at your hospital is. Do your expectations align with one another? If not what steps can be taken to clearly map out each persons role and responsibility in the success of the practice. Encourage feedback and ideas that are outside of the box. Learn to let go. It's ok to not control everything that comes your way. You may be surprised at what you get when you allow someone else to make it there own and run with it. Encourage and reward good behavior and risk taking. Coach, guide and reprimand professionally and privately. Complement your team privately and publicly. A bad apple will spoil the whole tree. If you have done your part to coach, guide and set clear expectations and your employee's performance doesn’t improve it's ok to help them find somewhere else to work.
Always remember that when a client comes through your door the best thing you can do, is to make it a memorable experience. Clients can get veterinary care any where; it's up to you how they are treated when they come through your door. Do you want to be known as the Disneyland or Walmart of veterinary care? Remember it's the experience that makes the memories and memories that bonds clients to you. The bond that we share is what keeps our clients coming back through the door.
PMOY - Aan Gonsalves
Dr. Andy Roark is a veterinarian, international speaker, and author. He is an award-winning columnist for DVM360, and has a regular column on Vetstreet.com. Dr. Roark’s popular Facebook page has over 50,000 fans, and his humorous educational videos have been viewed over 375,000 times. For more information about Dr. Roark, go to http://www.drandyroark.com/
Rebecca: Do you have any concerns about where we are, as a profession, right now?
Andy: I have a number of concerns. I think there’s something dangerous about these times in our profession. But, whenever you have volatile times like these, there are also huge opportunities because things are changing very rapidly. One thing that concerns me is the increasing number of veterinarians coming out of school. I say that as a vet. If I say that in front of a practice manager, he or she may say “More vets- bring them on!” But that’s what I mean, there’s a lot of opportunity. It all depends on where you are and how you position yourself.
We must be willing to innovate and adapt. Some people will innovate, and now is the time to do it. This period of rapid change presents a huge opportunity. I think some people will rise to the challenge. They’ll innovate, and they’ll change the way we practice veterinary medicine. Those people who innovate and adapt will have very successful careers. People who don’t innovate and adapt are going to have some really hard times.
Rebecca: Would you encourage someone to become a veterinarian now?
Andy: All I can do is encourage people to try to make a rational rather than an emotional decision of “Do I want to want to be a vet?” I encourage them to really look at the income, debt, and employment numbers. Some people will say yes, this is what I want to do and I understand the implications of walking this path I think you have to respect that. Hopefully, they’re not throwing their lives into turmoil by taking on debt that will cripple them forever. I think as long you know what you’re getting into, though, I will be supportive.
That being said, those people who choose veterinary school will have a huge burden to overcome. Most are going to have a lot of debt. They won’t be able to afford not to work, and that’s going to drive change in our profession. You are going to see those people innovating. They’ll be your house call veterinarians. They’ll do in-home hospice care. They’ll do vaccine trucks. They’ll develop new service pricing strategies, or they’ll leverage mobile technology in new ways to be more efficient. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the next generation of veterinarians is going to have to find a way to make it all work.
Rebecca: So you see big changes ahead?
Andy: The new veterinarians coming out are going to be a catalyst for rapid change. This can be wonderful because we may figure out how to really grow our profession and provide care in a way we never have before. That’s what I hope happens. However, I also worry that we won’t innovate. The financial aspects of our profession could really decline, and you have a huge amount of competition without innovation. I think that’s a huge danger. That’s what failure looks like for our profession.
Rebecca: It’s going to go one way or another, that’s for sure.
Andy: Exactly. It could be change that’s good for our profession, or it could be change that’s disastrous.
Rebecca: I know you’re not there yet, but what is one piece of advice you’d give to practice owners.
Andy: The basic advice I give to practice owners as an associate veterinarian is, “It starts and ends with you. Don’t kid yourself.”
Andy: I talk a lot to associate veterinarians, practice managers and technicians. One of their most common frustrations is a practice owner’s “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality. It just doesn’t work.
If you show up to work late and you say, “Well, I can be late. I’m the boss,” you’re not going to inspire your team. If you show up to work late, what you’re really saying is that behavior is okay, even if you tell everyone it’s not. If you give away services, what you’re saying is it’s okay to give away services. If you have rules, and then you break the rules, what you’re really saying is those rules are just guidelines.
Andy: That is the message you’re sending with your actions. I’m not a practice manager or a practice owner. However, I’ll tell you as someone who works in clinics and watches practice owners, you have great, great influence. You’ve got to walk the walk, and you’re the one in charge. No one can build a great culture without you. You can’t have a wonderful, happy practice around an owner who doesn’t live that lifestyle, support the mission, and live the principles of the practice’s core values.
You can be happy in those environments if you’re not the boss, and I think you can do a lot of good. Ultimately though, if you want to have a high-powered successful practice – the practice owner has to take ownership.
Rebecca: Absolutely, great advice. I love that. What’s your advice for associates, since you are one of those?
Andy: My biggest piece of advice for associates is take ownership of your career. This is not a holding pattern to become a practice owner. You have great power in controlling your own happiness and career as an associate.
Looking at resumes from new grads, I often see very generic resumes that seem designed to send the message, “I’m a competent veterinarian.” I’m going to tell you, that’s not enough. It’s not enough to be a competent veterinarian, and it’s not going to make you happy. As a veterinarian, you are special. You’re special in a number of ways. There are three key ways you, as an associate, are special:
Number one: your passion; number two: your expertise; and number three: your style.
Find your passion with questions like: Why am I a veterinarian? What do I care about? What do I love? What lights my fire? When you and I introduced ourselves in the beginning, you told me what you’re passionate about. There’s a million things you can look at – particularly your blog and your interest in coaching. That makes you special. That’s your passion. That’s a big part what you’re about. And we all have that. Each of us has that. Sometimes we have to stop and say, “What is it?” because we forget or we lose it along the way.
Andy: Number two, what is your expertise? What have you done that makes you special? You say, “Well, I’m a general practice vet.” Yes, but you have done 26 hours of continuing education on abdominal ultrasound in the last two years, right? That’s something special and powerful you bring. I met an associate veterinarian, and she was boarded in exotic animal and wildlife medicine. However, she didn’t have anything about it on her website. That’s a terrible waste. That’s an extreme example, because she’s boarded. However, the rest of us do that to some degree, too. We volunteer somewhere, or help the local zoo – things like that. That’s our expertise. If we don’t say anything about it, or make it front and center and say, “I’m going to run behind this expertise of mine, and emphasize it in my career ”, you’re hiding your light under a barrel.
So often we don’t highlight our personal expertise because we don’t want to talk about ourselves. The truth is, you’ve got to take ownership of your career. Look at your expertise. What are you good at? What do you know? What have you trained in? What do you continue to train in? You need to find a way to make that front and center, and part of where you’re going.
Andy: The last part is your style. Everyone is different. There are things you can say, places you will go, or groups that you interact and engage with that no one else can. It’s how you see the world.
How you interact with people is special and unique. Take your meaning, your passion, and what you’re about. Take your expertise. What did you learn? What do you do? What do you know? Then, take your style. It’s how you say it, how you do it, how you make people feel, and what types of people want to be around you.
You take all those things and bring them together. That’s where you should be going in your career. That’s your competitive edge over every other veterinarian around you. Those three things come together, and that’s what you’re about.
Too often we say, “Well, I’m a vet.” That’s not enough. You’re not just a vet. You’re a very special vet, and you need to realize that. Then you need to throw gasoline on that fire.
Rebecca: That’s right – especially since the demographics of the profession have changed so much. How do you differentiate the people you’re interviewing if they’re not doing that for themselves? Most people want to conform and not stand out, which is not what we need.
Andy: Vets shoot themselves in the foot when they interview for jobs all the time, because they just try to convince you they are competent. Honestly, people don’t want to see “a vet”. They want to see their vet.
Rebecca: Absolutely. I love that. I feel that way about my kids’ pediatrician. I wouldn’t just go see whoever happens to be in that day. I would drive across town to see my pediatrician if he moved.
Rebecca: What about advice for new grads? Does that kind of fall into the same category, or do you have anything to add to that as well?
Andy: As a new grad I would say you take that piece of advice for sure. The other thing I would say to new gradsespecially is that you have to find mentors. However, your idea of a mentor is probably antiquated. First of all, I want you to think about a mentor, and then throw out the age component of that idea. Age has nothing to do with it. I have mentors who are 12 years younger than me. You know why? Because I want to be really good at social media and web design. Most of the people who do the best work in this area are younger than me. As I do more writing and creating on the Internet, I look to those people. I say: “This is what I’m trying to do. What advice do you have for me? Hey, this is what happened, what do you think?”
Find people who are doing things you’re impressed with and who are willing to teach you. Peer mentors are powerful. If you are a recent grad, your best mentor could be another recent grad. That does not mean they have all the answers. They may be a complete doofus in 90% of things, but in the 10% you are really interested in, they are a genius. You need to talk their ear off.
Right out of school, I had friends calling me and talking to me about practice purchase or contracts. I couldn’t answer all the questions, necessarily. I would just say, “This is what I’ve heard, and this is what I think.” Then, I would point them to resources I was familiar with that might be useful. I’d say, “This is the person I would call.” That’s mentorship. I would turn around and ask them questions about how they’re doing different medical procedures or what is the internal medicine textbook I need to have on my shelf? That’s the type of advice that I’m talking about.
When I talk to a mentor, I’ll ask specific questions. “This is what I’m trying to do. Do you have any advice for me?” If you ask specific questions, you’ll generally get specific answers that will really help you go, grow and overcome obstacles. Also, actively listen. Lean in, take notes, and get this stuff down. It shows you care about what they’re saying.
So, the number one thing you do with a mentor is you talk to them. Ask these mentors what you want to know. Most are generally very happy to share their expertise. Take them to lunch. Remember – if you really want to take advantage of what they know, ask them specific questions. Be ready!
The other thing you do is watch your mentors. These people may not even know they are your mentors, but I’m looking at them that way. I think a lot of us watch other doctors the wrong way. Often we’ll look at a doctor and we’ll think, “This person does blood work and x-rays on every vomiting dog or cat that they see.” And then we think, “Wow, I should do blood work on every vomiting cat we see because that is what this doctor believes is good.”
I don’t think that’s the best way to approach these things. Too often we look at them and go, “That’s what they do so that’s what I’ll do.” And we stop way too early. What they do is not the question, and it’s not what’s interesting about that person. What’s interesting about that person is how they do it. if I do blood work on every vomiting patient I see, how do I explain that to the owners? How do I get them to go along with that? Why do I do that? What’s the reasoning behind it?”
A good lesson for young vets is to stand outside the exam room and listen to how the other doctors say things. Don’t mimic people, but learn from them. There are doctors who will say little things and you will think, “Man, that is such a great, clear, powerful way to say that”, and a light bulb goes off in your head. You can see the effect of this phrase in the pet owner’s face. They totally understand when the doctor says it that way. Take that expression or explaination and use it or modify it to your own style.
It is not what is your medical protocol as much is it is why is that the medical protocol. If you understand the why, you usually have something. If you just write down “blood work and x-rays on all vomiting cases,” you don’t have anything of value. In fact, you probably have a tool that will do great damage.
You have to understand the why and the how. Why do they do what they do, and how exactly do they do it? How do they say it? How do they present it? How do they make people understand? Also, how do they get the technicians on board to support them? Those are the things you’re looking for when you watch other doctors. Every single doctor can teach you something if you approach it that way. Even the bad ones will teach you how not to do things because you’ll see the pet owner’s body language change. They cross their arms. They lean back. Their face tightens. “She blew it,” you’ll think. “She just did it wrong.” And now you’ll say, “I’m going to do it very differently.”
Find a mentor and talk to them. Ask specific questions about where you’re going, so they can really help you in a short amount of time. Watch them, and not just to see what they do. You must understand why and how they do it.
Rebecca: That’s awesome. That’s great advice and so true. What about online mentors?
Andy: Absolutely. That’s the beautiful thing about where we are today. I meet a lot of people on Twitter. I can see what they’re doing, and I’m impressed with them. So, I reach out and say hello. It never hurts to know somebody. It’s not a big deal to reach out and talk to people and say, “I admire what you do. I really like that blog post that you wrote.” Or “Can I ask you a question about what you wrote?” That’s easy to do, and people are flattered.
But again, I’m not looking at them as a mentor like “is this person a pinnacle of greatness?” No one is. We’re all human. We’re all flawed. But I look and try to identify the things this person’s really good at, and I ask them questions that will help me accomplish my goals and get where I want to go.
Rebecca: Wonderful advice. What do you think veterinary medicine will be like in ten years?
Andy: I think we’re coming to a period of intense natural selection. What that means is the economy’s getting better, which is great, but I don’t think that necessarily means we as veterinarians are getting better at what we’re doing. Again, I go back to what I was saying about more vets coming into the market. I think that selection pressure is going to increase, to use a term in evolution. So generally, when selection pressure increases, many will go extinct while others adapt.
We’re going to enter a period of rapid adaptation. So I can’t really actually say what it’s going to look like in ten years, but I will say it’s going to be very different from now. One thing that I can say, that I really deeply believe, is that in ten years, our communication with clients outside the clinic is going to radically change. We are going to get much more adept at communicating with them.
To me, communication means social media. It means marketing. It means emailing people. It means writing blogs. It means text messaging. It means booking appointments way in advance. The way we communicate with clients, educate them, and get them back into the hospital, that is going to change, because we sat back on our haunches for a long time.
As competition increases, you’re going to find young, hungry, tech- savvy vets. They’re going to be coming out of school and looking to change the way medicine is practiced so they can survive. If you don’t adapt, I’m afraid they’re going to eat you alive. They will be talking to your clients if you’re not talking to them.
I think that’s one point where you’re going to see rapid evolution. It’s almost like ten years ago few practices had email addresses or even websites. So ten years from now, I think it’s going to be radically different. We may see entirely new business models by that time. It’s going to change quickly. The big thing is I want the change to come from veterinarians, not from outside of the veterinary profession. Are we going to falter, or are we going to evolve and hold our place in the decision-making process and remain highly relevant to pet owners? That’s the question.
Rebecca: Yeah, no kidding. It’s funny, we started texting more with owners in the last couple of years and it’s amazing. They love it. They’ll send us a picture of the pet’s surgical wound to make sure all is as expected, and we having them feeling better in 30 seconds or less!
Andy: They love it.
Rebecca: I’d much rather do that, than have a conversation when they’re trying to describe something to me that I can’t see.
Andy: We have enormous room for growth there, and we need to have the desire and the expertise to make that happen. That’s one area I can look at right now and say there is an enormous potential for growth.
Rebecca: Thanks so much for giving us your valuable time and insight. You are a real inspiration!
By Dr Diederik Gelderman, Turbo Charge Your Practice
Your Team is more valuable to you than your x-ray machine, your in-house lab or even all your drugs and stock and even though it may be a definite ‘challenge’, harnessing them to your cause (your practice’s cause), is very, very doable when you follow a tried, true and tested formula.
Security is represented by name badges, uniforms, documented job descriptions, a relatively ‘stable’ roster, some form of work agreement or ‘contract, a ‘safe’ work environment, a supportive almost ‘family’ work group and lastly having an ‘in’ on some of the major things going on in the practice.
This ‘Why’ or purpose must be strongly identified, must suffuse through the workplace and must be 100% crystal clear to everyone.
This ‘Why’ must be so strong and so clear that it’s possible for Team members to make ‘decisions’ with respect to ‘What should I do in this situation…?’ based on that ‘Why’.
This means that at some stage during their day or week each of your team members need to be able to work autonomously. To be able to set / run their own schedule without someone constantly peering over their shoulder telling them what to do or how to do it.
This may be a medical or a surgical skill gained through CE (in the case of Veterinarians) or ‘managing’ clients, behavioural dog training, monitoring complex anaesthetics or hosting New Client guided tours for the nurses, receptionists and kennel Team.
It doesn’t matter what it is, it only matters that they get THAT opportunity.
One of the keys to a High-Performing Team is feedback - honest, open, constructive (not namby-pamby) feedback.
To develop your own High Performing Team, EACH Team member needs to receive between 3 and 11 pieces of feedback per DAY. Studies show that one of the key differences between a High and a Low Performing Team is Feedback, and that in a High Performing Team, each Team member receives (on average) 5.6 times more feedback than a member of a Low Performing Team.
Yes – it is challenging to ‘systematise’ this amount of feedback, but with some careful lateral thinking and structure, it is VERY doable.
So there you have it the major keys to a MAGNIFICENT Team.
For more insights take the time to watch the ‘Your Inspired Team’ on-line training video below. Click here to watch the video...
We have an employee that will handle specific areas of marketing, inventory, scheduling and training. We are having a hard time finding the perfect title. We keep finding Practice Manager. That doesn't work in this instance. Does anyone have a management title that would work in this situation? Thanks for your input.
By Dr Diederik Gelderman, Turbo Charge Your Veterinary Practice
What’s more they are great at what they do – being a clinician, a diagnostician, a surgeon, dealing with clients and pets – in fact being a Veterinarian.
And in most cases that’s where it stops and that causes a problem and in some cases – a host of problems.
Being a better Veterinarian doesn’t necessarily make for a better practice, a better income or a better work-life balance. Typically other skills are needed to make those things happen – skills that we’re not taught at Vet school.
Every day, I see the sad outcome, the sad results that not having these business skills creates in the lives of these uber smart people.
These mistakes are:
These 3 massive mistakes are so common and since there are some simple and straightforward solutions that can and will help you overcome these particular practices challenges, I’ve put together a series of 4 on-line training videos that will (once you implement the strategies), help you overcome these massive mistakes.
NOTE: I do go through the solutions in depth and therefore each video is just on 55 minutes in length – so you’ll need to grab a ‘cuppa’ as well as a pen and paper for note-taking.
By Gillian Shippen, Nurse Manager & Director 'Pets Need A Life Too'
I took a frustrating call today about dog behaviour; both the caller and I got frustrated. The reason for this was a complaint about BARKING!
Dog barking is the number one reason for complaints to councils about dogs and also high up there in reasons for neighbour disputes. It is frustrating for all involved. As vets (and dog trainers alike) we often get phone calls about this problem behaviour. I am not sure about trainers but vets can get calls from both sides of the fence, with frustrated neighbours wanting advice on how to approach the matter with the dog owner.
The caller that rang today was distressed because their neighbour had made numerous complaints and was threatening to contact both the police and the council. The caller ended up in tears at the thought of perhaps having to give up the dog to the local pound.
Now barking issues are never a simple, clear cut case and they require investigation. So in an attempt to find out more information I had to ask a number of questions. It soon became clear that the owner found this annoying and frustrating – she just wanted a quick fix solution, NOW!
My suggestion was to allow the dog access to inside the house as apparently this had worked at night when the partner was home but during the day the caller didn’t have much to do with the dog as it belonged to her partner. She already had two dogs and two cats inside the house and felt the house was too small for the outside dog and (I am guessing this bit) most likely the outside dog was not compatible with the inside animals.
At this stage my warning bells started to ring as I could see this was about to become an impossible situation as I really only had two suggestions:
1) Allow the dog inside, or
2) Re-home the dog.
Unfortunately I ended up with a distressed caller screaming down the phone at me, saying she wanted a quick fix now, a collar or something.
From my questioning I had established that the breed of dog was prone to anxiety and preferred to be with people and from what I could gather from the description of the barking (which was difficult as the client just kept describing it as ‘annoying’!) I felt the barking was anxiety based, but I could have been wrong. I was treading in deep water as I really needed much more information which was clearly not forthcoming. The caller couldn’t describe the barking and kept asking “Can’t you just give me a collar or something?” I then had to warn against certain products if the owner was looking at going down that track.
I was able to mail some information about the complexities of barking problems as well as the contact details of an excellent dog behavioural consultant. Unfortunately I do believe in this case, it is more than just a simple barking issue.
This call was a good example as to why it really is too hard to give quick simple explanations or general recommendations for barking problems partly because there are many reasons for barking:
Dogs have different pitches of barks for each reason and owners really need the help of certified person or veterinarian to get to the bottom of the problem. Barking can be motivated by so many things that there is no one effective preventative programme and it certainly can’t be solved over the telephone or via the internet in any form.
Unfortunately many pets owners don't understand these complexities and so this is another area we can help to educate our community and hopefully reduce the number of neighbourhood complaints about barking dogs!
Gillian Shippen is not only a Nurse Manager, but has also written a book: 'Pets Need a Life Too - A Guide to Enriching the Life of Your Pet - Series One: Dogs' AND she runs her online website 'Pets Need a Life Too' where she sells a range of enrichment toys for pets.
Gillian is also currently studying 'Veterinary Behaviour Medicine' at CVE Sydney with Dr Kersti Seksel.
When I decided to leave day practice at a very successful 24 hour facility, and move half way across the world (ok, 5 hours north) to begin a career in emergency medicine- I received alot- ALOT- of advice. Some of the advice was good. But, mostly I received ominously foreshadowing warnings, really. I was sufficiently prepared, thanks to my concerned peeps, for the long hours, lack of sleep, financial limitations and a ghostly graveyard staff.
I was prepared for the emergency surgeries, the hit by cars and the midnight dog scrapping. I had visions of high speed runs, sprints really, to the front- rushing the criticals to the back, pumping oxygen, placing tubes, dumping fluids, exploring abdomens and saving puppies. I got new shoes-for all the sprinting. I packed energy drinks (ok, ok, highly caffeinated sodas),and nuts for snacking between these life saving procedures- easy to pop in the mouth during a glove change for a boost of proteinated driven charge.
Yes, I was prepared. For the emergencies. And I continue to be so greatful for this emergency preparedness.
However, while I am still in the early phases of this new career subspecies, I have learned an immeasurable number of lessons that NO ONE BOTHERED TO TELL ME. For those of you that may find yourselves in my "new" shoes in the future, I will not keep these lessons to myself- let me share.
1. There is no defined emergency- while one may think that ER work is a constant flow of life threatening illnesses or injuries- it is NOT. An emergency can be defined as anything an owner notices at 2pm that day- but had to do homework, go to dinner, maybe even clubbing- and upon returning home, the issue did not spontaneously resolve- usually, but not limited to, scratching, rice-like wormies peri-rectally, a fatty lump or a pigmented area on the gums.
2. The level of panic of the client is NOT equally correlated with the severity of the illness/injury. Referring to any condition mentionned in number 1- these can be introduced with ALL OUT HYSTERICS! The kind of hysterics which puts my new shoes to good use- only to sprint to the front to watch the owner chase this critical patient around the lobby, while "fluffy" bounces off the wall smelling each individual scent- and the owner repeatedly attempts to lift the pets tail to show my assistant the "moving rice"--"See??!, see?, can you- FLUFFY! STOP!, see!, you saw those, right?? THOSE WERE ON MY PILLOW!!!!!!"
3. Continuing with the theme of #2- the level of calm of the client is NOT equally correlated with the severity of the illness/injury. I was strolling through the front lobby the other evening, after walking a client to their car. Upon returning into the building, I glance over and see a dog with an arrow penetrating her chest...yes, PENETRATING HER CHEST!!!!! I immediately told the owner I was going to take his pet to the back for an initial assessment, to which he responded- "That's fine, looks like she may have come a little too close to the hunters yesterday"...YESTERDAY??????????!!!!!!???!!!!
4. The technicians can do CPR better then any doctor. And place iv catheters better. And bandage anything at anytime better then any one doctor- (referring mostly to myself, of course).
5. The Chihuahua was accidentally bred. Again.
6. Last, but not least, when the owner has a theory of what happened- no matter how bonkers it may sound, they are usually correct. (With the only exception being the veterinary world-wide condition known as flea-nial).
These are just a few of the light-hearted lessons i have learned over the past few months and I hope no offense is taken to any of these inferences- emergency medicine is wonderful and I cannot imagine going back to daytime practice, at least for a decade or so.
Thanks for reading!
Wellness Care declining around the country. - Well I can tell you that statement was true for our hospital. We are a steadily growing veterinary hospital busy and progressing year after year. Much to our surprise our wellness was compliance was declining. We asked ourselves if we were focusing on the right things. Were we explaining the "need" for wellness care or just putting our fires. How could we teach our clients that seeing them twice yearly is what is best for their pet? Well if something’s not working you reinvent it, and that's exactly what we did. We have been offering wellness plans for over 8 years now. We compiled what we felt was best for the pet depending on life style and packaged it for clients at a affordable price. These were successful for many years but were declining over the past few years. What was causing the decline? What do clients need from us to provide wellness care? Well we asked them. They needed convenient packaging, with easy to understand recommendations. They also needed to be able to budget it. With that in mind we started evaluating what we had been doing for several years and how we could do it better. After analyzing our cost to provide these services we determined what we needed to charge to cover our expenses, profit and wages in providing this benefit to our clients. Then we adjusted what was included in the plans, adjusted the cost to reflect appropriately and offered flexible payment options. In addition we offered a few add on services to the clients. We promoted adding on a dental/spay/neuter at a reduced cost without adjusting our standard of care. We also offered for these clients to package it all together with their wellness plans so they were able to do what was best for their pet without breaking the bank. We are seeing a large increase in spay/neuters as well as dentals. We were the clinic seeing grade 3/4 dentals now we are seeing grade 1 and 2 preventing dental disease. Our team feels great about it because we are still offering the same standard of care, but at a reduced cost. So for those of you on the fence about wellness plans I say take a leap of faith and give you clients what they need. It truly is the pet that benefit.
Dr. Andy Roark is a veterinarian, international speaker, and author. He is an award-winning columnist for DVM360, and has a regular column on Vetstreet.com. Dr. Roark’s popular Facebook page has over 50,000 fans, and his humorous educational videos have been viewed over 375,000 times. For more information about Dr. Roark, go to http://www.drandyroark.com/
Rebecca: Tell me a little bit about yourself, and how you ended up in veterinary medicine.
Andy: My dad is a general surgeon in Statesville, North Carolina. I grew up witnessing the golden age of human medicine, and that had a big affect on me. I always looked at my dad as someone who was really helping people. I remember as a little kid, we’d have dinner at restaurants and people would come over and say, “Oh, you don’t know me, but you did surgery on my mother, and I just want to say thank you.” That was really a defining thing in my life, and how I came to understand the value in helping people. That was always a powerful thing for me.
I was going to go be a human doctor like my dad. I went to college, and medicine was changing rapidly. It still is. Because of those changes, my dad wasn’t as happy as he used to be. Things he really found value in were becoming less common in medicine.
So there I was in my junior year of college and I was still planning to go to medical school. Because a lot of times, we get a plan and we just cling to that plan because that’s what we know.
Rebecca: Yeah, it’s what we’re comfortable with.
Andy: Exactly right. It’s what we’ve always had, and it’s much easier to have a plan that’s not a great plan than to not know what we’re doing with our lives. That’s a scary thing. I think a lot of us live in that place. We feel it’s better to be walking somewhere than just standing and figuring out -or admitting that we’re wondering. So, he finally said to me “I’m not sure I would do this again if I was starting now.”
That’s a powerful thing. I was still doing research, which I enjoyed. After I graduated, I actually went into research, because I had the science background and I loved teaching. I went to the National Institute of Health for a year, and then I went to the University of Florida to get a Masters and was planning to continue on and get a PhD.
I ended up in the Department of Zoology doing physiology research. I found that a lot of the research life was not really what I was looking for. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference. Don’t get me wrong – research is very valuable. However, there’s a long delay between the research to actual human implications of that research. It just wasn’t something I was really passionate about.
I’ve always had this desire to think about where I am. I’m a big strategic planning guy. I think a lot about what I like about where I am and what I’m doing, and what I don’t like. How do I do more of what I like and less of what I don’t like? It’s so simple to think about that, but most people don’t.
We should all take time and ask, “What do I like about being a vet and what do I not like? How do I move to do more of what I like and minimize what I don’t like?”
Andy: I started putting all these things together. I like working with animals. I love the teaching. I always liked medicine. I like fixing things with my hands. I like putting my hands on things and helping people. All of those things together led me to veterinary medicine. I was not one of those people who grew up in the beginning and said, “I want to be a vet.” It was a lot of different pieces and experiences that came together, and ultimately I said, “This is what I want and need to do.”
Rebecca: Was your dad supportive of that?
Andy: Oh, absolutely. He told me, “You need to feel good with what you do and you need to be happy.” And that’s really it. You need to feel like what you do has some value. Then, you just have to choose to be happy and go out and make yourself happy.
When I got to vet medicine, I had a big background in research but not any business training. I saw what my dad was going through and how human medicine had changed.
There are these huge corporations and HMOs taking over, and I remember there was a lot of pressure on my dad. He needed to join a group. His livelihood as a professional was really threatened. I think, that that was still really heavy on my mind. When I was at the University of Florida the VBMA, the Veterinary Business Management Association, was just getting started. I liked the idea of practice ownership because it has the ability to help us control our own destiny.
I have always enjoyed learning about business development and practice management. It has never been about money for me. Practice ownership has always been about freedom and the ability to practice medicine the way I want, and to have that life I want to have. I knew that making yourself the best professional you can be is important because it really opens doors for you. If you’re a wonderful professional, you have great control over your career and your life.
I got very excited about the idea of owning my own practice one day. I became focused on becoming a veterinarian who practices really good medicine and provides service for people without burning myself out. I helped run the VBMA chapter at Florida for a year, and then I ran the national VBMA.
Andy: The national VMBA was just getting started and it was in a rapid growth phase. I think a lot of people know me for that. I got a lot of credit for that growth, which is probably largely undeserved, because there were a lot of other people who really helped too. I was “the face person” at the time of high visibility and growth. That enabled me to meet a lot of people.
When I graduated from veterinary school, I refused to give all those people up. I stayed in contact with them, and I continued to find ways to do things with them. I was really involved in the profession and doing things right from the very beginning. After I graduated, I was often asked to speak about the struggles of being a recent graduate.
The next thing I know, someone asked me to write a column for what was DVM Newsmagazine at the time. It’s now DVM360. They said, ” We’re looking for a young voice.” I wanted to do it. So, I thought about what I could say that was valuable and something people would want to hear.
I came up with about six things, so I went back to the editor at DVM at that time, and said, “I can do it, but I’m reallybusy.” which was not entirely true. I said, “I’m really busy, so I can write a column every other month and we’ll see how it goes. At the end of the year we’ll reassess.”
My plan was I could write six columns that I thought could bring value worth reading for people. And so I would write every other month. At the end of the year I would say, “Oh, I don’t have enough time.” No one would ever know that I was just out of ideas and I didn’t have anything more to say. That was about 65 articles ago, which is hilarious.
And the speaking naturally follows. You write a few things that people want to hear and then they say, “Hey, you know, we’d like to hear more of what you have to say.“ It’s all about trying to bring value to people. Then it’s just constant development and trying to make stronger points.
Andy: You want memorable points that will inspire people to take action.
Rebecca: Right, that’s the key.
Andy: It’s just constantly pushing in that way. With writing, I worked with people who were copy editors and asked them how I could be a better writer. I’ve worked with people who’d proofread, and I would show my work to them and get feedback. Speaking is just about practice. I joined Toastmasters. Then I got into improv comedy, which is just thinking on your feet and working in front of a crowd. Those things help me be more interactive when I lecture.
Ultimately, it’s about telling a great story. That’s what life is about. If you want to persuade people, and you want to inspire and motivate them, you’ve got to tell a story. It doesn’t have to be a once-upon-a-time story. But, honestly, when pet owners walk into our clinic, we need to tell them a story. We need to tell them the story of our clinic and the culture. We want them to know what we’re about, why we care, and then show them we care.
When we tell them about diabetes, we need to tell them a story because that’s what is memorable. The people who tell the best stories win. And so, every time people see us and interact with us, we’re telling them our story. If we tell a bad story, people won’t get it. Then, they won’t respond to us as strongly and we get poor compliance.
Rebecca: We’re not taught to tell a story. We’re taught to tell facts, and that’s not what people want to hear. People don’t just want the facts when it’s about something as emotional as their pets.
Andy: Right. They want to hear a story. That’s how we educate them. That’s how we make them remember. I got really caught up in that idea of “I tell stories.” And so that’s why the things I guess I’m best known for now are some of the videos and things that I do, which are all educational. It’s all about trying to help the vet profession. I really just see myself as a servant leader, someone who’s really trying to aid my people. It’s all about “How do I help the people I care about most?”
Andy: I feel like those of us in the veterinary community are good people, and we work so hard. I want to support people and their pets. If there are things I can say to that end, I want to say them. I want to help people tell a better story. I looked at the videos we were making to educate people, like on DVM360, and there were these interview videos, but few people were really watching them. I saw it as an opportunity. I can make the same points I would make in an interview, but tell a story. I thought people might watch that.
So far the response has been great. Then I thought I could tell stories to pet owners, too. That’s one of the things I’m focusing on now. When you see the videos, it’s me trying to tell a story people will laugh at, as well as remember and retain. That’s really what I’m trying to do. And that’s how I got where I am.
Rebecca: That’s awesome. That is quite the story, no pun intended. It really gets me fired up, because we’re dealing with a profession full of awesome people – whether it’s the veterinarians, staff, or the whole nine yards. But I see so many people who are miserable. This isn’t right. How can this be happening in our profession? As far as I’m concerned we have the coolest profession there is. And to be honest, I never gave an ounce of thought to being a human surgeon, because I wouldn’t want to work the way they have to work. I love what I do. I love the people we get to serve, the clients and their pets. It’s just sad for me to see so many unhappy people.
Rebecca: What I heard from you is having the freedom to control your destiny and to have choices. Anything else you’d add to that?
Andy: For me, the most obvious thing is a life with purpose. It’s the ability to actually put your hands on something that’s a huge problem. I mean pet health is a huge problem for people – when their pets are sick, it’s their family member who is sick. We have the ability to fix it. Every time I make one of these goofy videos, my thought is, “How can help I these families?”
I do this for the pets. People say, “Oh my gosh, you’re a vet who put on a dog costume!” And I say, “You know what? Yes I am.” And there are people out there who roll their eyes at me and say, “Oh, it doesn’t look very professional.” Well, you know what, that’s okay, because I don’t do this to look professional. I don’t do it to look cool or to pat my own ego. I do it to make a point for pet owners. So, if I put on a dog costume, and one less dog gets heat stroke because I made a silly video about being careful when you exercise, then I’m okay with that.
Andy: There is a great comfort in having a purpose and saying, “This is what I do and this is why I do it.” You can check everything against that, and you can say, “Why am I doing this … is this ego or am I really helping?” As long as the answer is, “this serves the purpose, this supports why I do what I do,” then I think you’re in a great place, because you’ll feel good about what you do.
Haters are going to hate. Some people are always going to say something negative. For example, if you go into acupuncture, there will be people who will say, “Oh, that’s hocus-pocus.” Whatever – let them say that. You’re doing it because you love to do it and you see it helps. Just help the pets and forget what those people say.
Andy: It’s a whole lot easier to actually do that, to blow people off if you can say, “You know what, I don’t care what you think. I’m going to do this because it’s important and it supports what I’m about.” You can do that when you have a purpose in life, and I think that veterinary medicine can give us that purpose. I think we all know what we’re trying to do and that’s a powerful thing. It helps me every day.
END OF INTERVIEW PART 1
YOU are the manager, hired to manage. YOU have many years of experience so have some good ideas on what to do. YOU have so many ideas and plans and come to work every day with a smile and a contagious energy to attack the world!!!!
YOU soon learn that you're not on the same page as your boss. Not only is that a bad thing but your boss is the owner! That means there is nobody that you can go to above their head to get help. UGH....big sigh! I, as most managers, have been in this situation many times. Though every situation is different there is always some commonality amongst the stories and usually some mistakes that were made that may have prevented ending up in a power struggle, frustrated and demotivated.
Can YOU win against an owner? Well, the good news is that I truly believe you can SOMETIMES! It all depends on why the owner is playing tug-o-war with you. If they are uneducated in managemement, in what you do as their manager, in understanding the plans, goas and visions you have for their practice and if they don't fully trust you yet...then I say YAY! I say YAY because this is a situation that can be managed and YOU are the manager so manage it. A few steps and you will have a relationship with your boss/owner that is built on trust and teamwork. So, what do you do?
1- Communicate! Meet regularly with your owner and share your ideas and get feedback about how the hospital is running from the owner's standpoint.
2- Build trust. Do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it (Yep, same line for lots of situations) and the owner will begin to let go and trust you more. As with any relationship trust takes time and must be earned.
3- Educate the owner! Yes, that is what I said!! YOU are the manager and that is what YOU studied. The owner likelly studied veterinary medicine not management so share what you know and show them how it affects their practice, their clients, their staff and that will make them not only trust you but buy in more to allowing YOU to manage.
If you have an owner open to these few steps I think you are on a good path to a successful working relationship.
Are there times I think YOU might lose? Yep
Even if you do all those steps you might have an owner who YOU can't win against. Why? Well likely because...
1 - They are set in their ways and though they say they want a manager and they may, they also want things to stay the same because that is how they like it. It has worked for many years. All this new fangled "stuff" is too much for them. They don't want to Tweet or Like or Hashtag. You can tell them the value until you are blue in the face but they are planted firmly in the old ways!
2- You have an owner who loves change but unfortunately has NO idea on the best way to change so they are constantly coming to you with brilliant (often only they think it's brilliant) ideas and even when you try to tell them it won't work or how to change it to make it work more effectively, they don't listen. It is their way or the highway.
3- They spend too much time playing manager (often MICRO manager) and not enough time playing business owner. If they are so busy that you can't even find a time to meet with them and all of your planning and meetings are done passing in the hallway then YOU are in trouble. The reality is that YOU don't own this place and so without the communication with the owner necessary to make any changes YOU will become frustrated and stagnant in your position.
My best advice is YOU take control. Just as clients choose you because of a comfrot level, a level of trust, good medicine, fair pricing or whatever it is that made them choose your practice, YOU need to choose your employer the same way. When you go to interview turn the tables a bit and interview them. Find out what they want and need. Find out how they, as owners, manage and if that is a match for your management style. You may get tricked (kind of like dating ) and then you will have to decide if it is time to "breakup" with that owner but at least you did your homework ahead of time to give you the best chance of success in your manamagement role.
YOU be the driver of your destiny as a manager.
Anyone with a young or high-energy dog knows the benefits of walking or jogging with them. It motivates you to get off the couch and helps burn your dog's energy that could otherwise be misdirected at your furniture or newly-planted garden. At least 15 to 20 consecutive minutes of exercise is needed to get your and your dog's heart rates up.
Take the classic game to a new level by tossing the ball or toy and racing your dog to get to it first. A good game of keep-away or tug-of-war to get the ball back (don't play tug with an aggressive dog) will ensue, keeping both of your hearts pumping.
Another spin on fetch is to tease your dog with fake throws as you're doing abdominal crunches. Try to increase the number of reps you do before finally releasing the ball and driving your dog into a frenzy.
Tone your legs and rear through squats while holding your dog's toy. Tap him with it on your way down and then hold it over your head when you straighten up. As you firm up your lower half, your dog will do aerobic jumps to try to get the toy.
Whether you have a water-loving retriever, spaniel or hound, or a dog with joint ailments, swimming is a workout you can enjoy together. Hip and joint supplements like NuJoint Plus to prevent or help treat arthritis are great in conjunction with a low-impact activity like swimming to keep you and your dog fit and pain-free.
Dogs aren't the only pets that need exercise. Although they don't do well in water or on leashes, you can work out with your cat by doing the abdominal crunch exercise while twirling flashlights for him to chase. Or string a catnip toy to your dumbbell to work out your cat while you do bicep curls.
Finding creative ways to exercise with your pet, and encouraging your patients to do the same, will help ensure that more people and animals - are both happy and healthy for many years to come.
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, CT. In her spare time, she enjoys taking too many iPhone photos of her Brussels Griffon, Archer, and screaming at Tom Brady every Sunday.
Your veterinary hospital likely has a Facebook business page, but are your posts doing well? Facebook can be more finicky than any feline you’ve ever wrangled. You can post and post on your page, but the truth is that only a select few clients are going to see your posts in their news feed. What does that mean for your veterinary practice? It’s time to start posting more strategically on your Facebook page.
To help you get started, here are 3 of my tried and true veterinary Facebook tips:
1) Stay on Schedule
You should post approximately 1-3 times per day, depending on how your client’s respond. Posting too frequently on Facebook or skipping some days can affect how often your posts show up in pet owner’s newsfeeds. Be smart about the times that you post. How can you do that? Take a look at your Facebook Insights, the analytics Facebook provides, to see when the most clients are going to actually be reached. You can find this under the “posts” section of your Facebook Insights. Using those analytics, choose the best times to post.
2) Say “Cheese!”
Veterinary hospitals are privileged to have the MOST ADORABLE Facebook content right in front of them all day – pets! Get your veterinary team involved in your social media plans by designating certain members to take photos of patients. This will provide you with lots of great photo content for your Facebook page. Why do you need that? Facebook is more inclined to show your posts in the newsfeed if they include a photo or video. Not only that, but your clients will certainly enjoy photo content more than anything else. Trust me!
3) Engage, engage & engage!
Do you want more likes, comments or shares? Ask for them! If you post something educational to your animal clinic’s Facebook, be sure to ask for engagement. Don’t forget that social media is all about BEING SOCIAL. When clients choose to engage with your Facebook posts, be sure to respond to them.
Wondering how these 3 tips can work together to create a successful Facebook post? Here’s an example, step-by-step, of how my veterinary hospital created a post that almost 1,700 people saw.
1) Shannon, one of our front desk team members, was assigned to getting new patient photos for the day. She snapped a pic of Twix, a dog that was new to us, while the pup was in our waiting room. Shannon then sent the dog’s photo to me.
2) I edited the photo, using the smartphone app Phonto, to have text on it that would encourage engagement. (Guess my name!)
3) I took a look at our most recent Facebook insights, and I found that most people saw our posts between 5-7pm. Based on that info, I scheduled the post for 6:15pm.
4) As people began to guess what Twix’s name was, I was sure to respond to as many of them as possible. I gave them hints, and they finally guessed her very sweet name.
Success on Facebook can be tricky, but if your veterinary hospital is ready to get strategic, the payoff can be great. I get a healthy percentage of new clients at my veterinary practice from Facebook, and I strongly believe that being active on social media helps bond clients to our practice. I know that Twix’s mom, a new client, was very excited to see her girl up on our page. (She told me so in the waiting room!) Want more tips? Check out the Facebook section of the SnoutSchool.com blog.
Sorry I’ve been delayed in posting the final installment of this series but, well…you know how life as a veterinarian is…
By way of recap of the other posts in this series, I found myself overstaffed when the recession hit in 2008, because I had tried to hire enough staff (i.e. caretakers) so as to minimize my exposure to tasks in my practice that caused me anxiety or frustration. When the financial consequences of my actions gradually began to dawn on me, I delayed right-sizing my staff because I didn’t want to face their disappointment or disapproval – in other words, I had become their caretaker. (Search for author Melody Beattie, and her exposition of the concept of caretaking.)
I’m sure that you’ve all been barely able to contain your anticipation for the resolution of my dilemma, so…what did I do?
Well, I did terminate two employees. One was a long-time office manager whose overall vision for the practice was no longer compatible with mine. It was painful, and she was unhappy, but she was given an extended severance package, and quickly found employment with another practice two towns over, within easy commuting distance.
The other employee I terminated was my associate veterinarian. This was actually easier for the simple reason that she was no idiot, and was fully aware that our practice was not generating enough revenue to support us both. She used the termination as an opportunity to focus her energies on starting a large animal practice, which had been her dream all along.
Relieving my payroll expense of those two employees in 2010 (I move quickly, don’t I?) did make an immediate difference in my financial stability. The situation was further helped when one of my two licensed technicians left to take a job in a research lab at a nearby university.
At this point, I was more correctly staffed for the revenue I was generating. My profits were better – or at least in existence. I had two full-time, and two part-time employees. One of the part-time employees was a jack-of-all-trades with excellent computer skills, so it was natural for her to assume the office management duties.
I was in for a rude surprise, however, in the fall of 2011 when my jack-of-all-trades left my employ to take a teaching position. Herein is the danger of running a bare bones staff: when someone leaves, you sometimes don’t have enough remaining staff to operate at your current level of sales.
Additionally, a strange (at least in my opinion) characteristic of this recession is that, despite high a unemployment rate, there does not seem to be the expected surplus of experienced, capable or even willing, potential employees (at least in my area). This was the case when my jack-of-all trades left me – I looked through the resumes and applications I had on file, I put the word out, I contacted all of my contacts…and then saw that there was no one on the horizon to take her place.
So what did I do then? Naturally, I panicked.
After the initial fight-or-flight response had subsided however, I took a little time to explore the potential of a thought that had been in the recesses of my mind for some time. This thought was so unorthodox that I was afraid to even verbalize it. I had only ever heard of one other veterinarian who had actually done it. Nonetheless, after considering the available employee pool and other factors I will explain below, I made what will seem to some, a heretical decision. I decided, after 28 years of doing so, to stop working on Saturdays.
I’ll give you a second to catch your breath. I know, I know, veterinarians are supposed to be all things at all times to the precious clients who have entrusted the health care of their precious pets to us, right? Well. That’s an okay philosophy of veterinary practice. Okay, but not sustainable. Not sustainable and, as it turns out, not as profitable as it could be, either.
I realized, after a little reflection, that I was still employing two extra people to work a half-day with me every Saturday (remember, I’m a solo practitioner). In other words, since no lay employee wants to work every Saturday, and since it takes a minimum of two lay employees to run my office, I needed at least four part- or full-time employees to open my office every Saturday.
Just a wee problem with this – I don’t need four any-type-of-time employees during the week. Even though two of them were part-time, I still ended up with employees standing around doing nothing at times.
Finally, I had also noticed that our Saturday volume had declined about the time the recession started. Some Saturdays I was barely generating enough income to cover my payroll expense.
All of it together – reduced Saturday revenue, the realization that I was still overstaffed, a poor pool of available potential employees, and the desire to have Saturdays off – gave me the idea to try it when I was at the crossroads of crisis two-and-a-half years ago.
How did it turn out? Surprisingly well. I assumed a limited number of the office management duties (mainly monitoring and directing cash flow) and divided the rest between two other long-time, capable and trusted employees. My gross revenue declined just a little further, but my expenses declined even more, so the net profits were greater. Isn’t that the point of being in business?
In truth, we’ve heard very few complaints from our clients. We did compensate a little by staying open later one evening per week, but I really think now, when looking back, that I was actually just doing 5 days of work spread out over 6 days for many of the years I worked Saturdays. Another way of looking at it is to say that in reality, I was subsidizing my clients’ scheduling convenience at my own expense by staffing so as to be able to offer Saturday morning office hours.
The really neat thing is that, with rare exception, I get Saturdays off to be with my wife.
My main point in this series of articles has been to stimulate you to think about the unseen motives for the business decisions you make. I hired too many staff members, trying to get them to take care of me emotionally. Then, when the economy went south, I kept them on for far too long, trying to take care of them (so they would in turn, take care of me – boy, it sure gets complicated fast!). Finally, I now realize that even decisions about hours of operation can be made in an attempt to gain approval or avoid disapproval.
It turns out that, in some local economies, eternal practice growth is just not going to happen. It also turns out that not every extra dollar of gross revenue is worth having. On the chart of practice success, it is incumbent upon practice owners to find that perfect point on the gross revenue line that has the maximum distance to the corresponding expenses line. Because some expenses are hidden, this is best done with a keen self-awareness, used in conjunction with a stone-cold analysis of the practice’s income and expense data.
At least, that’s what I am thinking now.
Throughout my 26 years of experience in general practice, emergency medicine and at specialty hospitals, I’ve dealt with many new graduate DVMs. I’ve noticed that some characteristics of these new DVMs are more indicative of long-term success than others are and I’d like to share these today to see if other managers have made similar observations.
The most successful grads I’ve known were able to:
-Bond quickly with staff: All managers understand that practices often have a very strong staff personality which is difficult to infiltrate as a new member. However, a new DVM can make this process easier by actively trying to get to know the staff and by helping out the technicians and receptionists as much as possible.
-Communicate well with clients and keep appointments on track: Many new grads are tempted to show off their veterinary knowledge without realizing that it can really confuse their clients. The best new grads are those that understand that speaking confidently to a client is more reassuring than spewing out a textbook’s worth of information for a simple UTI case.
-Immediately read an ICU: A good DVM will immediately assess a situation and prioritize the next steps. An ICU is not a good place to freeze up or step away from difficult decisions. Technicians can only support a DVM if he or she takes charge of the situation.
-Learn and perform surgery: I’ve noticed a trend that new grads are less and less willing to perform even simple surgeries. It’s important to learn about their attitude on surgery before you hire them – see what they’re comfortable doing and be prepared to refer out other procedures. The ideal DVM, however, will be willing to progress by first observing surgeries, then participating in surgeries, and finally, executing surgeries.
-Know and apply their medicine: At the end of the day, a veterinarian who gets along well with staff and clients but doesn’t remember all the basics of his/her veterinary education is someone who will harm a hospital’s reputation in the long term. Everyone will make mistakes, but the best new doctors take immediate steps to correct and re-educate themselves to make sure an error doesn’t happen again.
At our hospital in Levittown, NY, we went through a few fresh grads before finally landing a superstar who is still with us today. While it’s true that some new hires will simply not have the right personality to integrate well in a hospital, I think that new grads can try to be more mindful of some of the things I listed above to make their transition easier!
If you want clients (& society) to willingly accept your recommendations and accept a pricing structure that allows you and your team to be fairly compensated then I believe it comes down to three important things:
Trust, Value & Respect
This is the first in a 3 part series of blog posts that came about from a previous blog post (Reality is meaningless. Perception is everything to your veterinary clients)
A recent spate of blog posts with claims of veterinary ‘scalping’ and an excellent post from Seth Godin about the importance of trust (The most important question) has got me thinking about trust and what it means to pet owners. And I think it’s a question that you really need to ask yourself about your clients.
Trust: The firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something
Do they trust you to make to right diagnosis of their pet’s condition?
Do they trust your advice on how to maintain optimal health for your pet?
Do they trust your treatment advice when their pet does require treatment?
Unfortunately the days where a piece of paper on the wall automatically meant your clients viewed your knowledge as absolute are gone (if they ever did exist). This is partly due to the internet (Hello Dr Google) and partly due to cultural change and it’s not just the veterinary profession either; human doctors face similar issues.
In order for a client to trust you now, you need to build up a solid relationship and this doesn’t develop overnight. It’s also almost impossible to develop such a relationship through face-to-face conversations alone as you may only see clients a handful of times per year.
To develop a strong relationship with your clients that is built on trust you need to communicate with them regularly and offer information that is timely and useful. If they have a question (no matter how minor) to do with their pet YOU should be the first person they turn to. Before you panic and imagine phone calls at all hours, when most people are after an answer to a question, picking up the phone is not the first thing they do.... Hello Dr Google!
If a client has a question (no matter how minor) the first place they should go online to look is to youvia your....
E.g. “I’ve just heard there’s a big storm coming & my dog freaks out - what can I do to keep him calm?”
If they trust you they may have even chosen to file them, otherwise they should all have a home somewhere on your website.
For those clients who don’t go online then it’s definitely tougher & more expensive to communicate with them between visits. Reminder cards are still important as is developing your relationship with the wider community via your community outreach program (Community Outreach: Why it should be an essential part of your veterinary practice)
Whether it’s online, face-to-face or via community outreach programs, developing a strong relationship with your clients built on a solid base of trust also involves sharing a bit of ‘you’ – it’s hard to feel you trust someone if you’re not sure who they really are. So don’t be afraid to talk about your own pets and even your family (you don’t have to go into specifics).
No matter how strong your relationship is with your clients they’re probably still going to make use of Dr Google as well as ask their friends and family for their opinions but if they trust you enough then it will be you they turn to for the big decisions and you that they’ll ultimately listen to.
The call couldn't have come at a more inconvenient time. A short handed shift with just enough walk-ins and emergencies to keep everyone on their toes. I was on my way to refuel with a quick cookie break when I got the message. Mrs. Jetson was holding on line 2 with another question about cat food for her yellow long haired tabby, Charlie. Charlie, aka "Cranky Pants" had earned quite a reputation for himself at the clinic. Through a series of visits and hospitalizations to unblock his urinary tract he developed a dislike for all things veterinary. Yet despite the small fortune in veterinary bills, the battles at medication time and the picky appetite, Charlie was loved and well cared for by the retired widow.
It had been nearly three months since Charlie's last stay in the hospital and according to Mrs. Jetson he was "spoiled rotten, but doing great". She told me how it wasn't Charlie that had the problem this time, it was her. There was a desperation in her voice as she explained that for the last three months she searched for an appropriate diet for Charlie's condition that was affordable and palatable. To make the matter even more complicated Mrs. Jetson also owned another cat that didn't suffer from urinary health issues, but was prone to obesity. Knowing it would be too difficult to feed them separately, she wanted to try something that her other cat wouldn't want to eat or would be safe and tolerated by both cats. I could tell she was at her wits end.
She revealed the food that she settled for, but went on to confess that because the kibble size was too large for Charlie, she had taken to breaking up the food with a hammer prior to feeding. She confessed that she never had such a hard time taking care of a cat before and the trouble was taking all the enjoyment out of her animals. Hearing about how this human/animal bond was at risk I suddenly realized what was at stake here and the importance of that call.
Of course I told Mrs. Jetson I'd have to do some research, but that I was certain we could come up with a solution to her dilemma. From that point I decided to make Mrs. Jetson's problem, my problem. There is nothing more important in our industry than the human/animal bond. That's what it's all about. It is and has always been the reason I chose this career.
I consulted with the Veterinarian, looked up information online and made some calls to various pet food producers. Eventually I came up with what I thought would be the best suggestion based on the situation. Mrs. Jetson was excited to get my call back and flooded my end of the phone with sincere gratitude. I can't say for certain if my recommendation will solve Charlie's picky appetite problem, but I can say if it doesn't I won't stop there.
Key Players in the Clinic: Receptionists and Technicians
Written by Amanda Jahn-Practice Manager of Indian Tree Animal Hospital
This blog post is in honor of and serves as a thank you to all of the receptionists and technicians who keep things running smoothly in the Veterinary clinic setting.
I often hear from our reception staff about their feelings of burn-out from speaking with clients who have little respect or patience for the staff’s knowledge. Stressed-out clients will often take out their frustration on the receptionist with disrespectful and rude comments. We teach our receptionists to speak with a smile, even to these though clients. The technicians often tell me, though, “I don’t know how you keep smiling and remain calm. I just spoke with Mr. Rude, and it was very difficult.” It’s the friendly, grateful clients who make the burn-out suddenly melt away, and give our reception staff the gratitude and honor they deserve.
Technicians also deserve a great deal of respect. They keep things running smoothly when things feel like they are falling apart during busy times of the day. When a Doctor is running two appointments late, the technicians help keep the Doctor on task. They ensure that all the clients and patients are being helped in a timely manner. While waiting for their Doctor to step into a room, these technicians are already drawing up the vaccines that the client has approved; they are already explaining to the client why it is important to keep their pet on heartworm prevention; they are making sure things are kept clean and everything is in its proper place for easy access. When these technicians encounter a client that is rude to them, due to their lack of qualifications as a DVM, they keep smiling and assure the client that they can soon speak to the Doctor about their concerns.
While many people think that a receptionist and a technician’s jobs are not difficult, these key players actually deserve a great deal of respect and gratitude. They are key players in helping keep our clinics running smoothly. Client relations are not always easy, especially when stress is running high in the clients’ personal lives. Often, they take the brunt of the negative comments and diffuse a situation before a Doctor enters the room. I am grateful to each individual for their amazing abilities to push through these difficult situations, to persevere, and to keep a smile on their face and keep on task to ensure that all patients are getting the best care possible.
I first heard the term “sanctioned incompetence” back in 2008 when I attended Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership Master Series. It is a phrase that has stuck with me since then, and unfortunately I’ve seen it rear its ugly head in all kinds of businesses including animal hospitals.
Sanctioned incompetence is when the leader either fails to recognize or ignores incompetence in one or more of his/her team members and fails to deal with it resulting in a divided demoralized team.
The problem in so many businesses is there seem to be different rules for different people. Let me start by saying I don’t necessarily think that all team members should be treated the same-fairness is not a virtue (that is a big problem in our country right now but I digress…). BUT, there are certain expectations that must be met by all members of a team or you will end up demotivating your best people.
When you have one team member who constantly shows up late without any consequences, what that tells everyone else is being on time to work is not important to the leaders of the business.
When you have a team member who magically seems to “duck” all the grunt work without there being any consequences, what you are telling everyone else is the details are not really that important.
In my experience, most animal hospitals are run by people who do not enjoy confrontation and honestly I get that-confrontation is never fun. But maybe changing the context of the confrontation and realizing that it MUST be done so as not to destroy the morale of everyone else will make it easier for you to do.
Confrontation is never easy, and there is definitely an art to it, but please don’t let sanctioned incompetence ruin what you are working so hard to build!
Sometimes the best team building exercise can be done by letting go of the people in your hospital who are not living up to the standards of excellence your entire team needs to have. Giving someone warning is definitely the right approach, but if they have been confronted and the same demoralizing behavior is still present-you must for the sake of your TEAM MORALE free their future and get them out of your hospital!
Do you have any experiences with sanctioned incompetence you would like to share?
You can read more of my posts at www.catalystvets.com