We have the privilege of working with many great hospitals and great people. A few weeks back, we were at one of those hospitals and we got to watch their core values in action.
We were there doing a procedure, and one of the assistants who was helping us with radiographs, seemingly was no longer around?
What happened, we found out later, was she had broken one of their core values and it all came to a head the day we were there. I bet you are thinking a lot of drama and chaos ensued while we were there, but they handled it so professionally we did not even know what had happened until it was done.
The owner and practice manager had met and they decided right then and there this employee had to go. What was ironic about the situation is five minutes before they were going to fire her, she came in and quit!
This hospital’s leadership team is dedicated to building the unique culture that is important to them, and that began with establishing their core values. Core values are non-negotiable, and if they are broken, then there are consequences.
What can you learn from this?
We have worked with this hospital for many years and over the last few years they have really worked on developing their hospital’s clarity- who they are, what they do, and why they do it.
Seeing how well their team truly functions from the inside is awesome. We have seen them grow and become a team of people who are dedicated to having a good time while caring for the pets and people they serve.
Obviously, like any hospital, things come up, but seeing how well they handled a very difficult situation was great! I know they will only continue to live out what matters most to them every day.
What Are You Willing to do in Order to Protect Your Hospital’s Core Values?
To see more posts I've written, go to www.catalystvets.com
It did not take long for my wife to say it after we were graced with our third child this past June, “it’s your turn now.” She couldn’t feel her legs yet but after spiking a temperature and having had a third child via an emergency C-section we both knew we were done having children. She had made enough sacrifices to this point, now it was time for me to endure a little pain.
This was a day that I had been dreading for years. Something that had become so routine for me to perform was in some aspects now showing me the other side. For a day I was not the surgeon, I was the patient. Well actually only the latter half of the day as my appointment was for 4PM. Perfect I thought, I will work earlier in the day so I will have less time to be alone with my anxiety. Just like the dogs that unexpectantly come in that morning (except for not getting breakfast) and not know what’s coming. The second parallel I drew was the slight concerned, slight comical grin on my wife’s face as I went in back with the nurse. I have seen that face so many times before, the “you are going to be alright Buddy, this is just something that you have to go through” face.
The next observation is not a parallel in that we are nice enough to give our patients general anesthesia, for me I was fully awake. The urologist took interest in me being a veterinarian which lead to conversation which certainly helped, but conversation does not replace isoflurane. The next parallel is an important one, pain medication. After the procedure my wife went into the store to get me a few items for the impeding weekend. I was in an okay spot when suddenly a shooting pain ran from my incisions all the way in my abdomen and didn’t stop for five minutes. I broke into an instant sweat, thought I was going to pass out and if it weren’t for the gentleman taking his sweat time getting into his car next to my passenger door I think I would have gotten sick. I had not felt a pain like that one in some time. And then five minutes later it was over, before my wife even returned to the car for me to complain to her, before I could take any codeine. It made me think; do some dogs have this shooting phantom pain post operatively? For some I am sure there is some quick sudden pain, but how would we know for sure? What we can do is provide pain relief before, during and after the procedure to cover for the possibility.
Then the final leg is recovery and thus being inactive. My doctor told me to stay on the couch all weekend and that is what I did. With three small children that is no small task but they did their best to comply. Being a big sports fan watching sports seemed like a reasonable thing to do, but I picked one of the worst weekends to do it as the best I could find is little league baseball. I guess it beats sitting in a cage like we ask our canine counterparts to do. It was a nice weekend and as I looked outside I imagined the other things I wish I could be doing. My thoughts were probably not too distant from the six month old dogs that looked out of the window and saw the same, beautiful weather.
For some there is an inevitability of coming full circle and experiencing a familiar situation from the other side. Such as when a dentist needs a root canal or a cardiologist a quadruple bypass so my turn as a veterinarian had finally come. There has to be little irony when the man who has taken the reproductive ability from thousands has the same thing happen to himself. I can picture a thousand dogs now chuckling to themselves.
I don’t know why but this is something I have never been great at doing while at work. If you catch me at home or at Cross-fit™ then compliments and support roll of my tongue, but at work-not so much.
I think part of the issue is that when I was going through veterinary school as well as my internship and residency, any type of praise was rarely given. In fact, my motto was “ Well, I better pat myself on the back because no one else will”. I am sure that you have had a similar experience.
Our team is reading The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White, and it has been a bit of a slap in the face to me. The Five Languages of Appreciations in the Workplace breaks down the different types of appreciation that can and SHOULD be demonstrated in the workplace.
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
There is a catch though-in order for it to have a POSITIVE impact, you must communicate to your team members in the way they hear it best. What I mean by that is someone who needs words of affirmation probably won’t be too excited about getting tickets to this weekend’s hockey game.
Chapman and White say, “Research indicates that communicating appreciation to employees decreases the chances of their leaving, increases customer satisfaction and sometimes improves productivity.” Do these sound like things you would like to improve in your hospital?
What I love about this book is that who ever buys it can then take a free online assessment that will detail their top 2 appreciations at work. This is a fantastic book to work through with your leadership team and then for them to then work on with their direct reports.
Reading this book has made me realize that I MUST change my mind-set and understand that my team wants and needs appreciation from me. This goes for you too!
Does it come naturally or is it a challenge for you to make your team feel appreciated?
Leave a comment and you will be entered to win a FREE copy of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.
Since starting work at the Belmont Vet Centre I have strived to engage, educate and support the local community through various programs and events. This has been an invaluable program that has been extremely rewarding for the entire BVC team.
We have achieved this through creating a strong social media presence that allows us to interact with our online community. This has been a great medium to educate on different pet health issues depending on the time of year or if we have seen a specific medical case that week. It is also a great way to show the community who we are and what we do – giving the public a behind the scenes look at all things BVC.
Another great part of our Community Outreach Program are our Client Education nights on a variety of topics from 'FLUTD', 'Arthritis' & 'Skin issues' to 'First Aid'. With strong support from industry reps we have been able to offer our clients a forum to learn about conditions that their pet may be suffering from in a client friendly manner. These nights also give clients direct access to information from reps & concentrated learning from our team as well as the opportunity to trial various recommended products.
Animal Welfare is also an important part of what we do in clinic – with this in mind we have fostered relationships with local animal welfare groups and rescue groups to help and support them with the amazing work they do. This has materialized with the introduction of a 'Kitten adoption program' which has increased our cat client numbers, promoted esponsible pet ownership as all adoptees go to their new homes de-sexed, micro chipped & vaccinated, as well as helped the local welfare group re-home the copious number of kittens that they receive during kitten season. Win win situations for everyone. We also offer support to rescue groups through discounted medical treatment and healthcare support. This gives the animal rescue groups the means to help more fur babes in need as well as opening up a database of potential clients through referrals and rehomed pets.
Another rewarding part of community outreach is the fundraising component. As a clinic we have really gone wild with raising money for various causes as well as attending various events eg. RSPCA Million Paws Walk etc. These have been great for staff morale, showing people that we have valuable information that they can easily access, getting the clinic out into the community and expanding our client base, whilst also helping worthy causes.
School visits are also a vital part of what we do. Educating the younger generations in safe animal handling, general animal husbandry and responsible pet ownership has been a fantastic and lucrative endeavor.
Being a part of the veterinary profession gives us such an amazing platform to make a difference in so many ways – these ideas are just a fraction of what’s possible with Community Outreach Programs and I hope that I have inspired you to get involved in your local community if you aren’t already. You will be surprised at how positive and life changing your returns can be.
I was walking home from school yesterday with Mia (my 11 year old daughter) and we were talking about the assignments she had left to do for the year. She told me about a new English assignment she had received that day that involved the students making a case for whichever they thought was the most effective form of written communication to use to convince someone of something – either narrative or factual.
So we started talking about the benefits of each although Mia had already decided that a narrative, or story telling was the best form of communication to convince. She felt a story was more interesting and the reader more likely to stay around longer to read the information, whereas factual writing could easily get boring.
(I was impressed! An 11 year old recognised the power of storytelling over presenting the facts to convince someone of something.)
We then started talking about the power that engaging the emotions of your reader can have, and how if you can connect with the emotions of your reader, they were far more likely to react favourably to your message.
Then today I came across this blog post from Start Up Smart: Kittens, puppy dogs and effective sales strategies that talked about exactly this topic:
Now this StartUpSmart blog post is aimed at a wide range of businesses from Accountants to Zumba Instructors and includes many businesses that will find it a challenge to include an emotional story in their information to customers and clients.
And whereas it might be a little tricky for an accountant to come up with a story about a cute puppy or a happy family scene to add to their client communication...you work in a veterinary practice – surrounded by cuteness and stories that are fascinating to your clients!
Every blog post you write, email you send or post you add on Social Media involves pets or animals in some way. And it doesn’t take much to engage emotions when you’re talking about animals.
However telling stories is only part of the secret and the right image can make a huge difference to the emotional response from clients to your important information. Your blog posts should always contain at least one image. To the visual people out there (over 65% of the population), nothing is more boring than a page of words – even when those words are interesting!
Choose the right image and you’ll catch the eye of those that may usually have skipped over the ‘boring bits’.
The cute factor is easy but don’t discount the power of the “Ewwww..”. For example if you want to educate your clients on the value of your worming products compared with the supermarket brand you could use a cute puppy OR you could use something like this image on the right. Yep that’s a worm! It ‘emerged’ from a dog that had been regularly wormed using products purchased from the supermarket (you can read more about this particular worm here: Now THIS is What I Call a Worm!)
If you want your clients to DO something: dental care, wellness check, senior care, regular worming , etc. You have a choice.
You can write a blog post, brochure or article all about the technical reasons why your client should do it. Or you could tell them one of the many stories you see every day that support your call to action. What might happen if they DON’T do something? How would that impact their pet and / or their family? And then find an awesome image/s to support your story.
So tell me in the comments below if telling stories have worked for you when communicating with your veterinary clients.
This feature is AWESOME!!
Did you know you have the ability to schedule posts on your Facebook Business Page? This means you can make sure your posts appear at the best time to ensure the highest level of engagement from your Page ‘Likers’.
This fabulous feature allows you to schedule a whole weeks (or more!) worth of Posts in one sitting. No more horrible realisation at 10pm that you forgot to post the answers to the quiz you posted early in the day. Or you forgot to post the fabulous ‘Happy Birthday’ image you had lovingly prepared for your Head Nurse.
Ahh the beauty is in its simplicity!
Start by posting as you normally would but instead of clicking the blue ‘Post’ on the bottom right hand side, click the small grey ‘Clock’ on the left hand side.
Now fill in the relevant year, month, date, hour and minute to suit and when you’re happy click‘Schedule’.
Now you’ll see this pop up on your Page
Click on ‘View Activity Log’ and you’ll be directed to the Page that lists all the Activity you have scheduled as well as all the other Activity you’ve recently done on Facebook e.g links you’ve shared, posts you’ve commented on, etc.
Once you’ve ‘Scheduled’ a Post you have limited editing options (hopefully this is something Facebook will work on in the future). You can’t change any of the content of the Post, you can only change the scheduled time of the Post or delete it. To make changes hover over the top right hand side of the post and a small grey down arrow will appear.
Click on this and a drop down box will appear that allows you to:
Select ‘Change Time’ and another box will pop up that allows you to change: Year, Month, Day, Hour or Minute. Once you’re happy with your changes, click ‘Reschedule’.
Any time you need to check your scheduled posts, go to the top of your Facebook Page and click on‘Edit Page’, then ‘Use Activity Log’.
And that’s it!
The ability to Schedule Posts on Facebook is one my favourite tools of all social media. And although the ability to schedule posts has been available using third party apps such as Buffer, etc. I think the options available on Facebook are easier to use.
If you make use of the Vetanswers Social Media Scheduling Calendar and start to plan and schedule your posts you’ll have complete control of your social media AND save yourself heaps of time.
Just because you can schedule your post days, weeks or months in advance doesn’t mean you can schedule them and then never open up your Facebook Page for days, weeks or months!
You still need to check your Page regularly (a few times a day) and respond to Posts on your Wall, comments on your Posts, etc. BUT what you won’t need to do is scrounge around for something to post and then just end up posting another funny cat picture because you don’t have time to find anything else.
So tell me in the comments section below, how is scheduling on Facebook working for you? Do you have any questions?
It really isn’t. Most animal hospital mission (purpose) statements are insanely long. In fact, they are too long for the people who created them to remember, let alone new people joining the team.
Because of the length of most mission statements, there is an immediate disconnect between what you have posted on the wall and what actually goes on between the walls in your hospital.
Coming up with a short and sticky statement is not an easy process, but it is so powerful when you do.
A few years ago, I struggled to create a mission statement that encapsulated what we were trying to do with TVSS. It took a lot of brain- storming, but finally our mission statement was crafted.
We exist to provide the surgical excellence and compassionate service we would want for our own pets
At the end of the day, what mattered to us was providing surgical excellence and compassionate service. But what was most important to us, was providing to other pets what we would want for our own pets.
Every day, our team knows this is the goal. At the end of the day if we have done these two things, then we have accomplished what we set out to do. It is short, and it is sticky. It is NOT complicated and NOT hard to remember.
A short and sticky mission statement helps us make tough decisions when needed.
The other day we had a dog, already under anesthesia, who was going to have an FHO. After reviewing the radiographs of the dog, I concluded there was no way I would do an FHO on this dog if he were mine (the radiographs revealed no significant DJD.) I called the owner and explained to her that there was no way I could perform the FHO. For all I know, she went down the road and had another veterinarian perform the surgery (she really wanted this surgery for some reason) but it was not going to be me doing an unnecessary surgery.
Not only can your team actually remember what you collectively are trying to accomplish when your mission statement is short and sticky, but it will also resonate with your clients.
We recently added a video to our website and most owners have told me that the reason they selected us to do their pet’s surgery was because we treated their pet like he/she was our own- how awesome is that? So not only is it resonating with my team and me, but also clients who chose us to perform their pet’s surgery.
I challenge each of you, to take some time at your next leadership team meeting and start crafting a short and sticky mission statement-one that will actually help your team know why they are there and what you are trying to accomplish!
Do you have a short and sticky mission (purpose) statement you would like to share?
You can read more of my posts at www.catalystvets.com
Judy Gillespie is the Director of Vetanswers – an online business community for the veterinary industry. She spends her days online researching and tracking down the best bits of information to share with the Vetanswers community to help their veterinary businesses grow. See more information about contacting Judy below.
This blog post was originally published on the Vetanswers website on 21/8/2012. It has since been updated to reflect the growth in the King Arthur online community. In most instances their community had doubled in just over 12 months!
I came across this fascinating article on a flour company in the USA that is over 200 years old and is doing an awesome job on social media (A social media lesson from a 200-year-old flour company (SmartCompany)).
Yes… a flour company… the white powdery stuff you use in baking. Can you think of a more generic product?
And it got me thinking. If they can do such an amazing job developing an active, passionate, thriving community, then there’s absolutely no reason why your veterinary businesses can’t do the same!
King Arthur sells generic, white powdery stuff that, out of its packaging, is totally indistinguishable from its competitors.
You offer so much more! You help your clients with an incredibly important relationship in their life – their pet.
So I thought it would be interesting to compare what King Arthur does with their online presence with what you could do in your veterinary business.
It’s important to note that King Arthur didn’t achieve this amazing thriving community overnight – it’s taken them a few years to determine what works best and for them to build their community.
|What does King Arthur do?||What could you do?|
|They sell flour||You deal with an emotional and very important part of many client’s lives|
|They produce interesting and engaging content on ….flour!||You can create interesting and engaging content on…. pets! Dogs, cats, mice, rabbits, horses, fish, lizards, snakes, turtles, cows, sheep……|
|Their strategy is not to sell ‘flour’ but to educate the public on cooking with flour||Your strategy shouldn’t be about selling your veterinary services but educating the public on how to look after their pets|
|They market their brand by telling interesting and informative stories across multiple mediums:
|You can provide interesting, informative information on a range of animals across multiple mediums:
|King Arthur On Facebook:www.facebook.com/kingarthurflourOver 177,800 Likes||Your Facebook Page:|
|Uses Milestones to tell the story of the business
The regular posts on their timeline now include interesting information about cooking and LOTS of amazing images of gorgeous food (aka food porn).
|Use milestones to tell your story:
Your regular posts can include a range of interesting information and LOTS of gorgeous images of animals: your animals. your staff’s animals, your patients…. just generally gorgeous animals.
|King Arthur You Tube Channel:www.youtube.com/user/kingarthurflourNearly 4,000 Subscribers & over 1,000,000 video views||Your YouTube Channel:|
|‘How to’ videos on baking||‘How to’ videos: e.g.
|Educational videos on farming||You could also have educational videos on areas that impact your practice:
(I don’t think you should be afraid of educating people in things you believe in – as long as you don’t ‘preach’ people often appreciate the opinions of an expert)
|King Arthur Flour on Twitter:https://twitter.com/KingArthurFlourOver 7,500 tweets & over 19,000 followers||Your Twitter account|
|Flour Matters Page
|There are lots of educational opportunities:
|Your Facebook Page, Twitter & Blog comments is a great way to set up a community|
|There are so many videos you could make:
|There are lots of topics you could blog about:
Don’t forget to add in an awesome image each time!
And don’t forget to add that ‘Photo Release Form’ to your files.
One last thing……
Remember King Arthur sells flour…. but to them, it’s more than just flour. Check out this image I found on the internet:
So if these words can describe flour, what words would you use to describe your veterinary business? Tell us in the comments section below.
You can connect with Judy Gillespie on:
Facebook - www.facebook.com/vetanswers
Twitter – www.twitter.com/judygi
Let’s face it we are all human, and sometimes we get angry. Anger is not even a bad thing, but how we respond makes all the difference. I grew up in a home with a father who had a horrible temper. As I child, I never learned how to process anger properly, and that affected me as I got older. I think having a husband and kids convinced me that I had to get better at processing my anger – not to feel guilty about getting angry, but making sure it is used constructively instead of destructively.
We all have days at work (or at home) when enough is enough and you have just had it! What do you do? Sell your practice, run away to a deserted island, and change your name? Unfortunately, those are not good options for anyone despite what you may be thinking. There are a few steps you can take in order to help process your anger or frustration.
I doubt I am the only one who has struggled with anger at work or even at home. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I hope these 5 steps will help you on those challenging days!
How do you deal with anger at work?
You can read more posts by Rebecca at www.catalystvets.com
It seems antiquated now but I’ll always remember the first neuter I ever performed. I was in my 2nd year of veterinary school and was with a spay/neuter group in the Dominican Republic. The conditions were cramped as we had fit six operating tables in the same space as a fire truck. We would have had enough room for two fire trucks but the other one’s engine would not start up and thus could not be moved out of the dark garage we were operating out of. We at least had shade from the hot sun and were only able to take a break from the day when the sun set as the garage did not have working electricity. All of the anesthesia was injectable and everyday there would be lines around the block with people eager to have their pets fixed.
Being a 2nd year veterinary student we were given the task of taking histories, doing pre-anesthetic exams and helping with recovery. A few days in during a busy afternoon the doctor in charge asked if I wanted to neuter this 70 lbs. Rottweiler mix that I was prepping on the table. I wasn’t sure I was ready or prepared to do surgery at that moment but she assured me that I had already seen enough that week and she would be around if I needed any help. As one could already gather this was an unconventional setting so what better time then now to jump in so I did. I don’t know what percentage of my sweat could be contributed to the stifling heat trapped in the fire station garage compared to the nerves I was feeling. But what added to the pressure was the gentleman that brought this dog in was one of the few that whole week that actually spoke English. He used his English to ask a lot of questions and as we were not graced with a surgery suite to hide in, he was just feet away to ask plenty of questions. Probably because of my personal saturation he asked in the middle of the likely hour long procedure how many of these I had done before. I did not want him to know this was my first time, but I did not want to egregiously lie either so I thought a fair response was three.
After a slow and meticulous process, after checking for bleeding at least twenty times my last suture was placed and I was finished. My nerves were too wired to relax still. Concerns about doing the procedure were quickly replaced by post-operative ones such as what if there is bleeding internally? Having that sudden responsibility placed on my shoulders I began to imagine the worst case scenarios. I knew I was properly trained and that everything should go according to plan, but until I can see a happy bouncing dog two weeks later the ‘what ifs’ would not go away. Unfortunately in this situation I would never see this dog again and have a proper follow-up. As I look back now it’s almost hard to imagine all the angst that comes from that first time taking on an enormous responsibility. But with practice and seeing thousands of neuters do just fine there is a comfort/confidence level that finally sits in.
On that day of my first neuter a classmate felt compelled to come over and ask me, “being a male do you find it harder to neuter another?” I did not have an answer to her question, but something recently happened to me that gave me a little more insight for which I will share next month.
When employees say “I am burned out”, they are really recognizing, feeling, and expressing Compassion Fatigue. The problem is that technicians do not know about compassion fatigue…as a result of the general widespread use of the term, burnout. ~Figley & Roop, 2006
When compassion fatigue affects our employees, our entire practice suffers. Our practice then becomes afflicted with organizational compassion fatigue. According to Patricia Smith, “when management, workers, volunteers, clients and patients suffer varying levels of Compassion Fatigue, they incorporate their symptoms into the “corporate culture” of the organization. Eventually, the productive mission of the organization is replaced by policies, procedures and goals that reflect high levels of dysfunction…when compassion fatigue among employees hits critical mass, the organization itself suffers.”
We all want our practices to be a place where our clients are treated with compassion, our patients receive the best quality medical care, and our team can pursue personal and professional goals in a supportive environment. This type of positive work environment will result in a team that displays some basic traits, including:
Yet when compassion fatigue is affecting our workplace and our team, then this is when the work environment has become “toxic”: (~Figley and Roop, 2006)
Just as with individual compassion fatigue, there are both personal and professional reasons to minimize compassion fatigue. It is difficult for each individual to reach their potential in this toxic environment, and it is also difficult for the organization as a business to survive and grow. Profitability of the practice is definitely affected. Service organizations must recognize that addressing [compassion fatigue] is part of a reasonable standard of practice for any profession that entails direct service to traumatized “clients”. The cost of not doing so is immeasurable. ~Saakvitne & Pearlman, 1996
What does organizational compassion fatigue look like, so we can recognize these symptoms in our own practice and make necessary changes?
Symptoms of organizational compassion fatigue: (~Smith, 2008)
When left unaided, stress levels rise. Employees, particularly the line staff and middle management, feel helpless, then hopeless. Resentment, hostility and blame surface… ~Smith, 2009
In an article by Paul B. Hofmann appearing in the Healthcare Executive in Sep/Oct 2009, there are many factors that lead to compassion fatigue among healthcare workers. These include inadequate professional training, poor mentoring, low staffing, and an organizational culture that does not encourage, value and recognize exemplary displays of compassion. Hofmann goes further in saying that if employees do not believe they are respected and appreciated for their efforts, and if they do not feel cared about by those who have responsibility for them, it will be more difficult for them to establish and maintain a truly caring environment for patients. “Inevitably, compassion fatigue will have an adverse impact on staff recruitment, retention, morale and performance,” says Hofmann.
If we agree with Hofmann as to the factors leading to compassion fatigue among healthcare workers, we recognize that there are plenty of places to help our employees move through and out of the fog of compassion fatigue. We need to provide professional training from their first day, and never stop encouraging them to continue their learning and growing. Mentoring is perhaps the most important task that a manager performs, yet it requires sensitivity to know which employees need mentoring and how they can be best served. It also requires time, to create personal bonds, set professional boundaries, and develop trust so that employees are open and responsive to being mentored by their management team. Low staffing is a reality for many of our practices, as we struggle with each unexpected loss of an employee and try to fill in that space using the “warm body” technique. This is avoidable if our management team continually accepts resumes and applications for all positions even when there is no opening, and conducts ongoing interviews to line up the best candidates for when an opening occurs. If the management has established open communication with each team member, they are also better prepared to know when an employee may be reaching a personal or professional goal that will take them from the practice (i.e. graduating school, completing certification, etc.), or realize when an employee is struggling and thus involuntary termination is unavoidable. Employee loss should never be a surprise, in most cases. If it is, then the management is not projecting employee needs very far into the future.
Organizational culture is so important to minimizing organizational compassion fatigue. As Hofmann stated, our management team (including practice owners and all levels of supervision) must encourage, value and recognize exemplary displays of compassion by the employees. This could be extra time spent with a grieving client, staying late to provide patient care that is necessary, or an employee supporting their teammate through a difficult case. We must be careful not to assume this is unprofitable “down time” or just someone “riding the clock”, when instead it may be the extension of compassion that you really want and need from your team members. Feel free to use the word “compassion” as often as possible when describing activities that you are praising, as this will help them make the connection that it is this display of compassion that is being recognized. As managers in general, it is easy to focus on the problem or trouble employees that constantly need guidance and counseling. However, those employees who probably deserve the support of management the most are those who need to see real examples of how much they are respected and appreciated. This goes beyond tangible rewards and “employee of the month” plagues to words and actions that provide them the feeling that they are cared about. This is where that personal bond is so important.
We can create healthy work places, and here are some guidelines to help us reach that goal:
Eight Laws Governing A Healthy Workplace
1. Provide a respite for the team.
2. Provide continuing education for team.
3. Provide acceptable benefits to aid staff in practicing beneficial self care.
4. Provide management and team with tools to accomplish their tasks.
5. Provide direct management to monitor workloads.
6. Provide positive, team-building activities to promote strong social relationships between colleagues.
7. Encourage “open door” policies to promote good communication between team members.
8. Have grief processes in place when traumatic events occur onsite.
As we conclude the last of our five post series, we would love to hear hear your thoughts regarding compassion fatigue, so if you leave a comment on this blog, your name will be put into a drawing for your own copy of Overcoming Secondary Stress in Medical and Nursing Practice by Robert J. Wicks, which I will mail to you. All comments must be received by November 9. Be sure to include your email address so I can let you know on November 10th, if you were the winner! - Rebecca
Other posts written by Katherine are:
If you haven’t familiarized yourself with Benchmarks 2013, or worse, if you don’t know what Benchmarks are, please click here. I look forward to this publication like I look forward to eating a bowl of ice cream with chocolate syrup, whipped cream and M&M candies. Yep, I like it that much! If nothing else, this book solidifies for me the things that I am doing well. It helps me gain perspective on industry trends and provides direction for new goals.
This year my Benchmarks 2013 arrived in a bubble mailer. I ripped it open with excitement and turned to the “expenses” tab. Gasp! Now imagine I get up from my desk, rush to the ladies room, take an extra Lexapro and place a cool cloth on my head. Oh yes, in a matter of moments I was able to peruse the details and determine that I was so 2011; Benchmarks 2011 that is. That’s when Wutchiett-Tumblin Associates last published the issue regarding revenue, fees, and expenses. While staff costs still hover in the 18-22% (of gross revenue) range, the amount spent on drugs and supplies dropped quite a bit, down to 9.8%. I’m spending too much on inventory! Any well respected owner or practice manager knows that staff and inventory costs are the two biggest killers of a clinic. In fact, I shouldn’t even be mentioning the fact that I’m spending too much for fear of the long term repercussions on my career!
Okay, perhaps I’m overreacting…slightly. The reality is that as the veterinary market faces new challenges, our disappearing pharmacy and Dr. Google for example, it’s more important than ever that we keep expenses in check and find creative ways to manage what resources we have. Part 1 of my plan is this. Get to work tomorrow and do an analysis of exactly what our numbers are and how they compare to the well managed practices in Benchmarks. Next I’ll decide which areas will have the greatest impact on my bottom line (my inventory) and make a detailed plan, with S.M.A.R.T goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound). Then, I will put my plan into action!
I hope my office manager drinks plenty of java in the morning, because we are putting pencils to paper!
Stay tuned for Part 2.
Minimizing compassion fatigue, or “the cost of caring”, begins with taking care ofourselves. Developing a self-care plan isn’t as hard as it looks, yet it also isn’t as easy as it sounds. We simply can’t change years, perhaps a lifetime, of giving care to others first when we wake up tomorrow morning. We need tools to make these changes, and an understanding of what we hope to gain.
Change is never easy. We may mistakenly believe that undergoing this type of personal change, a focus to our needs, is a private process where we’re the only one who stands to benefit from our success or suffer if we fail. That is wrong; there are others counting on us to succeed. Our families, our friends, and our colleagues are just a handful of the people that depend on our success. Even our patients and their families depend on us to find a way to provide the care they need without becoming emotionally fatigued. Keep this in mind as you move through this journey.
The following eight laws introduce strategies that we can use both within our workplaces and beyond to create a healthy change in our life.
Eight Laws Governing Healthy Change (~Patricia Smith, 2008)
In order to have compassion to give to others, we must nurture it within ourselves first. This is where we start to minimize and cope with compassion fatigue, so “the cost of caring” is something we CAN afford!
Other posts written by Katherine are:
Let’s learn more about the causes of compassion fatigue, and what is stressing us out at work. We will also see how we gain satisfaction from the work we do as veterinary professionals. Robert G. Roop, Ph.D., performed a survey of the veterinary profession (Humane Society of the U.S., 2003-2004). It was called the Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue Survey, and they surveyed veterinarians, technicians, assistants,office staff and managers to identify the top stressors and satisfiers. Let’s see what they discovered.
In general, there are personal reasons why we may become affected by compassion fatigue. It helps to look at these internal causes in order to create a plan to minimize compassion fatigue on us as individuals. Then we will look at the effects of the job we do.
Causes of compassion fatigue include:
When these factors are in place within us, we become more susceptible to compassion fatigue. Then we can look at the external pressures that are put on each of us. The researchers realized that while there are things about our jobs that cause stress, there are also things about the job that create in us satisfaction, and the desire to stay in this difficult profession. It is supposed to be a balanced equation. Some of these stressors and satisfiers will be no surprise, and some will seem much more significant to our identification and healing of compassion fatigue.
1. Top Stressors for Veterinarians
2. Top Satisfiers for Veterinarians
3. Top Stressors for Veterinary Technicians and Assistants
4. Top Satisfiers for Veterinary Technicians and Assistants
5. Top Stressors for Front Office and Practice Management
6. Top Satisfiers for Front Office and Practice Management
From this data, there are some interesting facts to be learned. All positions basically agree that helping and healing pets is the most satisfying part of the job, but the difficult clients are the toughest aspect to bear. There are also some assumptions to be made from this data. First of all, the amount or intensity of stressors will depend on what type of veterinary practice you work in. If your practice sees more patients that are very ill or high-risk, or you perform euthanasia more often, then you are at a higher risk for compassion fatigue. This describes most if not all emergency practices, and many types of specialty practices. Yet it can also describe certain general practices.
Obviously the management of your practice has something to do with the prevalence of compassion fatigue, because of the affect of disputes or problems with your supervisor and lack of sufficient, or sufficiently trained, staff. Even the relationships between co-workers and the level of teamwork achieved can be affected by the management of a practice, although we all must also recognize our individual responsibility to establish caring and meaningful relationships with our colleagues.
When these caring relationships are in existence, then working as a team is a great satisfier in our work. If we have a practice that provides opportunity for us to continue our learning, and challenges us to use those new skills, we are also more satisfied. We cannot underestimate the effect of our clientele on our work, as we can see that the biggest stressor is those difficult clients we deal with perhaps daily. On the flip side, the thankful clients provide a lot of satisfaction. So our challenge is to learn how to turn more difficult clients into thankful clients!
There are also some important lessons to be learned if we read between the lines of this survey. When it comes to management, it is known that they suffer their own brand of compassion fatigue. They are sandwiched between a staff that needs them, and the pressure of having to answer to the practice owner. When the manager has come up from the ranks in veterinary medicine, at one point their contact with animals provided a much-needed satisfier. Now as a manager, they have less contact with animals, and typically have to handle the worst of the difficult clients. It’s obvious that they are at high risk for compassion fatigue as well.
Another interesting point is that this survey also measured our risk of burnout. The results suggest that veterinarians are in control when it comes to achieving work-related goals, and therefore they are not at high risk for burnout. Veterinary technicians and assistants are at quite low risk for burnout as well, as are front office and managers. This is due to the presence of those compassion satisfiers. More often than not, when you or a colleague claims that you are feeling “burned out”, it is actually an expression of compassion fatigue…we just have heard the term burnout used with much more frequency than compassion fatigue. Perhaps there is also more negative stigma attached to having a tired heart in a profession full of compassion.
Now that we have identified the causes, stressors, and satisfiers, we are probably coming to terms with the level of compassion fatigue we are actually experiencing as veterinary professionals. The next question to answer is, how do I help myself get through this, to maintain my career in veterinary medicine? Stay tuned for answers to come…
By Rachel Cunningham
Creating online videos is a great opportunity for veterinarians to get new clients and increase brand awareness in the local market. The online video sharing site YouTube is the second largest search engine worldwide, right behind Google. This means that when people aren’t searching on Google, they are often searching for videos on YouTube. In addition to being popular with online consumers, video has a range of uses and benefits for local veterinary practices.
Online video is a great tool for veterinary practices as it creates trust in viewers. After a consumer views a video about a local business, they feel like they “know” the practice and have a personal connection to that business. Additionally, video is a fantastic way to communicate a large chunk of information in a relatively short span of time. Recent studies have shown that only one minute of video has the same value as almost 1.8 million words (Video Brewery, 2012). Consider how much information just one minute of video can relay to the viewer.
Video marketing offers variety and flexibility as well. You have the option to choose whether to create videos in-house or through the use of a professional videographer. The best option would be to incorporate both professional and in-house videos to take advantage of what each option has to offer. When creating video for your practice, you can select from four main types of video to produce: patient testimonials, service demonstrations, documercials, and behind-the-scenes. Each of these styles enables your practice to meet a different goal.
Video Testimonials: Increasing Website Conversions
If you are just starting out with video for your practice, patient testimonials are the ideal place to begin. While written online testimonials on review sites are great for search engine optimization (SEO), client video testimonials are often more convincing and tend to increase website conversions. Online consumers are very good at identifying fake reviews, but video testimonials are inherently more trustworthy because they are hard to fake. Online reviews about a veterinarian carry a lot of weight with pet owners, so video testimonials increase the likelihood that a pet owner will become a new client.
Demonstration Videos Educate Pet Owners
A demonstration video showcases your services (a pet exam, dental cleaning, etc.) and provides pet owners with a good idea of what it is like to bring their pet to your practice. Service demo videos educate pet owners about your offerings, make viewers comfortable, establish your credibility as a veterinarian, and increase awareness of your veterinary practice. Create videos about your most popular services and continue to add more videos as your services expand. Upload the videos to YouTube to get them in front of a wider audience and become an authority in veterinary care.
Professional Documercials Market Your Practice
Investing in a professional, HD video of your veterinary practice is a way to reach several goals at once. A documercial not only highlights your services, but it showcases client testimonials and provides pet owners with a peek at what happens behind-the-scenes. Documercials enable you to market your veterinary practice, reach a wider audience, educate pet owners, and build your reputation as an authority on veterinary care. Using a professional videographer enables you to continue seeing pet patients while getting a high quality video filmed, edited, published and syndicated.
Behind-the-Scenes Provide a Personal Experience
Behind-the-scenes videos give pet owners a glimpse of what happens at your practice. These types of videos are good for humanizing your practice while informally showcasing your services. Pet owners and online consumers enjoy these videos because they provide a personal experience. Behind-the-scenes videos also enable you to engage with existing clients and improve return rates. It can be tough to have a relaxed demeanor while keeping a professional manner with clients. This kind of video allows you to retain your professional demeanor and authority while letting patients know that you are human and approachable. This style of video is a little tricky to implement, so hold off on jumping into this type of video until you have created the other three types of videos.
Shooting Video: Quick Tips for Veterinarians
Getting started with video does not need to be a complicated process. We’ve compiled several easy tips to help you start shooting video for your practice.
1. Always use either a HD video camera or a smartphone that has good audio and video capabilities.
2. Adjust lighting, sound, and the setting so that it translates well in the video. Any setting should be properly lit and look clean. Only shoot video inside.
3. Be ready to film client video testimonials at anytime. When a client is ready to share their testimonial on film, being ready makes it convenient for them.
4. Keep the videos short, between 1 - 2 minutes.
5. When on camera, smile. A smile makes you look approachable and makes the viewer comfortable.
6. Publish your videos on YouTube and share them on your website and social media.
Video is an effective and popular medium that enables your practice to accomplish a variety of goals. The versatility of video enables you to change your goals to match the changing needs of your practice. Using resources like YouTube and recent advancements in smartphone capabilities make it easy to create videos. Once you get comfortable with shooting and sharing videos, you can streamline the process for efficiency.
Can you remember back to when you first decided to enter veterinary medicine? For many of us, this profession is a “calling” that began whispering our name way back in our youth. Perhaps you were the type of child who found all the strays in the neighborhood and helped injured wildlife in your back yard. Whenever it began, at some point you made a commitment to be a caregiver to animals. In the bookCompassion Fatigue in the Animal-Care Community, authors Figley and Roop describe five phases of the new helper—that was us back in the beginning, and may even be some of you now. See if you can recall these phases, or identify if you are currently in any of these phases:
Phase One: The Dream
Phase Two: The Start
Phase Three: Losing Our Breath
Phase Four: Desperately Seeking Rhythm
Phase Five: Finding Our Rhythm
Do any of these phases sound familiar? Did you pass through some of them, and where are you now? Some of us find our rhythm sooner than others, but it’s imperative that we find it at some point. First we must take personal responsibility for making a change. Here are a few suggestions to cope with burnout and stress:
“We had a really tough case today, can I debrief with you?”
“Well, my older dog is having some health issues, so as long as it is not about a dog patient of yours, then I’m fine.”
“Okay, it was actually a cat, and it was hit by a car.”
“Gee, don’t tell me the gory details, though, just tell me the basics and then, how it made you feel.”
“Right, well it ended up dying, and it was just so hard on everyone. It was a young cat, and if the owners could have afforded surgery, we might have been able to save him. I just felt, well, helpless. I have all these great skills, but I couldn’t use them to help this sweet cat.”
As you can tell, the “faucet” or flow of information was controlled by the person receiving the debriefing; they were able to set up some limits so the negative story didn’t cause them to grieve as well. The technician involved in the case was able to talk about how it made them feel, which is really what they needed most. So this was a “safe” way to debrief with someone who was supportive.
Using some of these tools will help you find that rhythm we discussed earlier. It’s okay to move to the beat of a different drummer, just make sure there’s rhythm in the beat…or else it’s all just noise!
In celebration of cat month I dedicate this post to our favorite felines.
I've never considered myself as either a cat or a dog person, until I had to work with them as patients.
Even in my first days of learning the ropes I could tell the cats and I were not hitting it off. It really troubled me as to why every cat I touched seemed to be possessed by some blood thirsty, evil desire to destroy me. To put it simply; I was afraid of them.
To put it realistically; they scared the living bejeezes out of me. Especially more so with the feral or extremely fractious cats. Many times in those cases I wouldn't even try to handle them. Other team members quickly learned of my fear and would bravely step up to take my place in assisting the care of such terrorizing patients. If the cats were friendly or complacent I had no problem, but if they showed the slightest bit of aggression i.e.: hissing, growling, or swatting...forget it. I was not going there.
I never understood why I was so afraid of working with the cats. I had always liked cats. We owned several cats throughout my childhood. I don't recall ever being fearful of them. At the time I had two beautiful calicos and I was not afraid of them. What was it about the cats at work?
Here's what I've learned about cats.
They don't like change
They have their own agenda and anything involving the vet office is not on it.
They will cooperate only on their own terms
They can be dangerous when they're scared or just really angry
After doing this work for a number of years I realized we had a lot more in common than I thought.
I started looking at the cats a little differently than I had before. I was more patient, more understanding of their behavior and their needs. I thought how absolutely horrible their day must be when they are pulled out from under the bed, shoved into a tiny box, shaken up by a road trip only to land in a strange place with loud barking dogs and people pulling and shoving on them again and again.
Sometimes I think we forget cat patients are not like dog patients. They don't love coming to the vet. They don't want our approval or our affection, hence all the ignored treats in the exam room. (I have yet to see a cat take a treat after her vaccines or lab work.)
I'm not saying I no longer have a fear of aggressive cats. If I'm a faced with a tiger in a tabby suit I still get a little nervous and yes, ask for help if I feel safety is an issue.
But I think the cats and I've come a long way.
I recently learned despite the fact that cats are outnumbering dogs as the #1 household pet, the number of cats as veterinary patients is on the decline. Maybe some of that is due to the economic crunch on pet owners, but maybe some of it is bad experiences with cats at the veterinary office.
In order to win with a cat you have to be willing to go the extra mile. You have to make the extra effort to calm, comfort, reassure and treat these special creatures with the dignity and respect they demand. I think it should be the same at the veterinary office. Some vets even offer a separate quiet waiting area for their cat patients.
you can find this and more useful ideas on making your clinic more appealing to your feline guests. Follow the programs and resources link to find out how you can become a cat friendly practice.
Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR, began her career in veterinary medicine by becoming a registered veterinary technician in 1992. Her career includes technician positions within private practice and surgical training and research. She joined Gulf Coast Veterinary Internists and Critical Care (GCVI) in Houston, Texas, in 1996. During her 10 years at GCVI, she became the first full-time manager in the practice by accepting the position of Director of Client Services. In September 2006 she became a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager (CVPM) through the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA). Driven by a growing desire to consult with managers in other emergency and specialty practices, she founded the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Practice Association (VESPA at www.VESPAssociation.org) in June 2006. (Please read more about Katherine Dobbs below post.)
Compassion fatigue is not a new topic in veterinary medicine; it has been talked about before. Yet how many of us today would admit that we suffer from compassion fatigue? Whether you are the family veterinarian who is now saying goodbye to puppies and kittens you first met ten or fifteen years earlier when you entered the profession, or you are the emergency clinic technician who must say goodbye to many patients all in one day after barely getting to know their families, or you are the front office team member at a specialty practice who faces the brunt of emotional eruptions from clients day in and day out, we are all susceptible.
Experts agree that the more you know about compassion fatigue, the better prepared you are to recognize it and cope with its effects. Compassion is defined as a deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it (Figley & Roop, 2006). Fatigue is defined as the mental weariness resulting from exertion that is associated with attending to the emotional and physical pain of others (Figley & Roop, 2006). Combined together, compassion fatigue has been called thehurt of the heart (Ogilvie, 2006), something all of us in the veterinary profession are susceptible to, and many of us today suffer from this condition.
So what is burnout, a term we hear more often from our team and possibly ourselves? Burnout is the general feeling of exhaustion that develops when a person simultaneously experiences too much pressure and has too few sources of satisfaction (Figley & Roop, 2006). Then there is also the day to day stress inherent in our jobs; how does that fit into this discussion?A good way to remember the difference between Stress and Burnout is that Stress is “too much” (pressure, work, expectations) and Burnout is “not enough” (depletion, emptiness, apathy). If Stress is drowning, Burnout is being dried up! (Smith, 2008)
Regardless of their meanings, however, it is apparent that we as a profession suffer from stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue. When we examine the symptoms produced by these conditions, it’s apparent that they affect our professional lives, and also our personal lives. Let’s look at symptoms of compassion fatigue in particular:
When you clock out at the end of the day or shift, your compassion fatigue isn’t left behind in your locker. It follows you home, and affects your relationships with your spouse or partner, children, friends, and ultimately decreases your overall quality of life. These are just a few of the ways that compassion fatigue causes us to act at home:
We choose this career because we are compassionate, caring people. Unfortunately that also makes us more susceptible to compassion fatigue. If we had no compassion, we would not have to worry about the fatigue. The first step is to understand and accept the emotional strain that is part of our career. We must recognize the toll it takes on us daily, yet also recognize our great potential to overcome or minimize its effects.
We understand and accept that sadness and pain are a part of our job…We begin to understand that our feelings of anger, depression, and sadness are best dealt with if we recognize them and allow them to wash over and past us…We recognize our incredible potential to help animals. We ARE changing the world! Fakkema, 1991
So what can we do about compassion fatigue, aside from leaving the profession and giving up the careers we love? We have to fight back, on a personal level, and an organizational level. We can make a difference, in our lives as well as the lives of pets and families.
(Katherine Dobbs bio Continued from above)
In January 2007, Katherine accepted a position with Horizon Veterinary Services, Inc., as interim hospital manager of their flagship hospital, FoxValleyAnimalReferralCenter in Appleton, Wisconsin. In 2008, she created InterFace Veterinary HR Systems, LLC. Katherine focuses on providing human resource information and building customized tools for performance management within general and emergency/specialty practices. Katherine became a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) in June 2008, and a compassion fatigue specialist in 2009. Katherine has also been published in various industry journals including AAHA Trends, Firstline, Veterinary Economics, Veterinary Practice News, and the Veterinary Technician journal where she was a member of the editorial board and the featured author of the monthly Management Matters column. She has published two books with AAHA Press, and writes for several technician journals in Canada and a veterinary publication in the UK. She is an invited blogger for Veterinary Practice News and My Exceptional Veterinary Team. She has also self-published two books for pet owners on end-of-life and pet loss. Her public speaking experience includes various state, regional, and national conferences in the United States and Canada, for managers, veterinarians, and veterinary technicians. Katherine was voted the 82nd Annual Western Veterinary Conference Practice Management Continuing Educator of the Year in 2010. (updated 2/12)
You can contact Katherine at:
Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR
interFace Veterinary HR Systems, LLC
3825 E. Calumet St., Ste. 400-187
Appleton, WI 54915
You can follow Rebecca's blog at www.catalystvets.com
My original post of emails that I sent to NatGeo regarding this show were 2 years ago. Obviously, they carried no weight with the network, they're making their money. I was pleased to see responses to the message that confirmed my concerns and to those who posted them, thank you. I just thought I would share with any who are following the subject an email I received yesterday from a very embittered fan of the show. Let me point out some inaccuracies first, the email text will follow and then a comment.
First, I don't know this lady and she obviously does not know me. She says that she got this info from my website. I don't know where she saw the article or message board content but it was not from my website. She sent the email via my website contact link.
Dear Dr. Angel Brothers
You have a new website message from Kay Morrisett (email@example.com).
I have an issue with Dr Angela Brothers comments towards Dr Jan Pol. DEAR DR BROTHERS.....Who are you to downgrade a man & his ability to do his job after 40 years...(before you were even thought of Im sure) and slander his name on your website? Lets say you are 60 miles away from "technology" on a dairy farm, and you need to do what needs done to help an animal. This man was delivering pigs at 12 years old in the 1940s, on a farm, with 6 siblings, in a one room farmhouse. Where do you get the nerve to question his knowledge? On hands knowledge I should add. I can only assume you did your training at a money sucking rich vets office who will charge $180 for some simple procedure that didnt take 5 minutes & more than likely wasnt needed. This man does what needs done, in the time needed, to animals who after 5 minutes, will not sit and cry or worry that infection will set in. Animals arent like humans. The fact that they do not realize what " take it easy, or no lifting, pulling, running" means. Animals tails are cut off all the time with no anesthetic help. Ever heard of a rubber band tightened around a rotts tail & chopped off? The band keeps blood from flowing, so no blood loss, and at 2 weeks old, they never knew it was done. Both my females were spayed, and was given pain pills for home, told not to let them in tall grass, or running and plenty of rest. As soon as they got out of vehichle, they were chasing rabbits. The very day after surgery!!!! Tell me they considered pain or infection the least bit????? So a hammer & chisel to cut a ball joint from the dogs hip is any different than one used in knee replace of human. Thats how its done. I saw the episode & the dog was asleep, no pain & did fine. Get over your high & mighty attitude & realize some things are "old school for a reason. They work, they are tried & tested methods that wont cause a bankruptcy from those wanting to take care of the pets they have. Bet you havent stuck your arm up a heifers vagina 59 times in a roll? This man did this without hesitation cause he is a real vet!!!Not a goodie goodie afraid to get dirty rich and getting richer class of person like you. You and your kind make me sick!!!!!! I hope you loose your business & have the finger pointed your way....you dont deserve to call yourself a vet. Get over yourself or get your rubber boots on, get in the cow, sheep, & horse shit with DR Pol and deliver cows, put a uterus back in, or make a anus from a pvc pipe on the spot that fixed the problem & didnt cost $1000. Your kind is pitiful!
Now, for the "I told you so" part.
There will be, and now I know is, a certain group of the population who watches this show and draws the conclusion that any vet who does not practice like Dr. Pol is just a "goodie goodie afraid to get dirty rich and getting richer class of person". I'm not that and don't know a colleague that is. This woman sees my site and sees that I am a predominantly small animal vet now and draws all her conclusions from that and the criticism that I had of the show. She doesn't know that I spent many years doing large animal work, palpating cows RECTUMS not vaginas, delivering a calf when I was 9 months pregnant with my firstborn. She doesn't know that my business is still new enough that I pay my bills and my staff and every now and then myself a check. I do not make as much as my lowest paid full time staff member. I do this because I like it and I practice with the best interest of the patient in mind, not what it will make for me. It probably wouldn't matter what she knew about me. She has her opinion and like many like her, gets irate if anyone offers one other than her own.
Mr. McVey completed his graduate studies in 1991 in political social work and behavioral science. He then pursued a career as a psychotherapist and program director in psychiatric facilities, followed by a transition to administration of veterinary practices. In 2001, Shawn founded McVey Management Solutions, a consulting business that specializes in improving health care delivery systems and improving workplace culture.
Mr. McVey is also the founder of Veterinary Specialists in Private Practice (VSIPP), an annual conference that provides continuing education for veterinarians and administrators in specialty practice. Mr. McVey is a graduate of Purdue’s Veterinary Management Institute, and is the first non-veterinarian to be named to the Board of Directors of the American Animal Hospital Association.
Shawn is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Veterinary Economics and FirstLine Live magazines. He has been named Speaker of the Year at both the North American Veterinary Conference and the Western Veterinary Conference. Shawn trains and consults with veterinary practice teams approximately 50 times per year.
Rebecca: What concerns you most about the state of the profession right now?
Shawn: Well, I thought about that question, and I think externally and internally are the answers. Externally, what concerns me about the state of the profession is the constant struggle of the value proposition, the constant struggle of being able to sell value, and the fact that if we want to get—if we want to have the lifestyles that we want and need, we want our staff members to be elevated to the professionals that they aspire to be, then we’re constantly going to have to be charging what we’re worth. And so, that means that we’re not going to be able to be there for every person who might want what we have to offer.
Shawn: So that concerns me about the profession externally. But internally—and then the second thing is I think the universities are so woefully out of touch with what the current markets are. And they’re so driven … I think there’s going to be too many specialists, and I think the specialists are going to basically do hybrid, mixed practices.
I have a lot of concerns for the single veterinarian who is general practice-trained, and their ability to make a living in this profession. I think it’s going to be very hard.
Rebecca: Yes, I know, I agree.
Shawn: Especially when they’re coming out with $200,000 worth of debt.
Shawn: I look at Great Britain and Australia and other places where they come out of high school and go into a five-year program and graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Veterinary Surgery. And then they get out and they make the exact same amount of money relative that the general practice veterinarians do in the United States and Canada.
Only they’ve got one third of the debt. And so I think we’re going to have to come up with a different model of training veterinarians that doesn’t cost so much.
Shawn: And internally, what really concerns me about the profession is the denial that current veterinarians are in about their need to be better businesspeople.
It’s almost disdain for any kind of business practice or discipline in business is viewed as getting all corporate.
So my concern internally is that veterinarians are not going to rise to the demand, and we will be completely corporate taken over because that’s the only people who know how to do it.
Rebecca: I know.
Shawn: And it’s happening. I mean we’re going to go the way of human medicine. The country doctors are no more, and it’s all corporate medicine basically, unless you have a few boutique kind of … you know, from high-end sports medicine clinics to plastic surgery, to rehab therapy … So I really think that the handwriting is kind of already on the wall.
Rebecca: I agree.
Shawn: I want veterinarians to be proactive and to decide their fate, rather than to be reactive and they seem to love to be reactive.
Rebecca: We need to be focused on thriving instead of just surviving.
Shawn: Yes, the attitude of scarcity …
Shawn: And veterinarians act like, in my opinion, like they’re the only ones that have to go through this.
I mean every other successful business, from realtors to restaurants to auto dealers to hotels, they’ve all—they get it, that they got to figure out who their market is, make a product that goes to that market, not try to be everything to everyone and everybody—you can have a car, but not everybody buys a Mercedes, not everybody buys a used Chevy, but there is a place in the market for all of it.
Rebecca: Yes there is.
Shawn: Veterinarians want to be all things to all people and just don’t want to do any conflict, which is why I teach what I teach.
Rebecca: What do you think is the best thing about veterinary medicine?
Shawn: Well, the best thing about veterinarian medicine, other than the obvious answer of the work environment, working for animals and with animal which is cool to people who love animals.
But the global best thing about it is, I still think it’s one of the few professions where an entrepreneurialism can really be celebrated, like I think of all those people that, to be an entrepreneur, they go out and pay a franchise fee to Subway and own a Subway, and they’re not in love with sandwiches, they’re love with the idea of being businesspeople.
And the veterinarian gets to be the best of both worlds.
You can live your passion, and literally, if you have enough chutzpah, you can create a world that you live in that expresses your values, that expresses your spirituality, that expresses your passion, and choose people that are like you, or at least share your vision, to work around you. And honestly, you can make a really decent living if you do it right. It is hard to kill a veterinary practice. If you just get the right location that’s not too saturated and you have a modicum of business checks and balances in place, you and your team can enjoy a healthy business for as long as you’re a member of the community.
So the opportunity … I know I’m talking about the demise of the business, but the opportunities that are still there in veterinary medicine are very exciting to me.
Rebecca: One piece of advice you would give to a PRACTICE OWNER or somebody that—let’s say somebody that’s just recently bought a practice or started a practice?
Shawn: I think my biggest piece of advice for a practice owner is to work with a plan.
Be intentional about what the business looks like financially, culturally, clients … so rather than waiting for the business to just happen, which is I think a lot of business owners do that. They open up the business and five-to-seven years later they wake up because of some crisis and the lightening bulb for them is: “Oh, my God, I can change the direction of the business!”
So start out that way, with a plan and intention in mind of “I want to make this amount of money, I want these kinds of people around me, I want these kinds of clients, and here’s how I am going to get there.” And along with that goes: build into your budget of opening the idea that you’re going to use professionals to help you, whether it’s consultants or AAHA or whomever, but get some help.
Rebecca: Yes, we all need wisdom.
Shawn: Because they don’t teach you what you need to know in veterinary school about running a business.
Rebecca: [laughs] No, not so much, not so much at all.
Shawn: And my advice for NEW GRADUATES would be to really, really choose your first practice very carefully because the first practice that you end up being in as an associate tends to be the one that really shapes how you feel, live, and believe about veterinarian medicine. So you take on … It’s really like the same thing as a child being parented.
You really do end up taking on the personality of that original practice owner, the medical habits of that original practice owner, and the disciplines or lack thereof of the practice owner. It’s like another marriage.
So choose very carefully your first practice, because once the person makes the move of getting out of a practice and going into their own practice or another practice, then it’s easier for them to do. But for a lot of veterinarians, that very first practice is the one that’s hard for them to get out of if it’s not a good fit.
Shawn: My advice for ASSOCIATES is get a voice, have a voice, and use it.
Rebecca: Yes I second that!
Shawn: Too many associates, I think, sit back and sheepishly accept whatever’s happening in the practice, and well, they believe – they falsely believe – that the owner knows what’s going on and the owner has control over the business. What they don’t know is the owner is oftentimes running just as blind as they are, but they’re not talking about it.
And so, sometimes your best ideas as an associate, if you raise your hand and say, “Hey owner, I think we should do this,” they’re actually going to be receptive to it.
Like, “Hey owner, I have this idea. Would you let me take this project and run with it?”
Rebecca: So ten years from now – what do you think veterinary medicine’s going to be like?
Shawn: Well, I think we are … there’ll be an acceleration of consolidation, and so there will be very few one-doctor, mom-and-pop clinics left …
Shawn: Because nobody wants to buy them, and there’s that more … if they do, like VCA, they’ll buy three or four of them, close them all down and have one mother-ship in the area.
So I think we’re going to see the end of the era of the kind of … just like we saw in the ’70s and the ’80s the end of the Marcus Welby, MD kinds of practices of just the local doc who everybody loves …
Shawn: …we’re going to see that going by the wayside, except for agrarian or kind of low population environments. That’s going to be a massive shift. I think we are going to see—so there’ll be a lot more consolidation and a lot more corporatization, not just VCA, but people like myself who are consolidating businesses and there are going to be a lot of people that have regional, 25 to 100 practice little kingdoms, if you will. So that’s going to happen.
And the other transformation that I think will be dramatic in veterinary hospitals is that we are going to see many more hybrid practices. So we’re going to see practices that have a specialist, general practitioners, and urgent care onboard. So one-stop shopping for the consumer that will put the squeeze on traditional emergency clinics, and also put the squeeze on some specialty hospitals, to be quite honest with you. So I think those are going to be the two biggest things.
And then finally, last biggest thing is I think we’re going to see a lot more professional management. People who are technicians, client service representatives, and even doctors, who thought that, well one option could end up to become a manger – I don’t think that’s going to be—there is not going to be as many options, because people are going to hire professional managers.
Rebecca: Right. As they should.
I can not thank Shawn enough for spending some of his valuable time allowing me the opportunity to interview him for our CatalystVETS community! Make the time to attend his workshops-they are game changers and truly can get you started on your own journey to excellence! – Rebecca
What insight did you take away from our interview with Shawn?
You can follow Rebecca weekly at www.catalystvets.com