Okay, so when the recession hit in 2008, my practice was overstaffed in every way imaginable. I had a well paid, full time office manager. I had just hired a full-time associate veterinarian who, while she was not over-paid, was definitely not generating enough revenue to justify her salary. I had two full time technicians and one full time receptionist.
While this may seem like a reasonable level of staffing for a full service practice open six days each week and providing after hours emergency service in a rural area, it proved disastrous when the bad economic news started rolling in that year.
Those who know me best would howl with laughter at the suggestion that I am an optimist. As the recession lingered on, however, I made the mistake of remaining far too optimistic for far too long. I kept thinking that if I could hang on just another month, things would turn around.
The financial hole that I one-more-monthed myself into was serious. The sad truth is, it took me three years to stop digging myself in deeper. Of course, once I stopped digging, things began to improve immediately. In reality though, it has taken me another two years to recover from the consequences of the staffing decisions I had made in 2008.
Think you can cut corners behind closed doors in your veterinary practice? Dr. Andy Roark says this does a disservice to pets and their owners. Watch this PSA (practitioner service announcement) for his perspective.
I’m a relatively intelligent person. I can understand most issues that relate to my two dogs. And when you’re explaining my dog’s condition and then outlining your recommendations, I’ll nod my head, look intelligent and probably agree with you.
“Do you have any questions?” you may ask. “No, I think I’ve got it all” I might say.
And then by the time I’ve arrived home (a massive 5 minute drive away) it’s quite likely I will have forgotten at least 60% of what you’ve told me. Don’t take it personally; I do the same thing with information from the physio, plumber, dentist ..anyone really who verbally gives me information or instructions.
As I’ve already mentioned – I’m a relatively intelligent person AND I’m also a mum with 2 very busy kids and a husband. I manage our household and my own business – I have so many balls in the air that I should be the star of the next Cirque du Soleil show. So while you were talking to me I may or may not have also been thinking about whether my kids have a fork in their lunchbox to eat their pasta salad with, reminding myself to stop in at the butcher’s to get something for dinner and remembering that I haven’t paid my Telstra bill. Or I may have been listening to you with 100% of my attention. The problem is that you won’t know either way. After being involved in literally hundreds of hours of interviews in my previous life as an HR Manager I’ve perfected the art of appearing to give you 100% of my attention when I’m not – tricky hey! (Don’t get me started on the implications of not listening with 100% attention during an interview)
I should mention that I’m also a highly visual & kinaesthetic learner. This means I learn by reading and doing. My auditory learning skills? Not so good. However I’m not alone, as a large percentage of the population are also visual learners (at least 65%, probably more).
So if you really want to help me provide the best care for my two dogs it’s pretty simple. Don’t just ‘tell’ me, you need to also ‘show’ me:
If you haven’t already, check out the iConsult – the Australian designed app for the veterinary consult room, it ticks all the boxes! (Yes they have a page in the Vetanswers Business Directory but their App is awesome!)
So now you’ve worked out you need to SHOW me what you’re talking about AND follow it up with a handout and preferably an eBook, you also need to consider those clients that are not only visual learners but who also may have little experience in the veterinary world. These are the clients who may not understand your explanations. I know it can be tricky – if you explain something too simplistically the more knowledgeable client may feel you’re being condescending. Explain something using too much technical jargon and your client may feel you’re talking over their head.
Again, you can explain something to me and I’ll appear to be understanding every single word (I may even be giving you 100% of my attention!) but I also don’t want to feel like an idiot by admitting I don’t understand a word you’ve just said.
This is where a helpful blog post from dvm360 can help you out ‘Veterinary clients’ biggest doctor complaints revealed’. The author Bob Levoy, suggests that one way to deal with this type of communication gap is to use the ‘Teach-Back Technique’. Check out the blog post for more details but basically the aim is to get the client to repeat back to you in their own words what you have just explained. Ah hah! There’s no hiding behind me wisely nodding my head as you talk now!
I can see this technique will require a little bit of practice so that you don’t come across as condescending and you’ll need to find the right language but I think the suggested scripts offer a great place to start.
So in summary if you want to be sure that your clients have understood what you’ve explained AND also understand exactly what they have to do when they get home, you need to do a few things:
So from your understanding, what’s the most important thing you need to do when communicating with clients? ;-) You can tell me in the comments section below.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending an IVMA conference in Indianapolis. Speaker Brenda Tassava CVPM, CVJ shared her advice and tips with the small gathering of veterinary professionals. Her experiences working in and with veterinary clinics had well equipped her to offer a wealth of knowledge in such areas as; workplace communication, developing a team vision and preventative care plans.
As it should be, I left the conference excited and charged, inspired to pass along a ton of new ideas.
Back at the office... life goes on. Day after day we drudge through our familiar routines. The spark fades away and all those great ideas end up in the pile of things we’ll get to when we have time.
But does it have to be that way? What if we could harness that positive energy and keep the flames burning bright?
Trying to implement too many new concepts at once may be overwhelming. Instead focus on just one or two small things at a time, otherwise you’ll easily feel defeated and never accomplish your goal. Be as specific as you can about how you plan to present and finalize the change you are trying to bring on.
For example if you’re striving to improve patient care and offer exceptional service to your clients, begin with something easy that the whole team is willing to perform.
Make a commitment that for the next week you’ll; offer an additional service such as nail trims or ear cleaning even if the client doesn’t ask for it, take a few extra minutes to help them tote their carrier out to the car or provide some other courtesy that makes your clinic stand out.
I know it seems like such a small and simple task, but when you’re too afraid to take a big leap, it’s the small steps that will get you moving in the right direction.
So why is change so hard?
My theory and short answer is, people are naturally creatures of habit. We find a method that somewhat works for us and we repeat that method. As much as we want and even need change at times, we are equally afraid of what the change will require as well as what it will yield. Most people continue to repeat even a broken method until change becomes absolutely necessary. However it’s only through choosing a different method that we can grow and succeed.
If you get the chance to attend a local veterinary conference, it’s my hope you’ll walk away with some great ideas and a renewed passion for what you do. Keep that flame burning and be ready for change when you bring it home.
You can find more information about Brenda Tassava and HTC veterinary consulting services at http://www.halowtassava.com/htc-team/brenda-tassava-cvpm-cvj/
Being that it is the end of the year, I have been doing a lot of reflecting about how the last year has gone. Those who know me well may remember that last year at this time, I was at about the lowest point I had ever been with regards to my business. The business was doing fine financially, BUT our team was falling apart, and I was trying mightily to put it back together.
The biggest issue was a person who had been on the team had quit without notice. It threw me for a major loop, and it also meant that overnight we lost 1/3 of our team-not a good situation for a busy surgical practice! The person who quit was someone I thought was vital to my practice-without her I was not sure we could provide the level of service that I desired and that scared me.
The next few months were both emotionally and physically taxing. I am so thankful for the rest my team (and our new hire)- without them I would not have come through it the way I did. There are so many times I beat myself up about what I could have done better or should have done better.
I felt like I had failed as a leader.
As I was doing this self-flagellation, I also realized that someone else on the team had to go. This person had been with me a long time as well but I truly believe he was unintentionally responsible for a lot of the chaos and disorganization within our practice. This was so painful for me because I felt like I had failed even though I had done all that I could to treat both of them well and be the best boss I could be.
Looking back now, I see the situation in such a different light. The crazy was all around me and I did not realize it. The other day, Missy forwarded me a bunch of old emails she had when I was sending everyone a new policy for this and a new policy for that.
What was really going on is those two people were not doing their jobs well. I am not at all saying that to put them down and to make them look bad. The real issue was that neither of them were good fits for our team. Their leaving was the best thing that could have happened for them and for the rest of us.
Check out this clip from Jim Collins speaking about not having the right people on the bus.
“The moment you feel you have to tightly manage someone, you have probably made a hiring mistake. The right people don’t need to be managed they need to be lead….”
Staying in a job that is not suited to your personality is stressful. You will never find it easy to do things that do not come naturally to you. As the one in charge feeling like you constantly have to tightly manage people and situations is a horribly taxing and emotionally draining. The buck stopped with me for sure because I was the one that hired them and I could not see what was going on right in front of me.
Our team is so much better now; I have people who buy in to what we are trying to do every day. Things that used to drive me crazy never happen anymore. My stress level is so low; it is almost impossible for me to get angry-in short I feel like I used to years ago. In fact, we worked with a tech the other day who we had not seen in about 1.5 years and she asked Nicole what was up with me because I was so laid back and easy going.
I had been completely wrapped up in trying to fix crazy and I did not even know it! This was a great lesson to learn for me and I now feel confident that I will recognize it a lot sooner. I also know when I am feeling that need to tightly manage someone, it is likely due to a bad fit for the job rather than something being wrong with me.
Have you ever been trapped in the crazy cycle and not realized it until later?
You can read more of my posts at www.catalystvets.com
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
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:
Mark Opperman, CVPM, says five-star service is about exceeding expectations. In this video he delivers easy tips to push your veterinary clinic over the top in clients' eyes.
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.
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
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
I absolutely love impressing my friends and family with my stories about working in the veterinary clinic. Aside from the ever popular tales from the surgical suite and gruesome accounts of neglect, I relish most the chance to brag on our clients.
Pet owners who regularly visit their veterinarian are among the most intriguing and fascinating people I've met. Even the difficult to please and down right ornery, tend to grow on you when you get to know their pets.
Before I joined the veterinary community I have to admit I had no idea how generous folks could be when it comes to their furry friends. Nearly every day we receive tokens of gratitude from our clients.
Donuts and cookies are the most popular, but over the years we've also collected countless flower arrangements, fruit trays, gift baskets and various home made goods ranging from knitted scarves and earrings to buckets of spaghetti. One sweet lady even makes us home made chicken & noodles.
Yet as much as I love the food, and believe me I LOVE the food, nothing touches my heart and makes it all worth while more than a hand written thank you note. It means something to me when a client recognizes the personal care and dedication we put into treating their pet. And more than that, they actually take the time to write out their appreciation and deliver it. Today as I looked over the words written by a satisfied client, I was suddenly very impressed with this act of kindness.
I guess I never thought about it before, but it occurred to me that this is such an effortless and seemingly small gesture.
Why hadn't I been writing thank you notes to professionals that service me and my life?
The truth is I've spent a good deal of my life grumbling about what I'm not happy with and very little time recognizing anyone's extra effort.
School Security Officers
Child Care Providers
Hair Stylists etc. etc.
I could easily name several people that deserve thanking at the very least, if not a bucket of spaghetti as well.
In a few weeks Yankee’s closer Mariano Rivera will be ending a hall of fame career as the best closer of all time. It is impressive that he had such nerves of steel to perform such a high stress task and that we was so dominant when it mattered most in the playoffs (with the exception of game 7 of the 2001 World Series). But what is most impressive of all is that he accomplished so much with basically just one pitch. For most Major League pitchers to be successful and have staying power they need an arsenal of pitches. A pitcher that has a 99 mile per hour fastball will get a good look, but to make the team needs an unidentifiable change-up or sharp slider to go along. Then there is the occasional great story of a pitcher that flounders in and out of the league for years and then when left for dead is able to perfect a new pitch, such as the story of R.A. Dickey having his best success in his late 30s after finding the knuckleball.
There are probably some general practitioners out there that may find some similarities to the floundering pitcher. They look at their monthly statements and see an underwhelming gross and average client transaction. General practitioners don’t have one dominant skill set that they can count on bringing in revenue day after day. They are not cardiologists that can perform echocardiograms all day or surgeons that pump out TPLOs like Fords rolling off the line. General practitioners need to have an array of skill sets to help increase revenue; they basically need to fine that fourth and fifth pitch.
There are ample continuing education opportunities available for general doctors to add to their repertoire and offer more services to clients. General doctors are not board certified surgeons and when faced with a dog with a broken humerus or luxating patella should offer the owner that referral. But many pet owners trust the veterinarian they know and if given the option would like to stay in house, provided that veterinarian is competent in a particular service.
In the Spring I attended a weekend CE on echocardiogram. It was a great opportunity to sharpen my understanding of the cardiovascular system. But it was also an opportunity to put to use a diagnostic tool we already had sitting at the practice. After the weekend I did not feel confident to begin doing and charging for echocardiograms that Monday. I don’t think R.A. Dickey was in the 5th inning of a tied game and all of sudden decided, ‘I think I’ll try and throw a knuckleball for the first time right now.’ I tried to make room in my day to do one echocardiogram per day for one month. Usually on healthy pets that were admitted for other reasons or boarders. When I finally felt I was getting consistent results on the healthy hearts I felt it was time to offer my service to clients, at a lesser but what I felt appropriate fee.
Anytime an echocardiogram is discussed we tell owners about the option of a cardiologist. That they are board certified trained, have more education on the topic, better equipment and can do more measurements. Some take option A, but there are many more that would rather stick with what and who they know and have the echocardiogram done with me. It has been a process and with each one I perform I think I am getting better, I think I will be more proficient in a year than I am today. The information and growth that I am making is invaluable, the extra gross adds a little more value to the bottom line. Doing echocardiograms will not make me rich, but it helps add to the monthly reports. Eventually it will be time to add another skill to my arsenal and to further my growth as a doctor. So if you are looking at your monthly gross and wondering where the growth is, it may be time to develop your own knuckleball.