Dr. Andy Roark is a veterinarian, international speaker, and author. He is an award-winning columnist for DVM360, and has a regular column on Vetstreet.com. Dr. Roark’s popular Facebook page has over 50,000 fans, and his humorous educational videos have been viewed over 375,000 times. For more information about Dr. Roark, go to http://www.drandyroark.com/
Rebecca: Do you have any concerns about where we are, as a profession, right now?
Andy: I have a number of concerns. I think there’s something dangerous about these times in our profession. But, whenever you have volatile times like these, there are also huge opportunities because things are changing very rapidly. One thing that concerns me is the increasing number of veterinarians coming out of school. I say that as a vet. If I say that in front of a practice manager, he or she may say “More vets- bring them on!” But that’s what I mean, there’s a lot of opportunity. It all depends on where you are and how you position yourself.
We must be willing to innovate and adapt. Some people will innovate, and now is the time to do it. This period of rapid change presents a huge opportunity. I think some people will rise to the challenge. They’ll innovate, and they’ll change the way we practice veterinary medicine. Those people who innovate and adapt will have very successful careers. People who don’t innovate and adapt are going to have some really hard times.
Rebecca: Would you encourage someone to become a veterinarian now?
Andy: All I can do is encourage people to try to make a rational rather than an emotional decision of “Do I want to want to be a vet?” I encourage them to really look at the income, debt, and employment numbers. Some people will say yes, this is what I want to do and I understand the implications of walking this path I think you have to respect that. Hopefully, they’re not throwing their lives into turmoil by taking on debt that will cripple them forever. I think as long you know what you’re getting into, though, I will be supportive.
That being said, those people who choose veterinary school will have a huge burden to overcome. Most are going to have a lot of debt. They won’t be able to afford not to work, and that’s going to drive change in our profession. You are going to see those people innovating. They’ll be your house call veterinarians. They’ll do in-home hospice care. They’ll do vaccine trucks. They’ll develop new service pricing strategies, or they’ll leverage mobile technology in new ways to be more efficient. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the next generation of veterinarians is going to have to find a way to make it all work.
Rebecca: So you see big changes ahead?
Andy: The new veterinarians coming out are going to be a catalyst for rapid change. This can be wonderful because we may figure out how to really grow our profession and provide care in a way we never have before. That’s what I hope happens. However, I also worry that we won’t innovate. The financial aspects of our profession could really decline, and you have a huge amount of competition without innovation. I think that’s a huge danger. That’s what failure looks like for our profession.
Rebecca: It’s going to go one way or another, that’s for sure.
Andy: Exactly. It could be change that’s good for our profession, or it could be change that’s disastrous.
Rebecca: I know you’re not there yet, but what is one piece of advice you’d give to practice owners.
Andy: The basic advice I give to practice owners as an associate veterinarian is, “It starts and ends with you. Don’t kid yourself.”
Andy: I talk a lot to associate veterinarians, practice managers and technicians. One of their most common frustrations is a practice owner’s “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality. It just doesn’t work.
If you show up to work late and you say, “Well, I can be late. I’m the boss,” you’re not going to inspire your team. If you show up to work late, what you’re really saying is that behavior is okay, even if you tell everyone it’s not. If you give away services, what you’re saying is it’s okay to give away services. If you have rules, and then you break the rules, what you’re really saying is those rules are just guidelines.
Andy: That is the message you’re sending with your actions. I’m not a practice manager or a practice owner. However, I’ll tell you as someone who works in clinics and watches practice owners, you have great, great influence. You’ve got to walk the walk, and you’re the one in charge. No one can build a great culture without you. You can’t have a wonderful, happy practice around an owner who doesn’t live that lifestyle, support the mission, and live the principles of the practice’s core values.
You can be happy in those environments if you’re not the boss, and I think you can do a lot of good. Ultimately though, if you want to have a high-powered successful practice – the practice owner has to take ownership.
Rebecca: Absolutely, great advice. I love that. What’s your advice for associates, since you are one of those?
Andy: My biggest piece of advice for associates is take ownership of your career. This is not a holding pattern to become a practice owner. You have great power in controlling your own happiness and career as an associate.
Looking at resumes from new grads, I often see very generic resumes that seem designed to send the message, “I’m a competent veterinarian.” I’m going to tell you, that’s not enough. It’s not enough to be a competent veterinarian, and it’s not going to make you happy. As a veterinarian, you are special. You’re special in a number of ways. There are three key ways you, as an associate, are special:
Number one: your passion; number two: your expertise; and number three: your style.
Find your passion with questions like: Why am I a veterinarian? What do I care about? What do I love? What lights my fire? When you and I introduced ourselves in the beginning, you told me what you’re passionate about. There’s a million things you can look at – particularly your blog and your interest in coaching. That makes you special. That’s your passion. That’s a big part what you’re about. And we all have that. Each of us has that. Sometimes we have to stop and say, “What is it?” because we forget or we lose it along the way.
Andy: Number two, what is your expertise? What have you done that makes you special? You say, “Well, I’m a general practice vet.” Yes, but you have done 26 hours of continuing education on abdominal ultrasound in the last two years, right? That’s something special and powerful you bring. I met an associate veterinarian, and she was boarded in exotic animal and wildlife medicine. However, she didn’t have anything about it on her website. That’s a terrible waste. That’s an extreme example, because she’s boarded. However, the rest of us do that to some degree, too. We volunteer somewhere, or help the local zoo – things like that. That’s our expertise. If we don’t say anything about it, or make it front and center and say, “I’m going to run behind this expertise of mine, and emphasize it in my career ”, you’re hiding your light under a barrel.
So often we don’t highlight our personal expertise because we don’t want to talk about ourselves. The truth is, you’ve got to take ownership of your career. Look at your expertise. What are you good at? What do you know? What have you trained in? What do you continue to train in? You need to find a way to make that front and center, and part of where you’re going.
Andy: The last part is your style. Everyone is different. There are things you can say, places you will go, or groups that you interact and engage with that no one else can. It’s how you see the world.
How you interact with people is special and unique. Take your meaning, your passion, and what you’re about. Take your expertise. What did you learn? What do you do? What do you know? Then, take your style. It’s how you say it, how you do it, how you make people feel, and what types of people want to be around you.
You take all those things and bring them together. That’s where you should be going in your career. That’s your competitive edge over every other veterinarian around you. Those three things come together, and that’s what you’re about.
Too often we say, “Well, I’m a vet.” That’s not enough. You’re not just a vet. You’re a very special vet, and you need to realize that. Then you need to throw gasoline on that fire.
Rebecca: That’s right – especially since the demographics of the profession have changed so much. How do you differentiate the people you’re interviewing if they’re not doing that for themselves? Most people want to conform and not stand out, which is not what we need.
Andy: Vets shoot themselves in the foot when they interview for jobs all the time, because they just try to convince you they are competent. Honestly, people don’t want to see “a vet”. They want to see their vet.
Rebecca: Absolutely. I love that. I feel that way about my kids’ pediatrician. I wouldn’t just go see whoever happens to be in that day. I would drive across town to see my pediatrician if he moved.
Rebecca: What about advice for new grads? Does that kind of fall into the same category, or do you have anything to add to that as well?
Andy: As a new grad I would say you take that piece of advice for sure. The other thing I would say to new gradsespecially is that you have to find mentors. However, your idea of a mentor is probably antiquated. First of all, I want you to think about a mentor, and then throw out the age component of that idea. Age has nothing to do with it. I have mentors who are 12 years younger than me. You know why? Because I want to be really good at social media and web design. Most of the people who do the best work in this area are younger than me. As I do more writing and creating on the Internet, I look to those people. I say: “This is what I’m trying to do. What advice do you have for me? Hey, this is what happened, what do you think?”
Find people who are doing things you’re impressed with and who are willing to teach you. Peer mentors are powerful. If you are a recent grad, your best mentor could be another recent grad. That does not mean they have all the answers. They may be a complete doofus in 90% of things, but in the 10% you are really interested in, they are a genius. You need to talk their ear off.
Right out of school, I had friends calling me and talking to me about practice purchase or contracts. I couldn’t answer all the questions, necessarily. I would just say, “This is what I’ve heard, and this is what I think.” Then, I would point them to resources I was familiar with that might be useful. I’d say, “This is the person I would call.” That’s mentorship. I would turn around and ask them questions about how they’re doing different medical procedures or what is the internal medicine textbook I need to have on my shelf? That’s the type of advice that I’m talking about.
When I talk to a mentor, I’ll ask specific questions. “This is what I’m trying to do. Do you have any advice for me?” If you ask specific questions, you’ll generally get specific answers that will really help you go, grow and overcome obstacles. Also, actively listen. Lean in, take notes, and get this stuff down. It shows you care about what they’re saying.
So, the number one thing you do with a mentor is you talk to them. Ask these mentors what you want to know. Most are generally very happy to share their expertise. Take them to lunch. Remember – if you really want to take advantage of what they know, ask them specific questions. Be ready!
The other thing you do is watch your mentors. These people may not even know they are your mentors, but I’m looking at them that way. I think a lot of us watch other doctors the wrong way. Often we’ll look at a doctor and we’ll think, “This person does blood work and x-rays on every vomiting dog or cat that they see.” And then we think, “Wow, I should do blood work on every vomiting cat we see because that is what this doctor believes is good.”
I don’t think that’s the best way to approach these things. Too often we look at them and go, “That’s what they do so that’s what I’ll do.” And we stop way too early. What they do is not the question, and it’s not what’s interesting about that person. What’s interesting about that person is how they do it. if I do blood work on every vomiting patient I see, how do I explain that to the owners? How do I get them to go along with that? Why do I do that? What’s the reasoning behind it?”
A good lesson for young vets is to stand outside the exam room and listen to how the other doctors say things. Don’t mimic people, but learn from them. There are doctors who will say little things and you will think, “Man, that is such a great, clear, powerful way to say that”, and a light bulb goes off in your head. You can see the effect of this phrase in the pet owner’s face. They totally understand when the doctor says it that way. Take that expression or explaination and use it or modify it to your own style.
It is not what is your medical protocol as much is it is why is that the medical protocol. If you understand the why, you usually have something. If you just write down “blood work and x-rays on all vomiting cases,” you don’t have anything of value. In fact, you probably have a tool that will do great damage.
You have to understand the why and the how. Why do they do what they do, and how exactly do they do it? How do they say it? How do they present it? How do they make people understand? Also, how do they get the technicians on board to support them? Those are the things you’re looking for when you watch other doctors. Every single doctor can teach you something if you approach it that way. Even the bad ones will teach you how not to do things because you’ll see the pet owner’s body language change. They cross their arms. They lean back. Their face tightens. “She blew it,” you’ll think. “She just did it wrong.” And now you’ll say, “I’m going to do it very differently.”
Find a mentor and talk to them. Ask specific questions about where you’re going, so they can really help you in a short amount of time. Watch them, and not just to see what they do. You must understand why and how they do it.
Rebecca: That’s awesome. That’s great advice and so true. What about online mentors?
Andy: Absolutely. That’s the beautiful thing about where we are today. I meet a lot of people on Twitter. I can see what they’re doing, and I’m impressed with them. So, I reach out and say hello. It never hurts to know somebody. It’s not a big deal to reach out and talk to people and say, “I admire what you do. I really like that blog post that you wrote.” Or “Can I ask you a question about what you wrote?” That’s easy to do, and people are flattered.
But again, I’m not looking at them as a mentor like “is this person a pinnacle of greatness?” No one is. We’re all human. We’re all flawed. But I look and try to identify the things this person’s really good at, and I ask them questions that will help me accomplish my goals and get where I want to go.
Rebecca: Wonderful advice. What do you think veterinary medicine will be like in ten years?
Andy: I think we’re coming to a period of intense natural selection. What that means is the economy’s getting better, which is great, but I don’t think that necessarily means we as veterinarians are getting better at what we’re doing. Again, I go back to what I was saying about more vets coming into the market. I think that selection pressure is going to increase, to use a term in evolution. So generally, when selection pressure increases, many will go extinct while others adapt.
We’re going to enter a period of rapid adaptation. So I can’t really actually say what it’s going to look like in ten years, but I will say it’s going to be very different from now. One thing that I can say, that I really deeply believe, is that in ten years, our communication with clients outside the clinic is going to radically change. We are going to get much more adept at communicating with them.
To me, communication means social media. It means marketing. It means emailing people. It means writing blogs. It means text messaging. It means booking appointments way in advance. The way we communicate with clients, educate them, and get them back into the hospital, that is going to change, because we sat back on our haunches for a long time.
As competition increases, you’re going to find young, hungry, tech- savvy vets. They’re going to be coming out of school and looking to change the way medicine is practiced so they can survive. If you don’t adapt, I’m afraid they’re going to eat you alive. They will be talking to your clients if you’re not talking to them.
I think that’s one point where you’re going to see rapid evolution. It’s almost like ten years ago few practices had email addresses or even websites. So ten years from now, I think it’s going to be radically different. We may see entirely new business models by that time. It’s going to change quickly. The big thing is I want the change to come from veterinarians, not from outside of the veterinary profession. Are we going to falter, or are we going to evolve and hold our place in the decision-making process and remain highly relevant to pet owners? That’s the question.
Rebecca: Yeah, no kidding. It’s funny, we started texting more with owners in the last couple of years and it’s amazing. They love it. They’ll send us a picture of the pet’s surgical wound to make sure all is as expected, and we having them feeling better in 30 seconds or less!
Andy: They love it.
Rebecca: I’d much rather do that, than have a conversation when they’re trying to describe something to me that I can’t see.
Andy: We have enormous room for growth there, and we need to have the desire and the expertise to make that happen. That’s one area I can look at right now and say there is an enormous potential for growth.
Rebecca: Thanks so much for giving us your valuable time and insight. You are a real inspiration!
Dr. Andy Roark is a veterinarian, international speaker, and author. He is an award-winning columnist for DVM360, and has a regular column on Vetstreet.com. Dr. Roark’s popular Facebook page has over 50,000 fans, and his humorous educational videos have been viewed over 375,000 times. For more information about Dr. Roark, go to http://www.drandyroark.com/
Rebecca: Tell me a little bit about yourself, and how you ended up in veterinary medicine.
Andy: My dad is a general surgeon in Statesville, North Carolina. I grew up witnessing the golden age of human medicine, and that had a big affect on me. I always looked at my dad as someone who was really helping people. I remember as a little kid, we’d have dinner at restaurants and people would come over and say, “Oh, you don’t know me, but you did surgery on my mother, and I just want to say thank you.” That was really a defining thing in my life, and how I came to understand the value in helping people. That was always a powerful thing for me.
I was going to go be a human doctor like my dad. I went to college, and medicine was changing rapidly. It still is. Because of those changes, my dad wasn’t as happy as he used to be. Things he really found value in were becoming less common in medicine.
So there I was in my junior year of college and I was still planning to go to medical school. Because a lot of times, we get a plan and we just cling to that plan because that’s what we know.
Rebecca: Yeah, it’s what we’re comfortable with.
Andy: Exactly right. It’s what we’ve always had, and it’s much easier to have a plan that’s not a great plan than to not know what we’re doing with our lives. That’s a scary thing. I think a lot of us live in that place. We feel it’s better to be walking somewhere than just standing and figuring out -or admitting that we’re wondering. So, he finally said to me “I’m not sure I would do this again if I was starting now.”
That’s a powerful thing. I was still doing research, which I enjoyed. After I graduated, I actually went into research, because I had the science background and I loved teaching. I went to the National Institute of Health for a year, and then I went to the University of Florida to get a Masters and was planning to continue on and get a PhD.
I ended up in the Department of Zoology doing physiology research. I found that a lot of the research life was not really what I was looking for. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference. Don’t get me wrong – research is very valuable. However, there’s a long delay between the research to actual human implications of that research. It just wasn’t something I was really passionate about.
I’ve always had this desire to think about where I am. I’m a big strategic planning guy. I think a lot about what I like about where I am and what I’m doing, and what I don’t like. How do I do more of what I like and less of what I don’t like? It’s so simple to think about that, but most people don’t.
We should all take time and ask, “What do I like about being a vet and what do I not like? How do I move to do more of what I like and minimize what I don’t like?”
Andy: I started putting all these things together. I like working with animals. I love the teaching. I always liked medicine. I like fixing things with my hands. I like putting my hands on things and helping people. All of those things together led me to veterinary medicine. I was not one of those people who grew up in the beginning and said, “I want to be a vet.” It was a lot of different pieces and experiences that came together, and ultimately I said, “This is what I want and need to do.”
Rebecca: Was your dad supportive of that?
Andy: Oh, absolutely. He told me, “You need to feel good with what you do and you need to be happy.” And that’s really it. You need to feel like what you do has some value. Then, you just have to choose to be happy and go out and make yourself happy.
When I got to vet medicine, I had a big background in research but not any business training. I saw what my dad was going through and how human medicine had changed.
There are these huge corporations and HMOs taking over, and I remember there was a lot of pressure on my dad. He needed to join a group. His livelihood as a professional was really threatened. I think, that that was still really heavy on my mind. When I was at the University of Florida the VBMA, the Veterinary Business Management Association, was just getting started. I liked the idea of practice ownership because it has the ability to help us control our own destiny.
I have always enjoyed learning about business development and practice management. It has never been about money for me. Practice ownership has always been about freedom and the ability to practice medicine the way I want, and to have that life I want to have. I knew that making yourself the best professional you can be is important because it really opens doors for you. If you’re a wonderful professional, you have great control over your career and your life.
I got very excited about the idea of owning my own practice one day. I became focused on becoming a veterinarian who practices really good medicine and provides service for people without burning myself out. I helped run the VBMA chapter at Florida for a year, and then I ran the national VBMA.
Andy: The national VMBA was just getting started and it was in a rapid growth phase. I think a lot of people know me for that. I got a lot of credit for that growth, which is probably largely undeserved, because there were a lot of other people who really helped too. I was “the face person” at the time of high visibility and growth. That enabled me to meet a lot of people.
When I graduated from veterinary school, I refused to give all those people up. I stayed in contact with them, and I continued to find ways to do things with them. I was really involved in the profession and doing things right from the very beginning. After I graduated, I was often asked to speak about the struggles of being a recent graduate.
The next thing I know, someone asked me to write a column for what was DVM Newsmagazine at the time. It’s now DVM360. They said, ” We’re looking for a young voice.” I wanted to do it. So, I thought about what I could say that was valuable and something people would want to hear.
I came up with about six things, so I went back to the editor at DVM at that time, and said, “I can do it, but I’m reallybusy.” which was not entirely true. I said, “I’m really busy, so I can write a column every other month and we’ll see how it goes. At the end of the year we’ll reassess.”
My plan was I could write six columns that I thought could bring value worth reading for people. And so I would write every other month. At the end of the year I would say, “Oh, I don’t have enough time.” No one would ever know that I was just out of ideas and I didn’t have anything more to say. That was about 65 articles ago, which is hilarious.
And the speaking naturally follows. You write a few things that people want to hear and then they say, “Hey, you know, we’d like to hear more of what you have to say.“ It’s all about trying to bring value to people. Then it’s just constant development and trying to make stronger points.
Andy: You want memorable points that will inspire people to take action.
Rebecca: Right, that’s the key.
Andy: It’s just constantly pushing in that way. With writing, I worked with people who were copy editors and asked them how I could be a better writer. I’ve worked with people who’d proofread, and I would show my work to them and get feedback. Speaking is just about practice. I joined Toastmasters. Then I got into improv comedy, which is just thinking on your feet and working in front of a crowd. Those things help me be more interactive when I lecture.
Ultimately, it’s about telling a great story. That’s what life is about. If you want to persuade people, and you want to inspire and motivate them, you’ve got to tell a story. It doesn’t have to be a once-upon-a-time story. But, honestly, when pet owners walk into our clinic, we need to tell them a story. We need to tell them the story of our clinic and the culture. We want them to know what we’re about, why we care, and then show them we care.
When we tell them about diabetes, we need to tell them a story because that’s what is memorable. The people who tell the best stories win. And so, every time people see us and interact with us, we’re telling them our story. If we tell a bad story, people won’t get it. Then, they won’t respond to us as strongly and we get poor compliance.
Rebecca: We’re not taught to tell a story. We’re taught to tell facts, and that’s not what people want to hear. People don’t just want the facts when it’s about something as emotional as their pets.
Andy: Right. They want to hear a story. That’s how we educate them. That’s how we make them remember. I got really caught up in that idea of “I tell stories.” And so that’s why the things I guess I’m best known for now are some of the videos and things that I do, which are all educational. It’s all about trying to help the vet profession. I really just see myself as a servant leader, someone who’s really trying to aid my people. It’s all about “How do I help the people I care about most?”
Andy: I feel like those of us in the veterinary community are good people, and we work so hard. I want to support people and their pets. If there are things I can say to that end, I want to say them. I want to help people tell a better story. I looked at the videos we were making to educate people, like on DVM360, and there were these interview videos, but few people were really watching them. I saw it as an opportunity. I can make the same points I would make in an interview, but tell a story. I thought people might watch that.
So far the response has been great. Then I thought I could tell stories to pet owners, too. That’s one of the things I’m focusing on now. When you see the videos, it’s me trying to tell a story people will laugh at, as well as remember and retain. That’s really what I’m trying to do. And that’s how I got where I am.
Rebecca: That’s awesome. That is quite the story, no pun intended. It really gets me fired up, because we’re dealing with a profession full of awesome people – whether it’s the veterinarians, staff, or the whole nine yards. But I see so many people who are miserable. This isn’t right. How can this be happening in our profession? As far as I’m concerned we have the coolest profession there is. And to be honest, I never gave an ounce of thought to being a human surgeon, because I wouldn’t want to work the way they have to work. I love what I do. I love the people we get to serve, the clients and their pets. It’s just sad for me to see so many unhappy people.
Rebecca: What I heard from you is having the freedom to control your destiny and to have choices. Anything else you’d add to that?
Andy: For me, the most obvious thing is a life with purpose. It’s the ability to actually put your hands on something that’s a huge problem. I mean pet health is a huge problem for people – when their pets are sick, it’s their family member who is sick. We have the ability to fix it. Every time I make one of these goofy videos, my thought is, “How can help I these families?”
I do this for the pets. People say, “Oh my gosh, you’re a vet who put on a dog costume!” And I say, “You know what? Yes I am.” And there are people out there who roll their eyes at me and say, “Oh, it doesn’t look very professional.” Well, you know what, that’s okay, because I don’t do this to look professional. I don’t do it to look cool or to pat my own ego. I do it to make a point for pet owners. So, if I put on a dog costume, and one less dog gets heat stroke because I made a silly video about being careful when you exercise, then I’m okay with that.
Andy: There is a great comfort in having a purpose and saying, “This is what I do and this is why I do it.” You can check everything against that, and you can say, “Why am I doing this … is this ego or am I really helping?” As long as the answer is, “this serves the purpose, this supports why I do what I do,” then I think you’re in a great place, because you’ll feel good about what you do.
Haters are going to hate. Some people are always going to say something negative. For example, if you go into acupuncture, there will be people who will say, “Oh, that’s hocus-pocus.” Whatever – let them say that. You’re doing it because you love to do it and you see it helps. Just help the pets and forget what those people say.
Andy: It’s a whole lot easier to actually do that, to blow people off if you can say, “You know what, I don’t care what you think. I’m going to do this because it’s important and it supports what I’m about.” You can do that when you have a purpose in life, and I think that veterinary medicine can give us that purpose. I think we all know what we’re trying to do and that’s a powerful thing. It helps me every day.
END OF INTERVIEW PART 1
Does your practice scream, DO NOT ENTER when your clients walk in? Do you know? How many times do you enter your practice through the front door? Why would you go in the front door you ask? Simple, because that is the door your clients enter through. Have you ever called your practice only to be put on hold for several minutes because your receptionist didn’t know it was you on the phone? You waited, but would your new client? Probably not. They will hang up and move on to the next number in the phone book and you just lost a new client. Do you know how much it costs to replace a lost client? It costs your practice 5 times more to acquire a new client then it does to keep your current clients satisfied. Do you have the time and money to continue replacing lost clients? If you answered no, which I think most of do, then you need to know what your clients know about your practice and putting yourself in their shoes is a highly effective way to gather that information.
You will be amazed at what you find when you park your car in the back but enter through the front. You may see that nice “gift” left at the front door by the lab who was in for his 10:00 appointment. (In case you didn’t get it that “gift” was a pile of poop!) You will feel the sticky handle left by Mrs. Jones’ 2 year old. What about the empty brochure racks, the business cards of the old trainer you no longer use because of poor feedback from previous clients you referred. How about the hair ball behind the scale or the group of staff chatting about their weekend behind the counter. Guess what? If you don’t enter through the front door to observe these things, your clients will and often times what they see is enough to ensure they won’t return.
I have the highest respect for the veterinary profession and the services we provide, but after 17 years in this field I also know that more often than not, our clients think a spay is a spay. By this I mean that they make an assumption that all veterinarians went to veterinary school and they all learned how to perform an ovariohysterectomy, so they all perform it the same, universally taught, way. Sure, I guess if you get down to the nitty gritty, they are correct. The end result of a spay is that the female pet can no longer have babies. What they don’t understand is that you can get that end result by dropping off the pet, having someone “knock it out” on the dental table, make an incision, remove the parts in question, send the pet home and wallah you have a spay. You can also have the patient admitted by a surgical technician, discuss the day’s events with the pet parent, have the pet receive a full physical exam, perform laboratory testing, place an IV catheter and run warm IV fluids, administer pain medication, enter a sterile surgical suite, remove the parts in question, have the pet monitored closely during surgery & recovery, call the pet parents with an update, discharge the pet parent with full discharge instructions and then follow up with a call the next day and wallah you have an ovariohysterectomy. My point is that a spay is a spay only in the fact that the end result of taking away the ability to have puppies is the same in both of the above scenarios. If your clients make that assumption then you need to be the one to educate them on the differences and what those differences mean for them and their pet. Sadly enough, even after all the education in the world a client may still form their opinions of your practice and staff not at all on the quality of the medical care their pet received but solely on the level of client service they received and the physical things they noticed when they entered your front door. It is your responsibility to make your client’s visit and unforgettable experience by knowing what they experience when the visit your practice and making sure that it the experience you want them to have and share with their friends and families.
So how do you do this? There are many ways to achieve client excellence but a mystery visit or mystery phone call is a phenomenal way to experience the service you offer in the exact same manner your client does. You can’t ask for a better tool, in my opinion. There are many ways to set up a mystery evaluation of your practice. You can do it yourself, (dare I say you can’t afford not to) on a regular basis, by entering through the front door and evaluating what you see – or don’t see. You can ask a friend, colleague or client to do it or you can hire a consultant who offers mystery shopping. I have had people say to me, “isn’t’ that sneaky?” NO, it is a necessary educational experience. I share all the information with my staff after the fact – both good and not so good! It helps us all learn as a team and also identify areas where my staff needs training. On my last mystery call I had one of my LVT’s, who had been with me for over a year, tell the mystery shopper that we recommended giving heartworm/intestinal parasite prevention May – November! EEK! We haven’t made that recommendation for at least 7 years. Our practice recommends year round prevention. This helped me identify a team member that needed training, a training protocol that maybe needed a good overhaul, as well as an area where our clients were being misinformed and not offered a consistent message. We try to speak in one voice at our practice and that was not one voice. Clients do not like to hear one thing from one staff member and something different from another. This causes a loss of trust and then they begin to question everything you tell them. On a different mystery visit a client informed me that she was not given the dental grade of her pet by the technician or the veterinarian. She also had questions about a brochure she had picked up in our lobby. Unfortunately the answer was, “we don’t recommend that boarding facility any longer.” You get my point. You cannot improve upon things you don’t identify.
To sum it all up. Keep your clients coming back and referring your practice to their friends by entering through the front door and experiencing your practices service the way your clients do. Is it the experience you want them to have? If not – fix it! It will save you time and money in the long run.
We have just recently finished the first phase of building a new facility. This phase consisted solely of veterinary service areas. Our second phase is slated to be complete by mid-late summer and will consist of a boarding facility. We plan on having 28 standard dog runs, six luxury dog runs, 12-16 cat condos, and a large indoor play area (but no plans for doggie day care as of yet!). Five large outdoor exercise yards have already been built as part of the site plan. Given the size of this facility what sort of boarding staff should be required? Any math minded people out there have a handy-dandy equation for the number of dogs/cats that each team member can take excellent care of? The kennel supervisor will be an existing member of our veterinary team, but the rest of the boarding staff will be new hires. I know that the nature of a boarding staff is much more transient than that of a more highly skilled veterinary staff, so what amount of turnover is to be expected? I have done a fair amount of on-line research in regards to this but have learned that nothing beats the advice of those that are currently doing!
Thanks in advance,
That is the million-dollar question isn’t it?
I hope it exists for more than just to make you money and to give you a cushy retirement package. Because even if that sounds great to you-your hospital’s reason for existing-it’s WHY-should be way bigger than that!
There is an amazing book that every hospital owner needs to read. “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action” by Simon Sinek is a game changer. It is one of the best books I have read and it really made me understand the underlying principle behind what makes one company stand out from all the rest. (i.e. Apple™ vs. IBM™, HP™, Dell™ …)
Sinek also has a great TED talk summarizing the book that you can watch by clicking here- or if you are reading this on the CatalystVETS website, should be able to view below:
Sinek’s basic premise is that people don’t buy what you do- they buy WHY you do it. The Why is what separates the great companies from their competitors.
After reading “Start With Why,” my team and I spent a long time trying to nail down exactly what TVSS’s (my surgical practice) WHY was. This may sound easy, but it is not.
First, relationships came to mind. Relationships with my team, our customers (veterinarians and support staff), our clients and their pets are definitely at the center of everything we do, but I did not think that was it. After a whole lot of brainstorming we figured it out.
What we realized as a team and now talk about all the time is …
We exist to provide the level of surgical excellence and compassionate service that we would want for our own pets.
Everything we do, every decision we make as a business is made with our WHY at the front and center. Who we have on our team, what hospitals we work with, what type of follow-up care to we provide, what we want on our website and the list goes on…
Just the other day, we received a call about a particular surgery. This was a situation where it was definitely not wrong to do what they were asking, but it just did not fit what WE would do if it were our own pet, so we declined the procedure and the pet went elsewhere.
It is not easy to say “no” to a surgery but I know being true to our WHY is more important than doing every surgery because if I get to the end of my career knowing I compromised our WHY to make more money-what kind of living is that?
Take some time with your leadership team and figure out what is your hospital’s WHY – I promise it will make all the difference!
Do you know your hospital’s WHY? Let us know by leaving a comment below!
You can read more of my posts at www.catalystvets.com
Competing with shelters and other low-cost providers may seem like a no win situation. Consultant Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, says veterinary clients can and must be educated about the levels of service within the field to help them make the correct choices.
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