20 easy steps to better veterinary team members


The very best veterinary team members-and job applicants-do these things

"I am an employer. I've been hiring. I'm always looking for another excellent addition to my staff. But alas, the average tenure at our place is more than 10 years. So when we have an opening—as we've had lately—I am attentive to what I seek." — Anonymous

In this business, there are four types of employers: thriving, striving, dying and terminated.

If you read the Web boards and blogs, you'll see that veterinary employers are concerned about their practices and employees. Indeed, the past couple of years have been challenging for employers and their workforces. Employers have tried to stay solvent while running good businesses. Employees have been worried and are trying just to hang on to work.

While the employer might be a bit stressed, excellent employees can lead the way back to a happy, thriving workplace. And the truth is that most employers are looking for the same things: Good employees and team players, because a business tends to thrive when staffers take an interest in their jobs and the practice's mission. To reduce employee turnover in this industry, we need to match good employers with good employees.

Things are settling down into a new business rhythm, so just for today, let's consider what it is an employer desires to keep his or her practice thriving and employees on the job. The job market is, after all, a two-way street. In veterinary medicine, employee turnover occurs about every two years, which, to my thinking, is bad. Together with the employer, an employee can make it better.

Veterinary medicine is a wonderful field, so we look to the job place to see what's happening. All practice owners know that, to thrive, they must improve their customer service, and excellent customer service begins with the office staff, i.e., the employees.

In the simplest terms: The employee is part of a staff with a history. That is, the current staff is successful enough to have endured, or perhaps to have even thrived, to today. Employees, this one goes out to you.

So what is it that employees should do? We must assume you care and are kind to yourselves, other employees, patients and clients. Assuming you're in the right job in the first place, you'll get the opportunity to make additional contributions. To do this, you must make yourself more valuable to the business. Here's how.

1. Show up on time

Better yet, arrive a few minutes early, put away your things, and be ready to take in what's happening in the practice. You have two seconds to put a smile on everyone's face this morning.

2. Listen

And buy into the practice's mission statement and vision offered by managers. What does this business do best? What is its niche? Who is the practice leader? (Don't buy into the mission statement? Leave and find a more suitable place for your skills.)

3. Give the owner the benefit of the doubt

In advance, forgive the employer. Do listen to the neighborhood talk, but go in with an open mind. Good employers make mistakes that can lead to good solutions; focus on the good solutions.

4. Be prepared to answer for yourself

What's the biggest mistake you made? What did you learn from it? That's a typical interview question, but you should think about things like that a lot. The practice's leader must make correct decisions day in and day out to ensure the cash stream is present to make the payroll. Are you as on top of your job?

5. Ask the employer how you can make his or her job easier

The practice owner has a tough job, usually balancing medical duties with management duties. Ask how you can help.

6. Know what you might be able to do to make yourself more valuable to the clinic

Step forward and be identified. Employers cannot read your mind, but they surely love valuable employees.

7. Anticipate clients' needs

Pay special attention to opening doors and carrying pets out to clients' cars. Smile and thank owners for coming in; after all, it's the client spending of discretionary dollars that pays for salaries, benefits and all other costs to run a practice. (Remember, your actions speak loudly.)

8. If you want to learn, ask for in-house continuing education

And if you want to see charity work come into the practice, offer to put in some free time to do it. Remember, you can expect out of a job only what you put into it.

9. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all

Be honest and prepared to discuss those tricky people situations tactfully. And don't gossip. Got a problem? Bring it to the leader's attention—anonymously if it's that bad.

10. Calmly discuss issues and problems as they arise

How do you handle an issue that needs attention? Suggest solutions, and offer to see they get the appropriate follow-through.

11. Don't be discouraged if your suggestions seem to be set aside

A lot of things are demanding the practice leader's attention and resources: the IRS, OSHA, inventory, maintenance, benefits packages, customer relations, staff morale, staff illnesses, sick family members, vacation schedules and employee issues all compound daily. Understand that choices must be made.

12. Take ownership of your own feelings

Avoid "you" terms, and offer "I" references. Specifically avoid saying the words, "You always ..." Rather, think in terms of "I feel this way," or "I am reacting to ..."

13. Read a good book on human nature

Try a relatively short, simple book like Don't Sweat the Small Stuff—and It's All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson, or try diving into a more challenging text such as Games People Play by Eric Berne.

14. Watch your body language

Remember, 85 percent of human communication is unspoken; only 15 percent is verbal. (Best advice: "Be there," mentally and physically.)

15. Dress like you care; look like you care

Touch up the outpatient clothes—or your clothes—with light starch. Better to be a bit overdressed and really clean.

16. Handle time off right

If you need some time off or special considerations, be prepared to return those considerations by accepting and asking for more time to help other staff members who'll be covering your time away.

17. Accept change

Without change, things cannot improve or advance. Don't hold onto traditions just because they're traditions.

18. Remember that nothing and no one is perfect

Focus on the good aspects of your job.

19. Be a nurturer

There are only two kinds of people in this world: Nurturers and drainers. One hundred percent of all employers who've ever fired the office "Godzilla" (aka: the practice energy drainers) are smiling today.

20. To thrive, you absolutely must like your job

Clients and employers will notice, and the practice will prosper in this new era.

Believe this author/employer: If you're unhappy, the employer is aware but doesn't know if he or she should work with you, send you on your way, or hope that, given time, you'll catch fire and love the place.

Dr. Michael Riegger, Dipl. ABVP, can be reached at nwanimalclinic.com, riegger@aol.com, 505-898-1491, on VIN or at Iowa State University as a guest lecturer.

For a complete list of articles by Dr. Riegger, visit dvm360.com/riegger

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