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5 questions to answer if you’re considering practice management
Learn more about yourself, your goals, and what it takes to oversee a thriving veterinary business and its staff
How does a person become a veterinary practice manager? Is it something one chooses, or does it just happen? If the opportunity falls in your lap, should you take it? In my opinion, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
People often become practice managers (PMs) because they’re in the right place at the right time. But does that mean they should be PMs? No. The job is not merely about filling out paperwork, ordering supplies, and answering emails. Those tasks have to be done, but the job is really about fulfilling one’s passion for working with people as well as animals. A skilled PM can build a strong, reliable team of trained specialists who work together efficiently for the good of patients, their owners, and each other.
If you think practice management is for you, ask yourself these questions.
What excites me about veterinary medicine?
There are so many things to choose from: wellness examinations, anesthesiology, rehabilitation, small animal care, large animal care, exotics...the list goes on and on. But when thinking about becoming a PM, you must consider the big picture: whether you’re passionate about putting together a team and keeping them happy and productive. A PM is responsible for creating the environment that makes people want to come to work and makes clients want to bring their pets—and that keeps the practice in the black.
Do I really know what the job entails?
Many people pursue veterinary careers because they love animals. However, practice management is about people. First and foremost, the PM provides support and encouragement to the practice team. The paperwork is important, but without a great team, the income and expenses won’t matter. This is not to minimize the importance of accurate billing or a clean and organized inventory of supplies, but to emphasize that management is not about sitting at a desk and making the computer “work.”
How can I motivate a team?
This question can be difficult to answer. Not every person will be motivated by the same things, and probably all of them will have personal reasons for being in the industry. A good PM must take the time to find out what each team member wants and use that knowledge to challenge and reward the individuals and the group.
How do you interact with the team as a whole? Can you develop a program that accommodates various learning styles and motivates everyone? How would you inspire a team to align with the goals of the clinic and promote its image?
Keeping the team motivated is the PM’s primary responsibility. It is vital that you budget the money and ensure that the facility is clean and the inventory is in order. But if you don’t manage the people in a productive way, you won’t have to perform any of the other tasks.
When it comes down to it, can I ask for help?
Self-awareness is essential in this position. If you’re unaware of your limitations, you cannot excel at anything. There will be times when you’ll be unsure about what to do, or how to do it. You must have the humility to recognize that you need help and ask others to help you. This is not a profession in which anyone stands alone; the veterinary community is a large but close-knit family. If you cannot consult someone close to you, there are many professionals available and eager to help, for instance.
Do I want to continue learning throughout my career?
As is true of all health practitioners, veterinary professionals must spend time on continuing education (CE) through the whole of their career. DVMs and technicians must earn CE credits to maintain their license. But everyone else in the clinic should also be learning and reaching for more.
You can motivate others by showing them that you are committed to continuing education. If you lead by example, you’ll find yourself with a crew that is more knowledgeable and more satisfied both with their choice of career and with the clinic where they work. Your job will be easier because your team will be eager to please the person they know cares about them and their future. You cannot lose!
When people are content doing exactly what they’ve always done—without learning about industry trends or changes in best practices— the clinic suffers. Unmotivated staff seek more exciting opportunities, clients take pets to hospitals that are keeping up with the times and, inevitably, the practice fails.
These are important questions to consider, and there are probably more that you should ask before making practice management your goal. To develop those questions, it may be useful to create your own job description. Such an exercise will help you decide whether practice management, or another aspect of veterinary medicine, appeals to you. Make a list of the things you love to do and how you would go about doing them. It will force you to think hard about where you would be most effective and how you could best use your skills and satisfy your passion. This is a great self-actualizing exercise that can teach you a lot about yourself and perhaps provide clarity as you look forward.
Sabrina Beck, CVT, CVBL, is a learning and development manager who has practiced as a credentialed technician in day practice, emergency in private and university setting, and in the eye care specialty. She worked as a practice manager for the past 5 years, and realized her true passion lied in developing a happy, healthy, and productive team. She lives in Florida with her husband and a menagerie of animals that continually grows.