5 ways to welcome new veterinary team members


The best greeting you can extend is a thorough training and orientation program. The more time you spend on these crucial introductory steps, the more likely your new hire is to stick around-and flourish.

Have you ever hired an employee you were excited about but who turned out to be a complete disappointment? You thought this person would be an amazing addition to your team only to find out he or she was the worst hire ever. It's important to ask yourself: Was this employee really a bad hire—or is my practice the worst place to be hired? Many times veterinary practices hire good people but don't adequately train them or provide an environment where they're able to be successful.

Let's be fair to our new employees and provide an environment where they're set up to succeed. Here are five ways you can do this.


Instead of throwing new hires into the clinic with the currently overwhelmed staff, gently expose them to the new position via a practice orientation program. This program will teach employees about your hospital's policies and procedures and make them feel comfortable in the clinic. (See form and head to dvm360.com/orientation to download the handout.)

The practice manager or owner should conduct the orientation program on the employee's first day. Even if the new hire has already experienced some things on the list during the interview process, go back and do them again. The team member was probably nervous during the interview and may not have absorbed all of the information presented.

Orientation is a great opportunity to introduce the new employee to the team and motivate your current employees to do their best. When you introduce the new hire to a current team member, don't limit the introduction to names and titles. Instead elaborate on that employee's strengths and virtues.

For example, you might say, "Cindy, let me introduce you to Kelly. Kelly is an amazing technician who's been with us for four years. She takes radiographs better than any of our doctors and can find a vein like she has x-ray vision. I know you're going to learn a lot from Kelly—she's one of our supertechs!" Wouldn't you feel more motivated if you were Kelly?


After new employees complete the orientation program, you can throw them into the trenches and see if they survive, right? Wrong. Now it's time to begin the training process. Even if the new employee is a licensed veterinary technician with experience, you still need to train him or her on your practice's way of doing things.

The best program for new employees, including associates, is a three-to-four-week phased training program that outlines each task the new hire is expected to perform. The training I use begins with basic information, such as where the employee should park and how to use the time clock, and continues all the way to the most complicated procedures. (Download a sample program for receptionists at dvm360.com/phasetraining.)

After an experienced team member demonstrates a procedure, the new hire performs it. (Videorecordings of especially complex procedures lets the new employee review them further before performing them for the first time.) Once the new team member performs each task successfully, the supervisor checks it off the phased training program. At the end of each week the practice manager or owner reviews the checklist to make sure training was successful. After the program is completed, the new employee can be added to the schedule and start working with clients and patients.


I can hear what you're thinking: "Phased training sounds great and all, but I don't have the time or resources to do it. A team member just gave me two weeks' notice (or no notice at all) and I have to replace that person now!"

If you allow yourself to get into that position, you're setting yourself up for a never-ending cycle of inadequate training and high turnover. Remember, the cost of replacing an employee is approximately one year's salary. So a pattern of inadequate training is an expensive proposition for your practice.

To build in the time needed for in-depth training, you need to do a number of things. First, be prepared. If you're coming to the end of summer and you know you'll lose some employees when school starts, begin the interview process with time to spare. If you plan to use a four-week training program—and it takes two to three weeks to hire a new employee—you need to start the process six to eight weeks before summer employees leave the practice. Don't wait until the last minute!

I also suggest maintaining a team of 50 percent full-time and 50 percent part-time veterinary employees. Then if an employee quits unannounced, you'll have part-time employees who can work more hours to fill the gaps while you're interviewing and training your new hire.


If you've done everything I've recommended up to this point, give yourself a pat on the back. But don't break out the champagne just yet—there's still one more important thing to do. In almost every employee retention study ever conducted, employees say the number one thing they want are performance reviews. Believe it or not, most team members want to hear from their bosses about how well they're doing and what they can do to improve.

Review your employees' performance at the end of their three-month introductory period and at least yearly after that. These evaluations shouldn't come as a surprise—they should be a review of how well employees are doing and what they need to accomplish in the year ahead. In fact, in most practices that VMC consults with, employees are given their evaluation form at the beginning of the year so they know exactly how they'll be evaluated later. Over time, as employees master the tasks on the evaluation form, new tasks are added to further challenge and develop their skills.


Speaking of developing new skills, don't forget continuing education. Remember how you felt the last time you came back from a CE meeting? You were most likely excited and invigorated. Even if you didn't learn anything new (which is unlikely), you recharged your batteries and returned to the practice with a new perspective. The same holds true for your team members. There are many excellent CE opportunities for them as well. Some are veterinary-specific and others are more general, but CE is always a practice builder and a motivator for your team.

It's not fair to hire new employees and expect them to learn on the job. Plus that's a long and costly training technique. I know of one practice that hired a new receptionist who, about a week after she started, discharged a patient that had undergone a TPLO. The total invoice was $325 and the receptionist commented, "Wow! That seems like a lot of money." The invoice was for the original exam, diagnostics, and radiographs and didn't include the surgery or hospital costs. Was this comment the new employee's fault or the fault of her trainer?

Before you complain about how bad the job market is and how difficult it is to get top-notch employees, examine your training process. Provide a healthy environment so that every employee can succeed—and you may find you don't need to hire again for a long time!

Mark Opperman, CVPM, owns veterinary consulting firm VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. Please send questions or comments to ve@advanstar.com or post them at dvm360.com/comment

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