A smile (vs. a snarl) goes a long way toward keeping the bridges intact throughout your veterinary career.
The big orange appointment block on my schedule indicated a house call: “Cujo-Euthanasia, has bitten five people.”
I had noticed the appointment three days earlier. That was back before I gnawed all my fingernails to nubs worrying about the appointment and wondering why fate would curse me with it on my last day working at Green Valley Animal Hospital.
My technician and I were en route when the appointment was canceled and we were called back. Upon arrival, it became clear that “Cujo” had been a ruse to let everyone set up for a surprise farewell party (and enjoy one last laugh at my frayed nerves).
Obviously, I'm blessed to have worked at such a great practice full of fantastic people. You can understand why I wanted to do everything possible to make my departure as smooth as possible, not just for me, but also for my colleagues and clients.
When I realized I'd be moving away and changing jobs, I reached out to the best resources I could find in business and veterinary medicine for guidance. Based on their advice and my experience, here are my top six tips for departing your job-whether you're on great terms or are seriously considering fleeing in the dead of night.
This may seem to go without saying, but I was surprised to hear how often people skip this step and jump straight to “I'm outta here.” Unless you're comfortable being out of work for an undetermined period of time, make sure you've secured a signed contract and a start date before announcing your exit. You never know when your next employer's situation might radically change, and if you haven't formally accepted a position, you could be on your way to surprise unemployment. Don't leave this one to chance.
Depending on your compensation structure, it may be worthwhile to make use of employment perks, like paid vacation, before you depart. Plan ahead, if possible, to take full advantage of the benefits your contract allows without trying to pile everything on right before you leave. While leaving PTO on the table hurts, taking it all and then quitting upon your return will make you about as popular as someone using the microscope with pinkeye.
If your contract includes a noncompete clause, you need to know it intimately. You should have a good plan to deal with this clause (either obey it or know that you can legally defend yourself from it) before you accept your next job. This is one potential surprise you definitely want to avoid.
In many cases, a contract requires you to give a specified amount of notice before departing (two weeks, two months, etc). It may not, however, guarantee that your employer will allow you to keep working after giving said notice. It is conceivable-even likely in some cases-that you will give your notice of departure and be asked to pack up your locker and depart immediately. Be ready with a plan either to start your next job early or to draw on your savings as required.
No matter how rocky things get with a soon-to-be-previous employer, it always makes sense to play nice whenever possible. Remember, your actions and attitude affect everyone on the team you're leaving behind, not just your boss. What will they say about you when you're gone? Besides, your last interaction with your co-workers will be the one they remember. Try your best to make it a great one, even if it's painful to put on a smile.
Whether your move takes you to another state or just down the street, you should work with the practice to develop a message regarding the change. Clients will eventually notice that you're gone. Better to be upfront and proactive about it. (See the next page for my sample letter.)
If you're leaving on good terms and moving to a noncompeting practice, let clients know with a positive message that allows them to feel happy for you and gives them time to come in or call with their goodbyes. This message should also lend your recommendation and support to the other doctors in the practice.
I realized it was time to do this when a receptionist expressed her exasperation at having to repeatedly break the news to surprised clients calling to schedule appointments with me in the future.
If you're departing on poor terms and/or moving to a competing practice, it's important that your message still remains positive. It should communicate your gratitude for being hired and having the chance to serve your clients. You should also pass it on for approval from the practice before sending so that you cannot be accused of trying to “steal” clients. Finally, if at all possible, it should refer clients to the remaining doctors for questions or support. Even if you're unhappy with the practice you're leaving, you owe it to your clients to give them a definitive (and ethical) plan for taking care of their pets in your absence.
The purpose of this client message is not to motivate clients to seek you out and follow you (although some will). Rather, it is to avoid making clients feel abandoned or embarrassed when they call or arrive at the practice. They want to know that they are being left in good hands, and they do not want to be surprised. Remember, the mark of a true professional is providing excellent service and care, even when you don't have to.
As a mentor of mine likes to say, “In the end, all you have is your reputation.” If anything, make sure you do your best not to damage it as you move forward in your professional journey and part ways with your employer. And try not to fall for the old “house call on your last day” trick.
Subject: Message from Dr. Andy Roark
Dear [Client Name],
I'd like to share some personal news with you: My family and I will be moving to Greenville, SC, next month.
This means that as of July 1, 2012, I will no longer be at Green Valley Animal Hospital. It has truly been a pleasure to serve you and your pets, and I'll miss Green Valley very much.
Please know that Dr. Page and Dr. Hampton are fantastic veterinarians, and I'm thrilled that Dr. Tricia Stabler, who has over 11 years' experience in practice, will soon join them. I have no doubt that Green Valley will continue to provide exceptional, compassionate care for many years to come.
Thank you again for your trust in me during my time at Green Valley and for helping to make our hospital the special place that it is.
Dr. Andy Roark