6 ways to derail your career

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You're enjoying practice, and your clients and team members are happy. But don't let complacency take hold. These common pitfalls can bump you off track.

1. Failing to show passion. Sometimes we become too robotic, and we fail to let our passion shine through. To combat this trap: Treat every patient and client like they're the most important ones you'll see today. Don't rush through the appointment, especially at the end. Take the time to clearly explain your reasons for what you're recommending.

Marty Becker, DVM

For example, when a client brings a patient in for a spay, don't just say, "We're going to get some blood work done." Instead, explain to your client that a blood sample will help you to see how internal organs are functioning, especially the liver and kidneys, which will be most affected by the anesthetic. Another good rule of thumb: Explain procedures clearly enough that clients could go home and repeat them to their significant others—because they will.

2. Speaking a foreign language. The quickest way to loose a client's attention is to use terms they don't understand. So explain conditions and procedures using common language. Then test your communication skills and your client's comprehension by having your receptionist ask the client what you said. Bonus: The client will retain the information better after repeating it back to your receptionist.

Cross-stimulating the senses is another tool for increasing comprehension. Show clients a model or a picture so they can see better what you're explaining to them. If there's something they can hear, let them hear, and the same for the other senses.

When clients understand you, they'll feel more comfortable, and if your clients feel comfortable, they'll ask questions. But you need to engage them in the conversation and give them opportunities to speak. One tip: If you find you need to prompt clients to get them involved, stay quiet long enough for them to respond.

3. Stealing from family or personal time. If you spend too much time making your practice life match your vision, you won't have time to fulfill your dreams and obligations at home. And how often do you hear retired people say, "I wish I would've worked more"? In fact, most people wish they would have spent more time with their families.

The lesson: Work more efficiently and delegate more responsibilities, so you can take time off. You'll feel energized and work better. And when you see burned-out doctors or staff members, encourage them to take a long weekend or push them to learn an exciting new skill.

4. Violating clients' or staff members' trust. You command power because of your training and experience. Use it wisely. Recommend everything your patient needs, and only what it needs. Also, be upfront about what the patient will go through.

One of my pet peeves is when veterinarians don't warn owners that their pet might be in pain. Imagine yourself as the patient in such a situation. How would you feel if the doctor yelled out to a technician, "Come hold Marty down; we need to yank out this ingrown toenail." You would lose trust and respect for your doctor.

If you examine a cat, and it cries out or hisses or bites, your client is thinking you hurt his or her pet. A better route: Tell the client this could be painful for her cat and that if the cat shows any indication of pain, you'll stop and tranquilize the animal so you can exam it more thoroughly.

5. Viewing equipment as an investment and team members as an expense. The best practices are more willing to invest in good people and training than in a new ultrasound or laser. I see so many articles about poor employee performance and high turnover, and part of the problem is that most practice employees don't make living wages. Owners: Give your team members a career path and compensate them well to follow that path with you. You'll be making a long-term investment that will pay off for both of you.

6. Trying to apply too many management tips from too many experts. While change is sometimes necessary, changing too many things in too many areas at one time leads to chaos. I think people read professional business management journals or attend a practice management meeting and come back to work on fire, ready to dismiss, re-hire, and re-train. If they'd wait just a little while, they'd swing back to the middle, where they'd consider changes with a cooler head, but still before that passion to make necessary changes goes out completely.

Instead of trying to take everyone's advice, look at what kind of practice you're trying to build—your mission, your dream. Then find sources for advice that share your core values. Changes that will really work for you and your practice will naturally be in line with your practice philosophy.

Practice Leadership Editor Dr. Marty Becker is author of The Healing Power of Pets: Harnessing the Amazing Ability of Pets to Make and Keep People Happy and Healthy and the resident veterinarian for "Good Morning America." Please send questions or comments to ve@advanstar.com.

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