And the 2018 Practice Manager of the Year is

December 13, 2018
Brendan Howard, Business Channel Director

Brendan Howard oversees veterinary business, practice management and life-balance content for dvm360.com, dvm360 magazine, Firstline and Vetted, and plans the Practice Management track at all three Fetch dvm360 conferences.Brendan has proudly served under the Veterinary Economics and dvm360 banners for more than 10 years. Before that, he worked as a journalist, writer and editor at Entrepreneur magazine and a top filmed entertainment magazine in Southern California. Brendan received a Masters in English Literature from University of California, Riverside, in 1999.

dvm360, dvm360 January 2019, Volume 50, Issue 1

Angelina Morgan, CVPM, who earned kudos from dvm360 and VHMA judges in her managing a tough new job this year and excelling, most of all, at building trust, delegating and managing a team struggling with low morale.

The 2018 Practice Manager of the Year, Angelina Morgan, CVPM, was inspired by a coworker's enthusiasm to enter.When Angelina Morgan showed up at her new job as hospital administrator at Maryland's two-location Pet+ER veterinary practice in Towson and Columbia, a “solid core team of tenured employees” was in place, but morale was a problem. Her entry describing how she managed that problem impressed expert judges enough to make Morgan the 2018 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year.

But before she could be considered, Morgan had to enter. And like many practice managers before her, Morgan says it was knowledge of her nomination that propelled her.

“The emails that I'd been nominated caught me off guard, but I filed them away to investigate a little bit later,” Morgan says. “When I happened to mention the nomination to one of my technician managers in our bi-weekly one-on-one meeting, her response was sheer excitement. She's a new leader and thrilled about her new journey. When I saw her response, I realized if I didn't enter my application, I was giving her permission to doubt her own accomplishments and the imposter syndrome would attack her. If one of my goals is to lead others to be strong, live with self-awareness but overcome self-doubt, I had to lead by example and overcome my own self-doubt.”

Pinnacles of practice management

Click here to see more inspiring stories and ideas from entrants, finalists and winners in the dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year contest.

The judges have spoken

Morgan was picked from a field of dozens of entrants that were then whittled down to 10 finalists announced during Fetch dvm360 in Kansas City in August. Her win was announced during Fetch dvm360 in San Diego in December.

Morgan's entry was a “well-written, detailed account of a manager experiencing the direct impact she had on practice and team,” said one judge. “[Her entry] clearly explained her thought process and the ‘why' behind her decisions.”

Another judge praised her approach to the morale and management problem: “Loud applause for putting the brakes on, allowing the dust to settle and establishing some trust within your technician team before making any more changes.”

The team at the VHMA was just as impressed.

“I had the opportunity to tour Angelina's hospital in October while the VHMA's conference was in Baltimore,” says VHMA executive director Christine Shupe, CAE. “It was impressive to see how her efforts enhanced the efficiency and organization of the facility and made real the information and details contained in her application.”

“Angelina embodies the qualities of a high-performing practice manager,” says VHMA president Jim Nash, MHA, CVPM. “She sets high standards and leads with confidence, knowledge, motivation and ingenuity.”

Want to see for yourself what impressed judges? Read on for excerpts from Angelina Morgan's award-winning entry …

Excerpts from Angelina Morgan's winning entry

Describe an instance when you adapted to change at your practice or change in the veterinary marketplace with courage and creativity. How was the change seen by your coworkers? Did you help the team make an important change for the future or face a difficult change right now?

“In 2015, I had been working for a year or so for a multispecialty emergency hospital in one of my first positions in veterinary medicine: office manager. Around the beginning of 2015, our CEO visited the hospital. This was only maybe the third time I had interacted with her in person. She was about three hours outside of our area, so we didn't see her much. This day, she was coming to let us know that our executive director-who had been training me-was taking leave on sabbatical. We had also recently fired our medical director. I sat, wide-eyed, and listened to the words coming from her mouth. This essentially meant it was me running solo with a $9 million practice, never having actually handled a budget or done anything beyond running the front desk and making the technician schedule. Tough times were ahead.

“The CEO started visiting the hospital more frequently and mentoring me. This change was proving to be difficult for the team, because there were no established protocols in place. The executive director had handled almost everything personally, and there wasn't much on paper.

“Employees were jumping ship and by the time we were able to stop the hemorrhage, I had accepted over 33 resignations in five months. I dove in head first and teamed up with one of our senior clinicians. Together, we rallied our team and started making more independent decisions that made sense to us, in real time. We held one-on-one meetings with employees off site to get a sense of what they were feeling. We started delegating project areas and tasks. We reached out to other hospitals for advice on how they were doing things.

“The team saw us respond to this change by taking ownership. The team began to take ownership themselves and would come to the table with solutions to their problems instead of merely complaining about nothing getting done. As a result, we were able to develop and implement new growth positions that highlighted employee skill sets. We built a charge nurse team, we promoted an individual exceptionally gifted in inventory management to a full-time salaried inventory position, and we appointed a technician manager. As we started to create our own structure, the CEO responded by promoting me to practice manager.” 

Will you enter?

Like the great advice of Angelina Morgan and the other finalists and entrants, your ideas, advice and experiences can help inspire your colleagues. The 2019 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year contest will begin accepting entries next year during Fetch dvm360 in Baltimore. Keep your eyes peeled for the announcement at dvm360.com/PMOY in May. Your team and the veterinary profession at large will thank you.

Describe an instance when you needed to make a crucial decision that affected the entire practice. How did you gather information from people and resources? How did you make the decision? What was the result?

“When I joined my current two-location veterinary practice group, the hospitals had seen significant turnover on the administrative side of operations, and employee morale was at a critical low point. Within my first 40 days, it was apparent the leaders were keeping the ship from sinking but it was beginning to capsize. The low morale ran deep, yet the employees continued to come to work and seemed to genuinely appreciate their job.

“I began mentoring the team leaders. Some of them leaders felt empowered and renewed, and our weekly one-on-ones were very successful. Others really wanted to improve and grow but found there were many roadblocks to their growth. Each hospital had different management roles and different reporting structures. Nothing was the same from one location to the other. One of the leaders had been given the title of Operations Manager in one location and was overseeing the day-to-day and reported to me. She had been with the company for many years. Under my mentorship, she established leadership meetings and improved protocols for many areas. However, the role wasn't finding success. In the other location, we had a Client Service Manager but no Operations Manager. It became apparent that part of the morale issue was the inconsistency. Together with my managing DVM, we made the decision to create the same role in each hospital and eliminate the Operations Manager and Client Service Manager positions. Each hospital would now have an Office Manager who reported to the Hospital Administrator.

“That meant the Operations Manager found herself in a pay bracket out of line with any benchmarked position comparable to the number of employees and annual revenue. We made the decision to eliminate her position and offer her the Office Manager position. This position did come with a significant pay reduction, appropriate for the responsibilities and hospital function. While the Office Manager role defined her role better and offered her a path to future growth, she saw it as a demotion because of the pay reduction. She declined, accepted a severance package and her last day was the very next day.

“The moves have increased employee morale. Employees feel better supported and understand who does what in our company. I can see them holding each other accountable and going through the right routes to handle conflict or concerns. We also created internal growth opportunities for individuals interested in moving into management or leadership down the line and created appropriate pay brackets.”

Describe an instance when you influenced and motivated others, encouraged a team atmosphere, or took the initiative on an important problem or project. Provide details about your leadership qualities: Who did you motivate and how? Was it a success? How did you need to manage both subordinates as well as the practice owners?

“When I joined our team, they were still reeling from the abrupt loss of yet another technician manager. Many applications were coming in, but the qualifications weren't there. Within the first month, though, it was apparent that the team responded well to their shift leads. They trusted them, and they felt safe with them. Our managing DVM felt strongly that a technician manager needed to be credentialed to manage. I challenged her convictions by suggesting we hit pause on the technician manager position and instead mentor and grow our shift leads. She agreed to try the plan for a few months.

“The shift leads and I met as a group monthly, and I met with each of them individually every other week. We talked through problems, the history of the company, past management changes, personnel issues and conflict resolution. We created open lines of communication to the team. Quite rapidly, we noticed employees becoming more vocal. They felt they were being heard. These shift supervisors were their representatives. Protocols were being enforced, people were being held accountable and gossip was no longer tolerated. But there were many tears, a product of many years of stress melting out of them.

“We set the goal of six months with shift supervisors to see if we all felt a technician manager was still needed. We hit that mark, and as a group, they said it was time. They felt they had done the ground work to bring the team back together and be more receptive to a manager.

“We decided we would no longer open positions of this level externally without reviewing our talent first. As a result, two of the shift supervisors applied for the position along with five other employees and we went through a formal interview process. I set up time for each internal candidate to meet with one of our national recruiters to mark up and improve their resumes as if they were applying externally. They went through interview coaching. They came to their interview with me dressed as professionals and ready to passionately answer my questions.

“In the end, we selected the two shift supervisors to act as co-managing technician managers. When we announced this at our all-staff meeting, there was genuine excitement from all team members. Both overnight and day teams cheered and congratulated the two.”

Describe how you stay educated about changes in veterinary medicine, practice management, team training and business. In what ways do you share your learning with others?

“As a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager, I'm an active member in the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association and review their blogs and chat boards frequently. I attend annual conferences like ACVIM and IVECCS, where I've built a great network of peers. I graduated from Purdue University's Veterinary Practice Management Program and stay connected to their newsletters and Facebook posts on new initiatives. I communicate frequently with our state board and also partner with our animal cruelty investigations team. One of the other ways I stay ‘in the know' is through our corporate partner, NVA. They offer many lectures and training opportunities each year.

“I have bi-weekly one-on-one meetings with my managers and try to check in with each employee personally about once a quarter. By sharing new knowledge or ideas with the leadership team, I get their buy in and it makes it that much easier to disseminate policy changes or innovation in our field.”

Angelina Morgan, CVPM, is hospital administrator at both Pet+ER Maryland locations in Towson and Columbia.

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