Ask Shawn: Am I a hospital administrator or a custodian?


Shawn McVey offers advice for a veterinary hospital manager struggling to define her job duties.

I'm the hospital administrator for a large emergency and specialty group with two locations. In the first week I arrived I had no desk, no office, no supplies and 99 percent of the 100 employees didn’t know who I was, that I was hired or what my job was. I almost quit immediately. Jump ahead to the present and I’m still struggling to define my role and my responsibilities.

For example, last week a pet pooped in the lobby. The front end team mopped it up and put the mop back in the bucket. Yesterday one of the owners asked if I had a policy on poop bucket water. He said it’s my job to know everything that goes on. This is a massive building. I walk around a lot but I can’t see everything. What do you think I should be responsible for, considering I have several managers who work for the practice? —POOPED

Shawn McVey, MA, MSW


Wow and double wow. I had a sense of déjà vu when I read this, as my first position and first day as a specialty administrator was similar. The good news is they were warm and receptive after they figured out who I was. Your questions are many and this topic could be covered by an entire day of lectures. But you face a real challenge, and it’s one that many administrators and managers face: What’s my job description?

While your owner may be contextually correct that you are ultimately responsible for knowing policies, it’s not black and white. And he should certainly be more empathetic about how and when he communicated this to you.

In general a hospital administrator oversees all operations of the hospital but is responsible for the performance of operations managers. Your job is to implement a strategic plan, guide the business to good performance via a budget and revenue growth and make the owners’ business plans come to fruition. You can’t do this without a solid plan and an understanding of what issues you need to address and in what priority. It’s your job to tell the owners that they need to provide you with resources to do your job. Those resources are a plan, funds to implement it and a vision to guide you. A leader pushes change, manages culture and keeps the emotional tone of the practice positive. A manager directs, maintains the status quo and is goal-oriented.

Sit the owners down and tell them you need their support and a vision and a plan or this isn’t going to work. I suggest an outside consultant to help with the creation and implementation and to facilitate difficult communication.—SHAWN

Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, is a member of the Firstline and Veterinary Economics editorial advisory boards and is CEO of McVey Management Solutions in Austin, Texas. For videos and articles containing more of McVey's tips and tricks on issues relating to veterinary personnel management, conflict, and communication, visit

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