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Combating 4 harmful workplace mindsets

dvm360dvm360 April 2024
Volume 55
Issue 4
Pages: 36

The president of Not One More Vet explains common downfalls of veterinary teams and how to fix your toxic clinic culture

New Africa / stock.adobe.com

New Africa / stock.adobe.com

As pointed out by Carrie Jurney, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology), CCRP, president of Not One More Vet, Inc (NOMV) and owner of Remedy Veterinary Specialists in San Francisco, California, no veterinary practice manager wants their work environment to be toxic. One important responsibility of a practice manager is to make sure their employees are happy and feel comfortable at work. However, sometimes toxic work cultures creep up into a practice if you do not stay vigilant in preventing negative habits.

In her session sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health at the 2024 Veterinary Meeting & Expo in Orlando, Florida, “Four toxicities of a team,”1 Jurney explained how even the best-intentioned managers can fall into some of the common traps of veterinary culture. She stated the 4 team toxicities as ambiguity, stagnation, sacrifice, and authority.

1. Ambiguity

Ambiguity is the first toxic trait Jurney discussed, and she explained how a team that is unsure of direct expectations or rules can cause confusion and chaos. Jurney even mentioned that ambiguity can cause well-being issues for veterinary professionals.2,3

To combat ambiguity, Jurney recommended to start at your practice or company’s mission statement. “It actually does matter because this is the concise statement that discusses why this company even exists,” she stated. “What makes you different from other practices? What is your intention and goal here? These are the ideas we talk about in a mission statement. And when you think about it, you’re really talking about your values.”

Combined with your mission statement, clearly stating your clinic’s values can help ease any ambiguity in the work culture. Jurney suggested writing down the values and keeping the list less than 10 items, but to tailor your values to the specific needs of the practice and ask your employees what they would like to see on the list. She also recommended ranking your values so everyone knows which ones are the most important.

To reduce ambiguity with roles and responsibilities, Jurney recommended having concise documents that outline each role in the practice and what responsibilities relate to that role. This also helps increase clarity with career development within the practice so employees can see what responsibilities they would have at the next level. Along with this, Jurney recommended holding regular staff meetings to maintain clear communication with the team in case anything changes, or updates need to be made. Regular meetings can also offer an open discussion for feedback or clarification on tasks.

2. Stagnation

“Our experiences in burnout can be our own worst enemy when we need to make progress in team well-being. Because it’s really hard to be creative and innovative when you are grinding through over-booked days, day after day,” Jurney said. “There is a lot of comfort in routine, I find comfort in routine, but we need to make sure we don’t sink too far into that [place of stagnation].” Jurney explained that a culture with stagnation often causes employees to feel that new ideas will not be well received from management. Jurney went through some common responses given in a stagnate mindset and how they can be harmful for veterinary teams:

  • “We can’t afford this!”
    • According to Jurney, compensation is significantly correlated with burnout and 54% of RVTs reported that low compensation affected their job satisfaction. Research found that 94.6% of technicians are making under a “living wage.”4
  • “We don’t have time for it!”
    • The busy schedule of the veterinary profession can often make it seem like there isn’t time for a focus on well-being. However, Jurney stressed the importance of making time for wellness because it can negatively affect patient outcomes. In human medicine, there has been a 50% reduced standard of care when work-related stress is present.5
  • “This is just how it is.”
    • Outdated operational practices are not the best standards to be running a successful clinic on. Jurney advised managers to check in with their standard protocols and reevaluate what can be updated.
    • One area that can be updated is staffing numbers. Research shows that having more technicians in the practice was associated with job satisfaction and higher engagement.6 However, Jurney recognizes the current veterinary profesional shortage and suggested thinking outside the box with hiring and viewing potential candidates. oIf someone has a strong background in customer service, they may be a great client service representative at the front desk.

3. Sacrifice

Sacrificing your well-being for the good of the practice can potentially impact your mental health if done over a long period of time. Having weak or no boundaries at work can lead to sacrifice and leaves little room for any down time during the day. Jurney stated, “To be a complete human being, you need to be more than your job. To have a healthy work environment, you need to recognize that your employees are more than their jobs.”

Jurney conducted surveys from her own employees at NOMV to find out what time veterinary professionals felt they had to themselves outside of work. She found that 44% of participants never have time to take a lunch break and 33% feel that their personal time is never their own when not at work (ie, they are still receiving phone calls, answering questions, filling out paperwork, etc.).

To combat a sacrificial mindset, encouraging healthy boundaries is a must. Practice managers can schedule specific times for staff to take breaks throughout the day by blocking off time. Jurney even suggested that managers should check in with each team member to make sure they had time to take lunch each day.

4. Authority

When there is a very distinct line of command and the doctors of the practice seem to be on a high pedestal, all other members of the team can feel intimidated. Jurney expressed that, in her opinion, lower-level staff members will sometimes not speak up in a situation they feel a mistake has been made because of feeling intimidated by the authority in the practice.

To combat an intimidating authority mindset, Jurney recommended letting team members have some autonomy of small tasks. This can help employees feel they have a say in a portion of the work they do.

Another way is to cultivate a culture of 2-way respect. Staff members at any skill level should be respectful to each other, no matter the hierarchy. This can simply start by leading by example and showing that respect first and allowing others to follow in your footsteps.

Another way to dismantle toxic authority is to not point the blame on anyone specific when a mistake is made, and instead make sure everyone is involved in finding the solution. Any mistake made can be a learning lesson for the entire practice and it helps all staff better comprehend what needs to happen moving forward to avoid any future mistakes.

In conclusion

To wrap up her points, Jurney stated, “These problems are not easy, but they are [also] not insurmountable. So, go back to your practices, clarify, innovate, enforce boundaries, and work on building a team. A happy, healthy team is totally worth the effort.”

If you are still unsure of where to start with your own practice culture, NOMV has resources available on their website.


  1. Jurney C. Four toxicities of a team. Presented at: Veterinary Meeting & Expo; Orlando, Florida; January 13-17, 2024.
  2. Mastenbroek NJ, Jaarsma AD, Demerouti E, Muijtjens AM, Scherpbier AJ, van Beukelen P. Burnout and engagement, and its predictors in young veterinary professionals: the influence of gender. Vet Rec. 2014;174(6):144. doi:10.1136/vr.101762
  3. Panari C, Caricati L, Pelosi A, Rossi C. Emotional exhaustion among healthcare professionals: the effects of role ambiguity, work engagement and professional commitment. Acta Biomed. 2019;90(6-S):60-67. Published 2019 Jul 8. doi:10.23750/abm.v90i6-S.8481
  4. Kogan LR, Hellyer PW, Wallace JE, et.al. Veterinary technicians and occupational burnout. Front Vet Sci. 2020 Jun 12;7. doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.00328
  5. Halbesleben JR, Wakefield BJ, Wakefield DS, Cooper LB. Nurse burnout and patient safety outcomes: nurse safety perception versus reporting behavior. West J Nurs Res. 2008;30(5):560-577. doi:10.1177/0193945907311322
  6. Liss DJ, Kerl ME, Tsai CL. Factors associated with job satisfaction and engagement among credentialed small animal veterinary technicians in the United States. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2020;257(5):537-545. doi:10.2460/javma.257.5.537
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