Do you know whom you're hiring at your veterinary practice?
Andrew Heller, DVM
Dr. Heller is chief medical officer for Independent Vets, which provides animal hospitals with veterinarians to cover short- and long-term staffing needs. Doctors who work with them create their own work-life balance by choosing when and where they work.
Avoid the drama by following a more approach to hiring veterinary associates and team members right the first time.
A few months ago, I saw a shocking post on Facebook about a relief veterinarian who stole another veterinarian's identity and used it to obtain controlled medications to feed her drug addiction. According to the post, this veterinarian was also caught forging checks and practicing medicine far below the standard of care. In fact, her license had actually expired. So this doctor was breaking a lot of laws and practicing bad medicine, and you mean to tell me that her colleagues and manager never suspected a thing until the damage was already done?
Most of us veterinarians are a skeptical bunch. It might take us years before we trust the safety and efficacy of a new drug or method of treatment for our patients. So, why do we trust anyone working in our hospitals without sufficient background checks and vetting? Are we so desperate for warm bodies to shoulder the load that we're willing to risk our businesses that way? That should go against our nature as a group.
Here are a few best practices I've developed at my staffing company for hiring associate doctors. Hopefully, they'll help improve your own hiring techniques.
10 questions our staffing agency asks every associate every time
How would you make a great first impression to the hospital team and clients during your first shift at a hospital?
Describe a time when you had to follow up with a case that was not originally yours. How did you become familiar with the case, and how did you make the pet owner feel like the care was seamless among different veterinarians?
What if the medical record-keeping was less than ideal when the patient was originally seen? How would you handle a situation like that?
Can you describe a time when you were working in a hospital that initially (or continually) did not have an ideal medication that you wanted? How did you respond to the situation moving forward?
As a relief veterinarian, you may only work at a practice for one day. How would you ensure that the veterinarians who come after you know exactly what you did for that animal that day?
Did you ever need to modify your pain control protocol because a hospital where you practiced didn't carry a specific drug? How did you modify your protocol for this?
What's important to you when choosing an appropriate analgesic for acute and chronic musculoskeletal or neurologic pain in a dog or a cat?
What do you need to perform anesthesia on an animal to provide appropriate analgesia, sedation and monitoring?
What have you found is most important to discuss with owners and recommend for their pets during annual examinations?
How do you communicate with an owner prior to euthanizing their pet?
Everything starts with a face-to-face interview. You can always begin with a phone screen, but there's nothing like sitting across from a veterinarian and asking the right questions.
Our in-person interviews take about an hour, and, in addition to asking each candidate about themselves, we ask them questions about behavior medicine, pain management, anesthetics, preventive medicine and euthanasia. Some other areas we assess during the interview are professionalism, timeliness and ability to act under pressure. Timeliness is important for our business model. Our reputation is based on our ability to be reliable and roll with the punches at any given practice we partner with.
It's critical to get feedback from previous employers and colleagues. It's even better when you can use your network to find people who know the person you're interviewing instead of sticking to just the reference list. We also have a standard set of questions that we ask all references:
How do you know the candidate?
Describe your experience working with the candidate.
What does this candidate do well (strengths)?
What does this candidate need to work on (weaknesses)?
How would this candidate do in a veterinary practice like this one?
Would you hire this candidate to work alongside you?
The key is listening to the tone of the responses. We gauge the enthusiasm of each reference. Sometimes that alone can tell you more than the actual words being spoken. The reference check is where we can spot red flags about a candidate. Any non-positive responses should be reason to rethink your hire.
Third-party background checks
We've had great interviews and then have been ghosted by candidates once we send them the link to the background check. Sometimes just going through this process can weed out candidates with questionable histories. We start with these basic questions: (1) Is this person licensed? (2) Are there any complaints to the state? Remember to check all states where your candidate worked. The background check company we use will also verify job history, calling each hospital and confirming dates of work.
We also check educational history: Do the dates on the resume match up with what the schools tell us? You'd be surprised how often there are gaps. The last piece is a criminal background check. We look at local, county, state and federal databases. We also run against FBI databases (terrorism, child abuse, etc.). Make sure you consult with your human resources experts when reviewing background information. There are state and federal laws detailing how to handle “red flags.”
I know requesting this type of test may feel awkward, but it's important because there are controlled drugs in your hospital. We've found that clearly identifying the reason you're testing can help reduce anxiety among interviewees. It's also important to set a clear deadline for the test to be performed.
Additionally, we use a service that coordinates the testing and reporting through a website. Our candidates can pick a location for the testing, and we get quick results. Make sure you review the tests you're running-are you testing for marijuana, for example?-and that they comply with local, state and federal laws.
Have you ever wondered why some hires do great in the interview but then fall apart after a few months on the job? Our candidates take personality tests. Not only does it help us with the interview process, but it can help screen out candidates we know won't be a good fit for our culture. Better yet, it helps us all understand each other so we can work together long term.
We've developed a list of personality profiles that tend to do really well for our company. It helps to have a sense of what you want before you hire-that way you can compare results against your goals. Many companies provide these services. DiSC is popular in veterinary medicine; our company uses the Predictive Index.
Many hospitals ask about medicine, and a lot of them have doctor candidates “shadow” or do “test shifts” to assess clinical skills. This is a good start, but we've found that it can leave gaps in understanding a doctor's standard of care. We've developed case studies that all of our candidates work through as part of the hiring process. Our cases focus on common issues (otitis externa, superficial pyoderma, feline lower urinary tract disease, etc.) that not only illuminate level of care, but also provide us with a clear view of communication style.
For each case study, we ask candidates to complete missing sections of a subjective observation, objective observation, assessment and plan (SOAP) document, given the details of the case we provide. This allows us a starting point from which to jump-start our medical discussion. If there are specific cases you see often in your hospital, pull together similar case studies for your doctor candidates.
The entire hiring process is not inexpensive, and it certainly takes time, patience and organization. We recommend all the above steps because we've found that it helps highlight both character traits and clinical quality before we hire doctors. It's also good practice as a defense against nightmare situations like the one we started with-no matter how crazy and unlikely they may seem.
Dr. Andrew Heller is chief growth officer at Independent Vets (www.independentvets.us), a Philadelphia-based staffing company that provides animal hospitals with veterinarians to cover short- and long-term staffing needs.