Don't needle the new doctor


Feeling prickly about the new associate? You play a part in her success, so try to make her feel welcome.

You might have mixed feelings when the practice owner hires a new doctor. Yes, this new person may change your nice, comfortable world. And that could be a great thing. Remember, your owner has the practice's best interests at heart. So she'll really try to hire the best person for the position.

Now it's time to start thinking about how you'll welcome a new doctor. The only question is how to make the new situation work for everyone. What are you going to do to support the success of this new doctor?

Open up to change

First of all, look for the new associate's strengths. When you uncover her talents and give her the spotlight, others can see her contributions. For example, perhaps she's an excellent listener, so clients quickly feel comfortable with her and confide more details about the pet's condition or circumstances. Or maybe she has a knack for analyzing systems to see how you could work more efficiently. There will be something great if you look for it.

Ideally, new doctors and team members will spend the first 90 days on the job observing, learning practice systems, and fitting into the established groove. With that base, they're particularly well positioned to suggest changes.

Of course, it's hard to stay quiet for long if you really think you see a better way. And the new doctor is probably anxious to contribute to your team. So when she makes suggestions, listen and stay open-minded. This new team member comes with a valuable outside perspective. You may find some of the ideas make sense if you give them a chance.

For example, the new associate may notice the cracked sidewalk or the dead plants outside the building. Or maybe she sees that the practice's cat, Mitzi, often stirs waiting dogs into a frenzy. In her first 90 days at the practice, she's looking at the place with a fresh eye. After she's been around for a while, she'll step over the cracks and see past the badgering cat. So take advantage of her insights while she still has an outsider's perspective.

You may have a vision of the perfect veterinarian based on your experience—perhaps a kindly James Herriot type. But you just can't judge your new associate because she's different. Every person's different.

The new associate needs to mesh philosophically with the other doctors in the practice, but you can't expect her to work in exactly the same way. While it can be a challenge, it's normal that you'll need to adjust your approach to accommodate different behavior styles.

Teach them the ropes

No matter how long you've been with the practice, you've been there longer than a new doctor. So welcome her by helping her learn your systems, fit in, and feel comfortable.

If you're welcoming an experienced doctor, you'll help most by demonstrating your systems and communicating your team's philosophy. It helps to form your statements as questions. For example, you might say, "Can I show you the way we've done it?" If you're open to change, you might even say, "I've never seen it done that way. Can you show me?" or "Do you see ways we can do it better?"

If your new doctor is a recent graduate, she's also spending a lot of energy honing her medical and communication skills. So do what you can to help. If you think she might be in a bind and you saw something similar a week ago, you might offer a subtle suggestion. For example, if Dr. Smith had a rough experience with a cranky client, you might say, "When I'm dealing with a client who's really upset, I just try hard to listen. Often, clients will tell me how I can help."

Remember, you want to support the doctor and inspire clients' confidence. So try to offer your respect and support.

As you teach during this orientation period, you'll be learning, too. This is when you'll find out what's important to this doctor, how she likes to work, and how you can best work with her.

Help them see their role

Associates can easily find themselves in an uncomfortable situation, wedged in between team members and practice owners. This is particularly true when they're close in age to—or even younger than—the receptionists, technicians, and assistants in the practice.

Help out the new doctor by holding back. She can't be your confidante about every little gripe you have at work. She's probably still feeling her way, not sure whether she's management or staff, and dumping on her could put her in a difficult position later.

You'll also show your support by calling the associate "doctor." This may seem overly formal, but it's really not. It sets a professional tone and serves as a reminder to clients and team members that this person may seem young, but she is the doctor. Recognize her professional training, speak to and about her with respect, and clients will follow your lead.

Working with different behavior styles

Some things to avoid

Take a moment and remember how hard it is to walk into a new practice that first day on the job. The new associate probably feels a bit like the outsider. And if you send out mixed or negative vibes, the new doctor may even catch on to your feelings. That makes a pretty rocky foundation for a professional relationship that may last for many years. Here are some things you just shouldn't do:

  • Roll your eyes. There's just no excuse. Even if you think the doctor might not be a good fit for your practice, you must present her to clients professionally to maintain their trust in your care and your team.

  • Complain about your co-workers. The new doctor needs to form her own relationships with your team members, so don't color her judgement or put her in the middle of conflicts.

  • Complain about the new doctor. You don't need to like her, but if you criticize her to team members or clients, you're sabotaging the business and spreading bad feelings.

  • Tell the new doctor how to practice medicine. This often happens between an experienced technician and a new veterinarian. Respect the fact the veterinarian went to school to learn how to diagnose, prescribe, and perform surgery. It's your job to guide and support her, but not to tell her how to practice medicine.

Support the doctor's success

Are you supporting the new doctor and doing your part as a team player? Rate yourself by clients' reactions. Remember, you're selling clients on this new team member.

Receptionists, you have a particularly critical role here. Don't point out that the doctor's new if the client's a first-time visitor. And meeting new puppies and kittens, in particular, helps your new doctor develop a special relationship with a portion of your clientele. On the other hand, you don't want the new doctor to see all of the new puppies and kittens. These appointments usually generate less immediate revenue for the time investment, so strive for a good mix so the doctors have an equal chance to produce for the practice.

Steer returning clients her way, too. For example, you might say something like, "This seems like a good time to schedule an appointment with Dr. Jones. That way, if you need to come in when she's the only doctor here, you'll be familiar with her."

Every time a team member leaves and you hire someone new, the dynamic of your team changes. It's your job to do all you can to make the new team work as effectively as possible. It's true that a new person changes the team. But a new person also helps you remember what you like about your team and gives you a chance to share what's great about your practice.

Debbie Allaben Gair

Debbie Allaben Gair, CVPM, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a management coach, recruiter, and educator. She works with veterinary practices that want to help people work together more effectively. Please send questions or comments to

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