The evolution of competition

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Our inherent sense of rivalry can be a force for self-improvement rather than a way to crush the doc down the street.

One of my earliest recollections of veterinary school was a first-year course called “Propaedeutic Medicine,” a term I had not heard before and have not heard since. But I keep looking for a way to work it into casual conversation. “Propaedeutic” refers to the “knowledge necessary for learning and further study and development.” In other words, it's what you don't know about what you don't know!

The class's instructor was Dr. Robert Taussig, who had more influence on my career than I ever realized. Dr. Taussig passed away in 2012, and this is my way of saying thank you for the lessons he taught me.

Colleagues, not competitors

Perhaps the most formative thing I remember was Dr. Taussig telling us was that there was no room for internal competition in our profession. We were colleagues, and as colleagues we needed to support one another.

But is competition wrong?

Competition is not inherently bad. In fact, it's a great way to stay at the top of your game. But competition should focus on mutual inspiration, not intimidation. It's far better to be inspired by others than intimidated by them-or to seek to intimidate them.

Our profession is like an organism. When one part of the organism struggles, the entire profession struggles. When one practice prospers, we all prosper. Or, at the very least, we have a chance at prosperity.

Competition has changed

It used to be that veterinarians competed for patients and the financial rewards that followed. But that has changed, and that's a good thing. Today, as the non-practice-owner trend increases, veterinarians are less likely to go head to head for an individual client. Motivations have changed. Younger veterinarians are more concerned with quality of life issues than their predecessors were.

But there is still a competitive instinct in us. Whether that competitive drive is good or bad depends a lot on how-and with whom-we are competing.

We didn't get into veterinary school on our good looks and charm. (At least I didn't!) We studied, worked hard and outperformed others. So our sense of competition is somewhat inherent.

It's sad that in these economic times collegiality has become less relevant. The care we provide our patients is amazing, but sophistication requires financial success. There seems to be an unending supply of veterinary providers, but at the same time we're seeing a declining utilization of veterinary services. That coupled with the availability of alternative sources of products, drugs and even services means we have to be-well-competitive!

So how can we be competitive without outright competing? By providing great care? I've never met a veterinarian who didn't believe they provided “quality care.” A beautiful facility? As the old saying goes, “Beauty is only skin deep.”

We compete to improve and differentiate ourselves by being concerned, committed and compassionate. Not just where the pet is concerned; that's merely the starting point I trust we're all at. I believe we need to focus on the fourth “c”: client.

Client experience is key

The four key components of the client experience are as follows:

> Information. This includes information you give directly to clients in your clinic and details you offer via published materials.

> Personal attention. Clients don't just need information, they need it tailored to their pet and their current situation. It must be accurate and available when and where clients need it. 

> Follow-up services. This includes contact with doctors and staff from appointment to checkout and follow-up communication.

> Convenience. This includes hours of availability and convenient ways to pay, but also things like access to convenient transportation and parking.

Bottom line? Focus competition inward, not outward. Rather than pursue being better than others, focus on becoming better at who you are and how you do what you do. Learn from those around you or team up with someone with a different skill set. You'll both be built up-professionally and personally-as a result.

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