Fear Free: More Rewards Than I Imagined

June 24, 2017
Julie Reck, DVM

Julie Reck, DVM, owns Veterinary Medical Center of Fort Mill in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

Veterinarians Money Digest, June 2017, Volume 1, Issue 2

A practice owner calculates the return on her investment in Fear Free certification.

It’s the beginning of the month, and I am opening several days’ worth of mail for my veterinary practice. It’s a sizable stack of envelopes that represent a large variety of bills that need payment. As I open each envelope, I close my eyes tightly, take a deep breath, and brace myself for the number that appears before me. Sometimes I am relieved by a lower-than-expected number, but more often it feels like a gut punch that leaves a lasting nauseating feeling.

Operating a veterinary practice is expensive and comes with the added pressure of trying to keep costs attainable for pet parents. As a practice owner, I am all too familiar with the financial pressures and responsibilities that come along with this role. Last fall, I saw Fear Free mentioned in several publications, and I was intrigued by the potential for pets to experience a veterinary visit without physiologically damaging levels of fear, anxiety and stress. I purchased a package for Fear Free certification for up to 20 staff members. As I pressed the “complete purchase” button, I found myself asking, “Can my practice really afford to invest in so many staff members becoming Fear Free certified?”

Our staff had four months to complete their certification. Embracing Fear Free requires change, and organizational change in veterinary practices can often be overwhelming and aggravating for staff members. I was prepared to experience some resistance to this new method of patient handling, and I expected that a few team members would be reluctant to complete their certification by the deadline. Imagine my surprise when I found a Fear Free completion certificate along with a thank you card on my desk three weeks after enrolling my staff in the program. The card expressed genuine appreciation for the investment in her development and explained how much she enjoyed the modules.

I was so proud of our first Fear Free certified professional that I mounted her certificate on our treatment wall. Each week I received more and more certificates on my desk. It was so refreshing to overhear conversations about positive reinforcement, information learned in the modules, and stories about Fear Free victories already occurring in our practice. My Facebook feed was full of staff members posting about “loving their job” and sharing pictures and videos about their success with Fear Free. I received the final Fear Free completion certificate on my desk 6 weeks before the deadline, without any oversight or badgering needed from me or the practice managers. Fear Free has fueled our staff with purpose, reignited their passion for veterinary medicine, and left a resounding overall positive impact on our practice’s culture.

I recently attended a leadership development program with some of the country’s most progressive veterinary practice owners. During the first day of our program we spent several hours discussing the financial costs of a negative culture, disengaged staff and high turnover. These problems increase costs and decrease potential revenue generation. All the practice owners in attendance had the opportunity to calculate the potential costs per day for their practice and share their reasoning with the group. Nearly every owner in the room calculated the potential costs and revenue loss to be several thousand dollars per day! This was a sobering realization, and we continued to discuss the topic throughout the week.

In a few months, it will be time to renew Fear Free certification for my large staff. My initial decision to invest in Fear Free for my staff stemmed from a desire to deliver better veterinary care for our patients, but my decision to invest in Fear Free renewal will be motivated also by the immense benefits the program offers our staff and organizational culture. When I click that “complete purchase” button this fall, I will be asking an entirely different question: “Can my practice afford not to invest in Fear Free renewal?”

Dr. Julie Reck is a 2007 graduate of Virginia—Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Her 2010 book, “Facing Farewell,” which guides pet parents through end-of-life decision making, was awarded the Maxwell Medallion of Excellence for the best book in animal health care. In 2011, Dr. Reck opened the Veterinary Medical Center of Fort Mill in Fort Mill, South Carolina, which is now a multi-doctor AAHA-accredited practice with a Fear Free certified staff.

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