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Finding generational middle ground


What a brand-new, young associate might say to her Baby Boomer employer and vice-versa.

I was born in 1967. Barely. Jan. 14, to be precise. Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964.

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, Gen-X'ers were born between 1969 and 1980. Gen-Y's were born between the mid-1970s and 2000.

This has left me chronologically challenged. I have no generational identity. While it leaves me feeling a bit unwanted, this "no man's land" has given me an interesting opportunity to evaluate both sides of the generations — to look both ways and place a foot on both sides.

I have been an associate needing time off to pursue outside interests and family life.

And I have been (actually am) the primary breadwinner for my family, placing a high premium on earned income.

In my unusual intergenerational status, I would send the following letters from one generation to the other:

Dear Dr. Baby Boomer:

I am very excited to work for you. Thank you for offering me the associate position.

I realize that we have not only a 25-year age difference between us, but with veterinary schools graduating over 80 percent women these years we also diverge on gender. I'm "xx" and you are "xy." I would like to share some thoughts on the characteristics that define me and my generation to help us get started on the right foot.

I am really well trained. I have the most modern and sophisticated veterinary education ever. However, I need guidance in the clinical side of practice.

Be a mentor. Provide me with frequent feedback and let me know how I can improve as your doctor. Provide oversight and help me with my surgeries and work-ups, especially right after I start in your practice. Guide me toward accurate diagnoses and provide a safety net should I make clinical mistakes. Nurture me along and keep the lines of communication open.

Listen to suggestions and ideas from me. You may not be doing everything to maximize client care. Upgrading to digital radiography would greatly enhance our diagnostic capabilities. Investing in a dental X-ray machine would allow us greater precision in surgical extractions and manipulations of diseased teeth. In-house lab machines will provide immediate answers to urgent medical problems.

I have great computer technical skills. Please make use of them. Let's upgrade your clinic. I am happy to help with a transition to a paperless practice. Study after study has shown how much money (and trees) we would save. Web design, client e-mail alerts, on-line bill paying and Internet ordering are all things with which I am familiar. Let's showcase our modern approach to veterinary medicine to all of our clients.

As a woman, I spend a few more minutes in the exam room with clients. They appreciate this, and I can build a strong client following. I truly care about the animals and show my compassion through warmth and empathy toward my patients and their owners. Patients are no longer cows in the field. They are now pets on our beds. Clients demand empathy, and personal touches go a long way in this new era of pet ownership.

If I decide to have children, don't write me off. I want to continue working for you and for my clients. What I will need is a more flexible schedule. This does not necessarily translate into shorter hours. It means different hours. Making this adjustment should not be too complicated. We are a global economy able to stay connected through an intricate worldwide Web. Creating flexible schedules for full-time working mothers is not out of our intellectual reach. Don't pretend it is.

Believe it or not, according to the Census Bureau, full-time working women are still doing 67 percent of the housework and 80 percent of all child-care duties.

If I have a family with children, I will most likely leave your clinic without working a lot of overtime. This is not so I can attend evening parties downtown. It will be to go home and assume my second full-time job as mother, housekeeper and caregiver. All of this unpaid work takes up the rest of my waking hours.

Thank you again for allowing me to work for you. I love this profession. I am enthusiastic, well-educated and can't wait to be the best associate I possibly can be for you.



Dear Gen-X/Gen-Y Associate:

Welcome aboard! I am thrilled to have you as part of our team.

As you may know, I have been a veterinarian for 32 years, the last 28 of them as an owner. The practice you see does not in the least resemble the small two-room house in which I started. The mixed-animal practice I purchased from a retiring doctor has been built, through hard work and healthy fiscal decisions, into the robust small-animal business you see today.

I say "business" because that is what our small-animal hospital is. We are a business. We sell a product (pet health care), and we use the profit from those sales to continue to build up the clinic, pay its employees and invest in new equipment.

From what I understand, veterinary schools are teaching students very little about the business side of veterinary medicine. It appears that for four years you were afforded the most extensive diagnostic equipment to make the most sophisticated diagnoses on pets whose owners have unlimited income. That would be a wonderful world. Unfortunately, as of today, it collides with the reality of running a small business with limited funds.

It is vital to me that you appreciate and understand the business side of our practice. Actually, your salary depends on it. I can't pay you well if my clinic does not generate a healthy income.

It is my goal to offer the most compassionate care for pets and owners. But please remember that a pet, by definition, is a luxury. We are in the business of the care and maintenance of these luxury items.

I am not an adoption agency. I am not a shelter. Nor do I provide social services. In addition, I am not a lending agency. Please do not use my business as such. Everyone has a tale of need or woe. Many people cannot afford pets yet take them on anyway. That is not your problem. Do not try to fix their life problems by using the services of my clinic.

If we operate with a business-minded approach, we will be rewarded financially. I believe your class has an average of $120,000 of student debt. You may be able to pay off those student loans in less than 30 years if you appreciate and use basic business tenets. In addition, a financially stable practice will enable us to invest in the most up-to-date equipment, allowing us to provide even greater service to our paying clients.

Never forget that outstanding customer service in the form of clear communication is one of the hallmarks of a successful veterinary practice. Use basic language that clients understand. Make eye contact with them when you enter the exam room. Talk to them with a warm smile on your face. Empathize with their concerns. Validate their feelings. Mirror what they are explaining to you.

Clients don't want to know how much you know about their pet; they want to know how much you care.

But, all of that does not translate into spending more than your allocated time in the exam room. If you find yourself behind schedule with certain clients at the expense of others, figure out graceful exits. Staying on time with an appointment schedule is important. Time is money.

Having said this, the other part of a successful career depends on your ability to charge for your services. All of them. Offer the highest level of care and never make a judgment on a client's ability to pay based on appearance, looks, speech or projecting your personal ability to pay for services offered.

Delegate all of the technical tasks. You did not go to school to become a highly paid technician. You are a doctor. Your duties are limited to making a diagnosis, prescribing treatment and performing surgery.

This is a wonderful career, and I want all of us to prosper, both emotionally and financially. You are the next generation, and I want you to be as successful and financially independent as I am. With hard work aimed at the bottom line, we can achieve that goal.

Again, welcome aboard!



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