A happy team makes the dream: How to deal with staff nightmares

dvm360dvm360 May 2019
Volume 50
Issue 5

One veterinary surgeons yells. The other plays music. Team members dislike both. Heres some advice on how to clear the air and create compromises.

Oh, the veterinary surgeon likes to play music while she works? Alexa, play "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister. (filomedia / stock.adobe.com)

Health Way Veterinary Clinic has five veterinarians, 13 technicians and all the challenges that come with being a successful suburban practice. Like in many midsized veterinary practices, staff issues​ are the most taxing aspect of practice management.

Of the five staff veterinarians, two perform most of the surgical procedures. They aren't board surgeons but have a strong interest in and preference for surgery. Since these two vets spend so much time in the surgery suite, they try to make their surroundings as comfortable as possible-after all, a happy surgeon is an efficient surgeon. Five trained technicians are assigned specifically to assist in surgery. As opposed to other clinic functions, the surgical team spends long hours in close proximity literally working hand in glove. No problem!

Except that one of the surgeons is extremely intense while performing procedures.

Every minor misstep is met with harsh criticism toward the team member. In addition, when this surgeon encounters frustrating surgical issues, cursing and expletives ricochet around the room. Some team members view this behavior as part of the surgeon's “process.” After all, the cursing and venting ultimately assist him in achieving the quality results that he demands. However, other members of the team see his behavior as rude and childish, even bordering on creating a hostile work environment.

Clinic management has dealt with this issue by rearranging the surgeon's staff support. Team members who don't mind the aggressive methods are assigned to his surgeries, while the others are placed with surgeon number two.

The other surgeon takes on the operating room with an entirely different approach. Rather than the jarring sound of expletives, she prefers to hear music in the surgery suite. This preference is also frowned upon by team members who don't care to listen to music while working. Surgeon number two accommodates them by wearing earbuds so as not to offend anyone. This has solved one problem but created another, as it has become difficult for staff to get her attention when patient parameters suddenly change.

Both of these situations are brought up in a team meeting. The surgical technicians point out that surgical procedures are more of a team effort than any of the other clinical disciplines in the hospital. They also note that in order for the team to succeed, they must cooperate. Team members state that vulgarity and inappropriate music don't contribute to a positive work environment.

The two surgeons respond by stating that they never intended to make any team members uncomfortable. None of their actions are meant to be personal affronts to their coworkers. They claim that these “outlets” contributed to their surgical success.

The meeting clears the air and a compromise is reached. The vulgar surgeon will try to rein in his outbursts while continuing to work with a hand-picked team that doesn't find his verbiage distracting. The music-loving surgeon maintains her need for music while doing surgery, but agrees to get approval of her music selections with the team that was assisting her.

As with all compromises, not everyone is completely happy. One thing the group does agree on is that the patients are lucky to sleep through the procedures.

Are you happy with these resolutions? We'd like to know.

Dr. Rosenberg's response

Whenever the question of team demeanor arises, I always have the same recommendation: When in doubt, put on your professional hat. We spend many hours every week in the workplace. Mistakes are made and lapses in judgment occur. Professional demeanor doesn't condone vulgar language and emotional expletives in a clinic. Professional behavior doesn't condone one coworker's desire for self-comfort at the expense of others.

In a nutshell, these surgery vets are being indulged because they bring a unique skill to the hospital. Instead of a compromise that allows them to maintain their unprofessional behavior, management should provide assistance to help them correct their shortcomings. Both of them should put on their professional hats. This will ultimately make them better surgeons, better team members and better people.

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, N.J. Although many of his scenarios in “The Dilemma” are based on real-life events, the practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.

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