How to be a good boss to your veterinary associate

August 27, 2019
Shana Bohac, DVM

Dr. Shana Bohac is the owner of Navarro Small Animal Clinic in Victoria, Texas. She has a passion for surgery as well as compassionate wellness care. She has a husband, Brandon, daughter, Aiden, three crazy cats, two dogs and a handful of horses.

Practice owners, you dont need to be best friends with your veterinary associate, or share the same hobbies, or practice the exact same style of medicine. You just have to treat others as you want to be treated by being fair, honest and appreciative.

It's time to crown yourself "best helper of associate veterinarians (svetazi/stock.adobe.com)

Do you remember what it was like being a new doctor? You strived each and every day to please your boss. You never wanted to let them down or disappoint them. You were scared to ask for time off, because you were afraid they'd consider you lazy. Every time you asked for advice or input on a case, you felt ignorant. The rest of the staff was irreplaceable and much more important than you. You didn't think your time was valuable, so you worked late all the time without any extra compensation. You probably asked yourself whether you'd ever be able to pay off your student loans as one payment ate up two weeks' pay. How could you ask for a raise when your boss made you feel worthless? You wondered if it would ever get better.

I remember all too well how it felt to be an associate. I had bosses who were great to work for but practiced terrible medicine as well as doctors who practiced amazing medicine but were terrible bosses. I worked for a great mentor but was terrified to disappoint him. I was never truly happy, but I knew in my heart I wanted to be a practice owner.

I can tell you now that I am not speaking out of experience when it comes to being a good boss. I'm terrified of being a bad boss, so I haven't taken the leap of faith to hire an associate. What I can share from experience are the things that made those experiences amazing and awful all at the same time.

Associates are waiting to help

As bosses, we can get wrapped up in the management and daily grind of veterinary medicine. It's easy to focus in on your work-the challenging internal medicine case that keeps you up at night or running the numbers over and over to figure out if hiring another receptionist makes sense. Don't get so caught up that you forget that there's someone watching your every move, learning from you and looking up to you.

Remember, they're doctors too, with the same degree and education. You may be more experienced, but they have something to bring to the table as well-new knowledge, skills and outlook. They're assets to your practice and can allow you to get much needed time away. Just make sure you show them they're appreciated, respected and part of the team.

Don't be afraid to own the fact that you want more time away-it's well deserved and much needed. You put in your time, so take vacations and trips, but be upfront with your associate about your intentions. When you're there, don't act like you're the only one doing all the work. Appreciate the advantages of having an associate and let them know you're grateful for them.

Associates are learning from you

Be a good mentor. Show associates not only how to be wonderful veterinarians, but amazing communicators, skillful surgeons, wonderful leaders and amazing bosses. Lead by example. Give credit when credit is due, be a part of the team and manage your emotions. Don't just be a preacher-they don't want to hear 100 times how you walked dogs over the holidays when you first opened your practice. They know you put in your time and worked hard to get to where you're at.

Did I say manage your emotions? I'll say it again-just because you're having a bad day doesn't mean you can take it out on everybody else. If you get snappy, apologize. A little apology can go a long way.

Associates hear your badmouthing

Don't be overly negative about previous associates-that only makes you look bad and like a weak leader. You come off as impossible to please. This makes for a negative, gossipy environment, and that's not at all the atmosphere you want in your clinic.

This may seem like common sense, but avoid talking negatively about your associate to clients. Your associate is a reflection of you and your clinic, so bashing your associate ultimately discredits your entire team. On that same note, don't insult your associate in front of staff members. This will only create tension amongst the team and friction between you and your associate.

Associates hear your kind, honest words

Praise your associate for what they bring to the table, instead of focusing on what they don't. Find each other's strengths and work together to tackle the weaknesses. You can work around each other's assets and shortcomings. If one person loves surgery and the other couldn't care less, then by all means, schedule around that. It'll keep both of you happy, and isn't that what you truly want?

Associates want to care about your practice

Help your associate feel invested in the future of your clinic. You can do this by offering generous pay, compensation time for extra hours worked and/or production bonuses. Help young doctors feel involved in decisions about the clinic and the future of the practice.

Do what you say you're going to do. Don't make false promises. That only makes them bitter and resentful. They're one of the faces of your clinic, just as you are. You want them to be happy so they portray and share that happiness with others.

Yes, being a boss to associates is challenging, but you know it can be rewarding. Do your best job to mentor others and they'll support you in your quest to maintain flexibility in your schedule, work toward financial freedom-all the while doing what you love, practicing veterinary medicine.

Dr. Shana Bohac is the owner of Navarro Small Animal Clinic in Victoria, Texas. She has a passion for surgery as well as compassionate wellness care. She has a husband, Brandon, daughter, Aiden, three crazy cats, two dogs and a handful of horses.