How do you contribute to your clinic’s culture?


Keynote speaker for the Fetch conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, explained how to first evaluate yourself and then apply that awareness to your workplace culture

Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, chief cultural officer of Veterinary Growth Partners, on stage at the Fetch Charlotte conference.

Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, chief cultural officer of Veterinary Growth Partners, on stage at the Fetch Charlotte conference.

“The grass is always greener on the other side” is a thought process that can often cause people to move on to something that seems better, but in reality, moving doesn’t always solve the problems you had to begin with. If you are unhappy in your veterinary practice because the workplace culture is not healthy, sometimes moving to a new practice can seem like a good option. And sometimes it is. However, Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, chief cultural officer of Veterinary Growth Partners, would argue that, most of the time, if you leave a practice because of its cultural, there is still going to be a problem at the next clinic.

McVey told attendees at the Fetch conference in Charlotte, North Carolina during his keynote presentation1 that, “for the vast majority of you to work on the business need, you have to work on yourself. And my experience in veterinary medicine has taught me that many of you do not like working on yourself. In fact, many of you will go to the ends of the earth to avoid working on your stuff, including changing practices, changing partners, changing cities, only to find out that wherever you go, there you are. And you still have to deal with you.”

McVey explained that working on yourself first is crucial to bringing your best self to work. An entire workplace culture can suffer if each individual team member is not showing up to work with a positive attitude and energy. “There's this key element in any practice that actually makes it valuable, and that key element is culture,” he added.

According to McVey, there are 6 elements that contribute to a clinic’s culture and how each member of the team carries these elements:

  1. Energy
  2. Attributes
  3. Trauma
  4. Experiences
  5. Talents
  6. Beliefs

“Culture is the collective opinions, beliefs, and attitudes of the people that make up any organization,” McVey said. However, he also reminded attendees that the culture is active when people act on these opinions, beliefs, and attitudes. A practice culture comes from how people act each and every day at work. It sometimes doesn’t matter what values the practice may have, it’s more about the actions of the team, rather than the words. However, if a practice wants to live up to their values, then their actions need to reflect that. “We don't talk about it because when we start to talk about culture, we have to start talking about people's behavior,” McVey continued.

McVey cautioned clinics to avoid referring to their culture as a family. “A lot of people say that we have a family environment in our hospital, and it makes me want to throw up in my mouth when I hear family,” he said jokingly. “In family, you make a conscious decision to put up with people for 30, 40, 50, 60 years. And you come up with coping strategies to work around them for 50 or 60 years, including only seeing them a couple times a year. We can't operate like that at with people at work, there can't be untouchable subjects at work.” A veterinary team is people you work with everyday and it would make daily work difficult to complete if you had to tip-toe around certain people all the time.

Fixing your culture

According to McVey, stress is the single biggest response for a negative work culture. Inconsistency in a work environment and especially from leaders can create uncertainty and stress. “Stress comes from not knowing when the other shoe is going to drop. I don't know what the rules are. The rules change every single day,” McVey explained.

So, how do you make a good culture? McVey believes that the following elements can help improve your culture:

  1. Having a purpose.
  2. Opportunity for growth.
  3. Successful business.
  4. Appreciation for hard work.
  5. Focusing on well-being and work-life balance.
  6. Strong leadership that embodies the good culture of the clinic.

McVey shared a 1400-response survey that showed veterinary practices received the following scores for workplace culture:

  • Overall culture score: 69/100
  • Appreciation rate: 64/100
  • Connected to mission: 77/100
  • Work-life balance: 68/100

McVey emphasized that most of these scores would be a failing grade in a regular academic setting. If veterinary students are held to a higher standard for passing classes, then veterinary practices should be, too. All of these areas of a veterinary business can be improved. And if the leadership in a veterinary practice starts to take this seriously, the employees will have more respect and loyalty for the place they work.

McVey left attendees with one more note: “Finally, you have to respect the culture.” He explained that once you improve the culture, everyone in the practice needs to respect it by upholding the values that were collectively decided on.


McVey S. Culture karma: What are you creating in your practice? Presented at: Fetch dvm360 conference; Charlotte, North Carolina. March 15-17, 2024.

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