Knock your clients' socks off with compassionate care: part 2 (Proceedings)


Creating a compassionate care clinic culture means paying attention to the team dynamics. It means accepting responsibility to be as effective a team member as possible. Here are some ideas for making a difference on your practice team.

Creating a compassionate care clinic culture means paying attention to the team dynamics. It means accepting responsibility to be as effective a team member as possible. Here are some ideas for making a difference on your practice team.

Ways to be a More Effective Team Member:

1. Become a veterinary nutritional consultant.

When wellness and preventive medicine become the goal of the practice, you can add value by being able to converse knowledgeably with your clients about the nutrition. Good nutrition is the cornerstone for wellness with patients, and the most effective nutritional education program currently available is the Veterinary Nutritional Advocate (VNA) program from Hill's Pet Nutrition. It is complimentary and laid out online as a self-taught course in nutrition with testing provided along the way. Completing it will provide you with the knowledge and confidence you need to discuss nutrition with any client.

2. Develop a puppy/kitty kindergarten curriculum.

If your clinic has a space large enough to conduct a puppy kindergarten class, you can develop the topics for classes to be offered in the clinic. If the clinic is not large enough, find a place near the clinic to hold these classes. Talk with a trainer or with a behaviorist to get ideas for what to offer and in what sequence. There are a lot of good books out there on puppies and kittens. Offering this training can help you form close bonds with your clients while allowing you to have the fun of being with the puppies or the kittens. Get them off to the right start to help eliminate behavior problems later.

3. Create and publish a clinic newsletter.

Computers and printers make desktop publishing a cinch. Get the staff to feed you topics or to help research topics. Try it out on the staff first as a staff newsletter. Then gear one toward clients. When you are happy with the first issue, begin a second issue. Make it quarterly, monthly, or every other month. Place copies at the front desk. Place some copies at your local library.

4. Learn American Sign Language or a foreign language.

Are some of your clients deaf? Are some of their children deaf? What a joy it would be for them to have someone at the clinic sign for them—particularly at stressful times. Is English a second language for many of your clients? Learning their first language would show respect for them. Night school courses in ASL and foreign languages are offered regularly in many communities as well as online. These will broaden your cultural horizons and can be used in many facets of your life.

5. Develop wellness protocols.

Each veterinary team has specific recommendations they make regarding wellness health care, from flea management to inoculations, from heartworm prevention to when and why an ovariohysterectomy should be performed. Most clinics, however, do not have these procedures in writing. Work with the doctors and technicians to develop protocols for these wellness topics. Select topics that clients bring up most frequently on the telephone and in person. Develop these in formats that could be used as a script if you were discussing this topic with a client. You might want to provide these as client education handouts to your clients. Have the staff brainstorm to decide which topics might be covered. Your clinic's sales representatives can provide you with a wealth of brochures and booklets to give you the factual material you need. Your veterinarians can proofread each of the pieces for accuracy and appropriateness for your clinic. Get your creative juices flowing and have fun with this. Written pieces like these can save all the staff time and the handouts can reinforce what everyone says to the clients. They, in turn, can share this information with the others in their family.

6. Organize an open house.

How long has it been since your practice has had an open house? There doesn't need to be a specific occasion. Talk with some adults and children who are not directly involved with the practice and ask them what they would like to see most and to learn most about a veterinary clinic. Use those ideas in setting up the clinic for the open house. Have interesting x-rays on the viewers. Have stuffed animals set up for mock surgeries or x-raying. Collect educational handouts for your guests. Plan the refreshments. Organize some games or entertainment. Help the staff put together some educational displays. Plan for promotion of this open house. Enjoy!

7. Be a good will ambassador.

Lead tours of the clinic. There are groups of all ages that would love to see a veterinary hospital in action. Bring them in. Be that tour guide you've always wanted to be. Let them experience some "behind the scenes" activities. Explain why things are done the way they are. Listen to their questions and comments. Then take your show on the road and give talks to local clubs and school classes. Veterinary health care teams have a story to tell and people are interested in hearing your story. If you enjoy writing, produce a story for a newspaper or magazine

8. Become the resident expert on animal behavior.

Behavior problems are a major cause for euthanasia in pets. Families need help in coping with and eliminating behavior problems in their pets so that euthanasia is not considered as the solution to the problem. You can save as many lives through proper behavioral counseling as the doctor does in surgery. Every major veterinary conference has a number of sessions on behavior. Attend them. There are also many excellent workshops on behavior offered for veterinary staff. Attend all you can. Talk with your veterinarian to find out who the real experts are in animal behavior and get your hands on all the articles, books, and tapes that they've produced and become familiar with all of them. Pick a topic in behavior that really appeals to you and do all the research you can on it. Prepare a talk on this topic for the rest of the staff. Prepare a handout on the topic. Do the same for another topic. Keep expanding until you are comfortable with a variety of behavioral problems. Have the staff put you in touch with clients who are dealing with some specific problems and help them solve their problems.

9. Head up efforts for the clinic to become accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association.

Send for a copy of the most recent standards for hospitals accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association. Read through it and check all the standards you know your hospital meets. Mark any standards you don't feel your hospital meets. Put question marks by any standards you are not sure about. Set a conference with the hospital director and share your findings. Express your desire to lead the way for the hospital to become accredited. Work together with the hospital director and other staff to set a timetable and projects that will help the practice come into compliance with the standards. There are many management books that will provide the necessary resources to help you meet the standards. Visit accredited hospitals and talk with their staff. Talk with the staff at the American Animal Hospital Association.

10. Create handouts on pet husbandry.

All veterinary practices have seen cases of animals suffering because their owners never received the proper information on how to care for that pet. This is particularly true for the pocket pets and exotics. What a change you could make in the lives of many animals by having the proper client education materials available for those clients. If the client had the educational material available before adopting or purchasing the pet, you could have an even greater impact on the lives of animals. Select an animal, such as a hedgehog, and get all the information you can find about it. Use your clinic library, the public library, college library, and the Internet to gather information. Then condense all the basics of husbandry into a concise handout. Have a veterinarian check it for accuracy. Produce it for your clients. Make it readily available. Then select another animal and repeat the process.

11. Start a pet adoption program.

Talk with the health care team to decide how many, if any of the adoptees could be housed at the clinic until adoption. Meet with the director of local humane societies, rescue agencies, and animal control regarding how the clinic can help adopt out pets. Develop guidelines and procedures for adoption and have them approved by the staff. When you are ready to roll, advertise your adoption program to your target audience.

12. Take over the inventory management of the clinic.

Do you enjoy working with numbers? Can you walk into a room and see how you'd like to see it organized? Then inventory management will be a fun challenge for you. Tell the hospital director that you would really enjoy handling the inventory and entering items into the computer. Once you are familiar with just what is in stock, you might offer suggestions on how to make their organization more efficient. Once things are well organized, you could work with the person who does the ordering and learn the system for ordering. Sit in on meetings with the sales representatives. Ask for permission to take over certain aspects of the ordering. As your knowledge and skills increase, so will your responsibilities.

13. Offer first aid training.

Every clinic can use one person who is willing to be in charge of first aid for the people in the clinic. First aid courses and certification are offered through the American Red Cross. These courses are normally offered a number of times each year. Extend this training to first aid for pets. If a training session of this is offered, take it. Read and study Pet First Aid: cats and dogs by Bobbie Mammato, DVM. Develop a training session for pet first aid and offer it to your clients.

14. Become your clinic's Facebook page guru.

Social media is an essential component of effective communication with clients. Are you a computer whiz? Do you like to be creative? Keep your clients appraised of your clinic activities and community involvement using a tool that is becoming more and more important.

15. Teach dental hygiene of pets to your clients.

Many pet owners do not know that their pets' teeth should be brushed. Even if they realize that brushing should be done, they often don't know how to go about it. There are excellent books and videos available on dental hygiene for pets as well as continuing education classes. Organize dental health clinics where the staff will do complimentary dental examinations. You can demonstrate how to brush teeth to small groups on these days. If the artist within is trying to escape, design some graphics to illustrate good dental hygiene.

16. Organize and expand the clinic library.

Every veterinary practice has some books around. They are often found throughout the clinic instead of in one particular spot. If they are in one place, they are much more accessible. You may want to create two libraries, one for staff and one for your clients. Decide on a checkout system. Consider dedicating each book to the memory of one of your former patients.

17. Prepare handouts on zoonotic/preventable disease education.

Gather information about zoonotic diseases. There are a number of books and articles about this. Several great resources are Safe Pet Guidelines from Pets Are Wonderful Support ( and HIV/AIDS & Pet Ownership from Dr. Caroline Schaffer, Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine. (These pamphlets are available for purchase.) If you choose not to use this type of pamphlet, you can develop your own and tailor them to your particular clientele. Your clients will stay healthier through your efforts.

18. Make photograph albums of the clinic's extended family.

Clients enjoy looking at albums filled with photographs of your clinic's extended family. Encourage your clients to bring you photos of their pets. You make the arrangements in the album. Use your calligraphy skills and/or artistic skills to help decorate the album. Take a class in calligraphy or art. You'll find plenty of ways to use these skills around the clinic. In addition to the album of your present "family", you might want to create a memorial album with pictures of those former "family" members who have died.

19. Create seasonal displays or displays to highlight the month's focus.

You can change the appearance of rooms in the clinic by redecorating a bulletin board, building a floor display, painting a mural, decorating a counter, or painting a window. This is an easy way to highlight a particular theme such as dentistry or weight loss programs. You may want these decorations to highlight a particular season or holiday. Use animals and services your practice provides as the focus for these creative ventures. Your clients will soon be looking for the changes you've made since their last visit. You will have the fun and challenge of tapping into your own creativity. You are limited only by your imagination!

If you don't take care of the client, someone else will. To provide top notch service, it is essential for you to know:

What your clients want

What your clients need

What your clients think

What your clients feel

Whether your clients are satisfied

Whether your clients will return.

As an exceptional team member, you have the ability to fill the following needs of the client:

The need to feel welcome and to receive help

The need for timely service

The need to be understood

The need for respect

The need for quality, reliable products and service

The need to feel comfortable

The need to feel important

The need to be recognized or remembered

The need to be appreciated.

In order to be an effective and successful team member in a progressive, bond-centered practice, you must first take a personal inventory:

Gain an understanding of what traits, characteristics, and skills produce an exceptional receptionist, veterinary nurse, veterinary assistant, etc.

Look within and identify what traits or skills you already possess.

Recognize what skills need to be added, and which could use a little polish or fine-tuning.

Put into place specific strategies to begin the process of enhancing clients' experiences of the practice.

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