The mark of a good practice manager? Knowing you can leave

December 5, 2018
Susie Miles

Susie Miles serves as assistant hospital administrator at Animal Hospital of Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and knew I'd have to be out of the veterinary practice soon and for an unknown period, the process of handing over my responsibilities helped me see that the best managers are the ones who make it easy to empower and trust their teams.

One of my reports told me how much she respected me for entrusting her with so many of the things I'd seen as "mine." It's what makes a great manager, she said. (sean824/stock.adobe.com)I was diagnosed with breast cancer and told I needed to undergo bilateral mastectomies as soon as possible just three days before Christmas last year. I had scarcely over a month to prepare for my surgery, and I needed to make sure my team felt confident to handle matters while I was out.

As I had already been transitioning from the position of hospital manager to that of assistant hospital administrator, the practice had two managers who'd started taking on some of my old responsibilities before I got the news. With my surgery looming, the transfer of duties took on a new sense of urgency.

I met with the managers so we could list the tasks I'd been responsible for and divvy them up between the two based on their strengths. I knew there were items that could wait until I returned, but I wanted to be sure that day-to-day needs were maintained like drugs, supplies and food. I also wanted to make certain they had access to maintenance contacts for any repairs, user login credentials for our many accounts, vendor and distributor contacts, and so forth-you know, all the stuff managers store in their brains without knowing it.

As a firm believer in documentation, I'd thankfully kept spreadsheets of such information, but it was a bit surreal pulling it all together to share. Giving away my duties felt surprisingly simple (it took me a while to realize that this meant I'd done a good job-hearing it from my boss helped too), and the process made me feel so much pride for the two managers. I let them ask as many questions as they wanted, and I walked them through the particulars of our software program, payroll and other spreadsheets so they could continue a normal workflow in my absence (for the business, at least). Their workflow, on the other hand, was getting a big change!

Other than our practice's doctor and manager team, no one else in the practice was aware of my situation. I didn't want the team thinking they couldn't “bother” me. This was my job and frankly, a major livelihood. I needed to continue my work and keep things as normal as possible. I didn't want anyone feeling sorry for me or trying to make things easy for me. I knew I would get through it and that I had some key team members on my side. I felt their support and knew they wanted nothing more than for me to get through this and be back to my usual self at work.

I was back on my computer working from the hospital ... but my team was handling every detail.

The surgery went well, and I was back on my computer working from the hospital the day I was released from ICU (just two days after surgery). But the truth is, I really didn't need to be working because my team was handling every detail and keeping me in the loop. I felt so proud of them (and a little sorry for myself!).

One of the managers had given me many positive thoughts and comments along the way. She'd complimented my ability to find the positive in every situation and told me how much she respected me for entrusting her with so many of the things I'd seen as "mine.” It's what makes a great manager, she said-knowing you can be out of the practice and the team will still get things done.

Susie Miles serves as the assistant hospital administrator at Animal Hospital of Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida. She is a top 10 finalist in the 2018 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year contest.