Mastering the true essence of practice satisfaction and success (Proceedings)


When it comes to achieving financial success as practicing veterinarians, we are definitely our own worst enemies.

When it comes to achieving financial success as practicing veterinarians, we are definitely our own worst enemies. I can't believe that according to national averages, a pharmacist and an optometrist earn more than a veterinarian! That is really sad! Why? Because most of us are afraid to charge what we are truly worth. Afraid that a client will balk or reject our recommendation and treatment plan if we charge what we feel we deserve. We seem to lack the confidence to look a client in the eye and comfortably let him or her know what our diagnostics and treatment plan will cost. We need to start feeling proud about what we do, what we know, how hard we work, how nice our facilities are, and we need to start charging accordingly for our time and services.

I've always been a strong proponent of the notion that financial success often follows personal success. You've got to believe in yourselves. When you are really happy at what you do, you begin to exude a certain air of confidence that is contagious to all around you. You become a more competent salesperson, selling yourself, your hospital, and your diagnostic and treatment plans. Don't kid yourselves into thinking that we don't have to sell ourselves all day long! I know I'm a good salesman, but the truth is, by being good at selling what I do, I'm given the opportunity to do what I love to do. One of my younger associates would always complain that I always got the good cases. He would go into a room and never be able to convince the pet's parents to allow him to run the appropriate diagnostics. I remember one day that I was about to go into an exam room to see a patient and he said to me "good luck—they're not going to spend anything on that dog." So I proceeded into the room and, I guess, performed my magic. Ten minutes later the dog and I came out of the exam room, marched into the main treatment room, and I proceeded to do a complete physical exam, including blood and urine analyses, radiographs, ECG, tonometry—the works. Am I a better doctor than my associate? No, but I'm obviously a better salesperson, or I exude more confidence, or the clients simply believed that my motivation was strictly to provide better health care for their four-legged child. No wonder why I have so much fun practicing—I get to practice good medicine, I have great clients and patients, I am continuously faced with new case challenges, and because of all this, I make a very nice living. Most importantly, I delegate all the parts of practice that I don't like.

Speaking of delegating, many of us fail to appropriately utilize one of the best assets we have—our technicians! Most of our technicians should be fairly proficient at drawing blood samples, running fecal exams, inserting catheters, administering medications, doing basic examinations, performing dental prophys, preparing medications and discharge instructions, monitoring patients during anesthesia, etc. and hopefully are being compensated well according to their experience and skills. But, how many of them are really worth their salaries by helping us increase our profits, and actually adding to our job satisfaction? How many technicians not only perform the duties expected of them, but actually generate business and income for your practices by identifying and implementing new profit centers? In today's competitive marketplace doctors need to call upon everyone in the practice to generate revenues in ways appropriate for their job responsibilities, and technicians have many golden opportunities everyday to do just that.

The examination room is an ideal place to spend this "quality time." From a products/services perspective, the technician should be promoting heartworm tests and prevention, dental prophys and all ancillary home care dental products, good grooming (and all the products that go with this), flea and tick control (and the TONS of products which go with this), nutritional services and counseling, training sessions/classes, annual or even semi-annual fecal examinations, and, of course, vaccinations. I can't begin to tell you how nice it is for me to walk into an examination room, and, because of the excellent work that my technician had done before me, be able to market our products or services so easily. I truly believe that if the groundwork is solidly laid by our technicians, than our jobs are much easier.

I know that many practice managers hate this—but it works for me. I LOVE going out into the reception area, the more crowded the better! The "expert's" objections have a lot to do with the potential disruption up in front, adding to delays as clients see you and want to grab your attention. This often leads to conflicts and the doctor inadvertently giving information contrary to what one of your receptionists may have just given. I do appreciate all these objections, but I still love to do it. Since, for me, the client and patient bond is what I find to be the most enjoyable part of practice, it's an amazing feeling to walk out there and be bombarded by wagging tails, active canine tongues licking passionately, purring cats, and smiling clients often displaying their adoration for you and/or the hospital. I often say that when new clients witness this first hand, they seem to become bonded to the practice almost immediately. You couldn't pay for better PR! I can almost guarantee that they are missing this at their current, or prior, veterinary offices. For me, it adds to the practice "high" I continually try to achieve, which, of course, adds to the "fun!"

More of us have to learn that a higher salary is not necessarily the answer to improving job satisfaction. As the old adage states: "Money does not buy happiness!" We are very fortunate in that we can enjoy our true passion on a daily basis. I know many people who may make a lot of money at their jobs or careers, but are miserable. I'd rather earn less, but love my work! Or better yet, I'd like to do what I love to do—practice veterinary medicine—and earn even more! Is it possible? Absolutely! I know many veterinarians earning very healthy incomes. How? Many different ways. Some own multiple practices. Others have used their strong business acumen to build huge, high grossing operations. Still others have found different ways to make money while continuing to work with pets, through pet spas, ancillary services, pet supplies, etc. Your only limiting factor is your own creativity. Before you embark on such a pursuit, make sure that the price you pay through time, effort, money, and energy spent will truly be worth it. Another option would be to hire more staff, delegate well, and have them help you take your hospital to the next level saving you from having to do much more work. Your staff can take a lot of pressure off of you and with training can usually take over the tasks that you hate to do. I have found that many practitioners who seem to be losing their love and enthusiasm for practice become disenchanted with specific things—not practice in general. The key to maintaining job satisfaction is to identify what it is that you dislike and delegate it to other team members. The reason that I still love practice so much after twenty years is that I make sure to spend a lot of time doing the things I love, and very little to no time on the things I don't. I am forever thankful that I have such a terrific, talented staff!

Now, the challenge is to keep your staff as passionate about your practice and their roles within it, as we discussed earlier. Accomplish this and you'll either need to start turning business away, extend your hours, or hire another veterinarian (or, if you're great at delegating, hire even more technicians).

In conclusion, I hope you realize and agree that we are members of the greatest profession known to man. It offers us so much versatility and variety, and empowers us to enjoy as many facets as we desire. In my mind, there's no excuse for not being able to discover many of the joys which veterinary medicine can bring to your professional lives. I urge you to go out and find, or simply rediscover these passions, and continue to nurture and promote that wonderful bond which exists between us and our four-legged friends.

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