Meet the 2018 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year finalists
Brendan Howard oversees veterinary business, practice management and life-balance content for dvm360.com, dvm360 magazine, Firstline and Vetted, and plans the Practice Management track at all three Fetch dvm360 conferences.Brendan has proudly served under the Veterinary Economics and dvm360 banners for more than 10 years. Before that, he worked as a journalist, writer and editor at Entrepreneur magazine and a top filmed entertainment magazine in Southern California. Brendan received a Masters in English Literature from University of California, Riverside, in 1999.
These 10 top-notch finalists are pros at tackling veterinary practice problems. How will they inspire you?
They are the 10 finalists for 2018 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year, with judges emphasizing four major criteria of an outstanding veterinary manager:
• Leadership and decision-making
• Team motivation and management
• Lifelong learning
• Adapting to change
Click on the individual photos below to read just a tiny snippet of how these veterinary practice managers have contributed to their hospitals. And then be on the lookout for the winner, who will be announced at Fetch dvm360 in San Diego in December.
Adapting to change: "When my practice first started selling afoxolaner, I noticed that our clients' flea and tick preventive compliance grew. The bad news? The boost seemed to come at the expense of heartworm preventive compliance. I knew something needed to change, so recognizing that high-quality preventives are expensive, I created a discounted bundle-and-save package to encourage clients to purchase heartworm and flea and tick preventives, rather than one or the other. Within three months, compliance for heartworm and flea and tick preventives grew from 39 to 44 percent. A year later, it was at 62 percent, and now we consistently fluctuate between 69 and 72 percent."
Meghan Bingham, CVPM
Practice manager at West Alabama Animal Clinic
Leadership and decision-making: "I needed to change our 4/10 schedules to 5/8. First, we had an informal team meeting with just department supervisors and staff-no doctors, owners or management were allowed to participate. We found that the staff was actually excited to move to the 5/8 schedule. Many felt the 4/10 was tiring, and although they had a third day off during the week, they slept most of the day and felt 'out of the loop' when they returned to work. We needed more staff to make this happen, but a simple calculation showed we could support the additional cost with the anticipated growth. We met with some of our senior staff and asked them to help us train the new team members. This new responsibility came with a raise. Thankfully, those team members embraced the challenge and stepped up to assist with the training of new team members. My team has since become stronger together and happier with their work-life balance all while the practice continues to grow!"
Practice manager at North Star Veterinary Hospital
Parkton, North Carolina
Lifelong learning: "I love being part of our local management group chapter. We share information on local vendors, and we share articles on changing laws or even just SOP for common in-house tasks. If the information requires immediate notification, we use a group app."
Christina Gehring-Maples, MPA, CVPM
Practice manager at Animal Therapy Center
Leadership and decision-making: "After attending a CE, I realized our approach to dentistry required some adjustments. First, I suggested doing away with Dental Month completely as I felt it devalued the service we provided and tended to encourage owners to wait months to schedule a procedure. Second, our approach to recommendations had always been to present clients with the information needed to make the best decision for their pet in a low-pressure setting. These low-pressure interactions often meant we would recommend a dental with, “Fluffy could benefit from a dental in the near future.” From a client's perspective, this seems like a friendly suggestion, not a clear recommendation. I approached our practice owner and then we together spoke with the other doctors. I explained that it was our job to educate clients and make a firm recommendation for what was needed. After improving our recommendations, client compliance has increased 250 percent over three years and dentistry revenue has increased."
John Jeffreys, RVT, CVPM
Practice manager at Coastal Animal Hospital
Lifelong learning: "I am so very fortunate to work for a company that prides itself on CE. Each member of our team is required take at least 15 hours of CE per year, and that includes me too. I'm allotted a budget for CE, and my boss encourages (almost to the point of insisting) that I and other managers, doctors, technicians and support staff attend major conferences outside of our local area. I want to be well informed and know what is happening in the industry as a whole, not just in my area. You can never be too well informed, and there's always something I can change. I always bring back information [from CE] to share with our management team and support team accordingly. Our team communication app, Slack, helps with this. I also incorporate what I consider the most burning issues into the department meeting agendas. Sometimes I like something I learned, but rather than dictate to the team that we're going to make a change, I ask for their input to ensure it will work. If they don't buy into the idea, it'll just flop."
Practice manager at Animal Hospital of Pensacola
Team motivation and management: "When I joined the team here, they were still reeling from the abrupt loss of yet another technician manager. Many applications were coming in, but the qualifications weren't there. We hit pause on that position and instead mentored our shift leads, even if they weren't credentialed technicians. We needed to give the team a break from the revolving door that kept hitting them each time someone left.
"We met as a group monthly, and I met with each of them individually every other week. We talked through problems as well as personnel issues and conflict resolution. We created open lines of communication to the team. We noticed employees rapidly becoming more vocal. The shift leads became their representatives. Protocols were being enforced, people were being held accountable, and the gossip was no longer tolerated. After six months, we met to discuss whether we still neded a technician manager. They said it was time. They felt they had done the ground work to bring the team back together and they would be more receptive to a new manager. People began to trust the org chart and finally saw leadership as support instead of a 'write-up waiting to happen.'"
Angelina Morgan, CVPM
Practice manager at Pet+ER
Team motivation and management: "In the span of a few months in 2015, our former owner took a job in industry and put the practice up for sale, then let us know he was getting divorced and that his ex-wife (also a veterinarian) would take over the business until it sold, though she wouldn't be seeing patients. Wow. Clients were worried. Our staff wanted to jump ship. And the new 'boss' had owned an equine practice but had never practiced small animal medicine or managed a small animal hospital. Little did any of us know we'd be in this difficult holding pattern for almost three years!
"My main challenge was keeping our staff intact so clients would see the same friendly faces each visit while things played out in court. My second-hardest task was helping the ex-wife define her role as a would-be non-practicing owner while she worked to acquire the practice in the divorce settlement. We kept all the drama out of the clinic and simply focused on providing world-class healthcare in a loving, upscale environment. During this time we also re-accredited with AAHA. But Southpark happily survived three years of being for sale (including an offer from a competitor who wanted to fold our practice into his) and being the object of a legal tug-of-war. As of February 2 this year, Southpark is solely owned by the once-equine-only doctor, and we have all been able to breathe a sigh of relief."
Office manager at Southpark Veterinary Hospital
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
Adapting to change: "Our practice has been a two-doctor practice for several years. When appointments were consistently full two weeks or more in advance, we knew it was time for a third doctor. We interviewed four candidates for the job. One of them had interned with us a year earlier.
"With each candidate we had a one-day working interview. One day is a very short amount of time to get to know someone so the process had to be highly organized. Before the interview day, the appointments on the books were reviewed. We wanted the candidate to work with each doctor and with as many staff members as possible. Morning appointments were assigned to the candidate so that there would be two appointments with each doctor. Then each candidate was assigned to scrub in for a surgical procedure and supervised by one of the doctors. Then at lunch each candidate was asked a series of open-ended questions to get a feel for the kind of career they were looking for. Then the candidate was asked if they had any questions for us. The day finished with one more appointment with each doctor. When the candidate left, the staff was asked for their input. That's an important part of the process, as experienced technicians are an important part of the mentoring process with new graduates.
"We ultimately hired the former intern. That created another set of challenges. When she was an intern, she was part of the staff with no authority over team members. Now that she was here as a doctor, the dynamic had to change. This involved educating the new doctor on how to address the staff and request tasks from them and how social time with the staff should be managed or limited. The staff needed to readjust their thinking and realize that she was now a doctor and needed to be treated appropriately as such. This transition had its bumpy moments, but with everyone working towards the same goal-successful integration and mentoring of a new doctor-we reached our goal."
Tracy Sheffield, BS, LVT, CVPM
Practice manager at Wimberley Veterinary Clinic
Adapting to change: "In the summer of 2017, there seemed to be underlying tension between team members in the hospital, but no one seemed comfortable talking about issues with team managers, doctors or myself. To get to the root of the stress, I created an online engagement survey that allowed each team member to express their concerns anonymously. I was able to view the results and develop team training on the common concerns that surfaced.
"One theme was the need for more frequent feedback with team managers. Our hospital had traditionally completed an annual review for each team member. In the fall of 2017, I led the team managers to implement a quarterly 'Flash Feedback' model. I researched many online tools, and with agreement from team managers and the practice owners, I picked Teamphoria. Now every quarter, each team member answers a set of designated feedback questions and gives suggestions. These items are then the center of open discussion at the one-on-one flash feedback sessions with managers. At the end of each session, team members can enter their new goals or track their progress on previous goals. Even more exciting is that all team members can use Teamphoria to send staff announcements, suggestions and even virtual kudos to each other."
Kelly Talbott, MBA
Practice manager at Pinnacle Peak Animal Hospital
Lifelong learning: "What's nice here is that the learning and transfer of information flows from all directions. When our team members attend CE, they share their knowledge at our next meeting, and the same applies for the veterinarian leadership team. We also do plenty of in-clinic CE for our teams. Every six months we have a CPR refresher, every year we have OSHA training, we bring in speakers year-round, and we take advantage of free lunch-and-learn opportunities from local referral clinics and companies we support. Most recently, we had a Clinical Pathology wet lab, where we rented 16 microscopes and had an incredible LVT with a special interest in the topic work with the interested team members. "
Practice administrator at Wixom and Waterford Family Pet Practice
Wixom and Waterford, Michigan