Old School, New School: Fight or flight?

July 26, 2017
Jeremy Campfield, DVM
Jeremy Campfield, DVM

Dr. Jeremy Campfield lives near Sacramento with his family, including an aging mini Aussie and an obstreperous pitbull mix that some mistake for a chocolate Lab (to the delight of her owners). When the family is not getting their hands dirty in the garden, Dr. Campfield indulges in his love for the outdoors with hiking, kitesurfing and climbing aboard any two-wheeled contraption. Please remember: Watch for cyclists, share the road, and pass them like you love them!

An abrasive senior technician is leaving distressed team members and neglected patients in her domineering wake. Dr. Greenskin thinks that if she owned the hospital, she wouldnt put up with such behaviorwould she?

Would standing up against a tyrannical technician cause more problems than it would solve? (Illustration by Ryan Ostrander)In life and in veterinary medicine, difficult decisions and pesky problems are never resolved soon enough. Dr. Greenskin has been consumed by the seemingly life-or-death decision of whether she should become a practice owner. And as usual, the day-to-day grind of practice life and weeks of double-booked appointments mean time continues to fly without so much as a hint of past conversations between herself and Dr. Codger.

This week is no different. It seems that yet another predicament will prevent our beloved docs from making any big business decisions. However, this crisis will allow Drs. Codger and Greenskin another opportunity to learn from each other and better understand the great divides between how they believe the business should be run.

In preparation for selling the practice, Dr. Codger has been looking after such long-forgotten trivialities as balance sheets and expense reports. Yes, he's really been getting the place all buttoned up. Judging by the chatter around the dental table (which sometimes doubles as the lunch break table), some of the staff are getting the feeling that the old doctor already has one foot out the door. His offhand remarks about retirement preparations-without a mention of the plan for the future-is causing some not-insignificant levels of insecurity and anxiety.

For some employees, this uncertainty has been a kick in the pants to tighten up their performance and prove their worth to the practice. Others have had the opposite reaction, acting as if what they do no longer matters since their leader is on his way out.  

It has recently come to Dr. Codger's attention (i.e. Dr. Greenskin has hassled him about it daily) that tensions are developing between a senior staff member and some of the newer support staff. Still trying to learn about the business of vet med while debating whether she wants the business of vet med, Greenskin's been closely examining the people around her-the people who may work for her someday soon (gulp).

The young doctor has noticed that their most senior technician, Mrs. Actright, has been even less pleasant to work with than usual lately. She gets along fine with the clients, most of whom have known her for years, but it's a different story back in the treatment area. Actright's been downright condescending to the kennel staff, and her attention to patients has waned. She's been late for work several times without calling or offering so much as a word of apology.

When one of the younger technicians clocks out in tears after another outburst from Actright, possibly never to return again, Greenskin decides enough is enough. The fuming young doctor finds Codger in the pharmacy, but she's interrupted by that familiar “boss” tone before she can even complete her first thought.

“Calm down, Dr. Greenskin. I took care of it.”

There's a long pause as Dr. Greenskin waits for him to explain.

“Look, we really need Actright around here. I know she can be rough around the edges, but she's the most skilled technician we have. We can't be doing all of the treatments ourselves, right? Anyway, I told her to be a little easier on the young'uns because kids nowadays are real soft-not like when Actright and I started this practice. Back then we had to prove our worth and earn our keep. These kids just want too much too fast. I've told Actright to ease up a little, but we really don't want to upset her with any threats. It'll be fine. OK-I'm off to give a steroid shot to the itchy dog in exam room two.”

Greenskin is left alone, flabbergasted by Codger's response and by the realization that Actright has created job security for herself by dominating newer employees, thereby preventing anyone else from becoming too valuable to the hospital. Greenskin can't help but believe that if she owned the hospital, she wouldn't put up with such behavior from any employee. She would be all too eager to show Actright the door.

It's clear to Greenskin that buying the clinic would result in some real changes. But what if the entire staff just up and left? The young DVM wants to show bravery. She feels the need to stand up for what's right and create the best work environment possible. But there's a lingering fear that Dr. Codger is right. If Greenskin buys the practice and starts rocking the boat, could she end up with zero staff? That scenario presents more stress than Greenskin can even fathom. This is just one of the myriad issues she would have to face as an owner.

Is the worry about potential repercussions simply too great a hurdle to overcome? Will Actright's behavior and toxic presence be enough to turn Dr. Greenskin away from the most important business decision of her life?


Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in general practice in California's Sacramento Valley. He is an avid kiteboarder.