Our veterinary practice owner's baby gives us the blues


Q: Our veterinarian brings her infant to work every day. Our team lags behind with our work because if the baby starts fussing we have to drop what we're doing and take care of the baby. What can we do?

"I feel for you. As a single mother and also an employee, I understand your doctor's need for child care, but also your frustration in having a responsibility that was not originally presented in your job description," says Pamela Stevenson, CVPM, owner of veterinary consulting firm Veterinary Results in Durham, N.C.

This is an issue of owner prerogative and group negotiation dynamics. "In your doctor's mind, there's a logical reason she's bringing the baby to the clinic," Stevenson says.

Identify the problem

To reach a resolution, start by approaching your doctor with empowering statements and questions. For example, Stevenson says rather than expressing frustration that may put your doctor on the defensive, begin with identifying the common goals that you and your team members share with the doctor. For example, try opening with something along the lines of, "The team really wants to provide attentive, thorough service to clients and patients and be productive."

From here, Stevenson says you can identify the problem in a polite way: "The baby is a significant distraction on the path to this goal. Can we come up with solutions that work for everyone and benefit the practice?" Using this approach, it's unlikely your doctor would say, "Keep taking care of the baby and deal with it," because she also wants the practice to function well.

Find common goals

Once you've clarified your shared goal with your boss, this sets the stage for ideas and solutions.

For example, Stevenson says you might suggest one of these approaches:

> Create a designated, safe and contained area for the baby

> Designate a sitter or nanny at the practice

> Rotate who's designated to look after the child and during which time blocks

> Bring in a part-time employee to care for the child who has hospital-related tasks when not interacting with the baby, such as processing reminders, writing new-client and thank-you cards, updating practice social media sites or writing blog posts.

"Whether out of need or personal preference, ultimately as the practice owner, your veterinarian has the authority to accommodate her wishes," Stevenson says. "Remember, your practice owner is more likely to be receptive if you offer solutions that focus on your goal of caring for the pets and clients at your practice."

Learn to negotiate

To practice your negotiation skills, Pamela Stevenson recommends Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Penguin Books, 2011).

Editor's note: Do you have a communication 911? A career emergency? Send us your question to Firstline Hotline at firstline@advanstar.com.

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Angela Elia, BS, LVT, CVT, VTS (ECC)
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