Practice in the Real World


Veterinarians are more often than not in competition for a handful of qualified and registered technicians.

Dr. Perry House looks down at the resume. Before him is a neatly typed presentation of Carrie's work and educational history. Carrie is a registered technician from Texas and has recently moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to her grandparents in Ohio. It also had come out that she has followed her boyfriend to the area. He recently was hired to a good-paying factory job in the next county. They will be living within 10 miles of the veterinary hospital.

David M. Lane DVM, MS

"How long do you plan to live here?" he asked.

"I will be here for a long time, hopefully, because my boyfriend's job pays well," she offered.

"How long did you work in Texas as a technician?"

"I worked at two different clinics over a period of five years."

"I see that they paid you quite well. I cannot pay you that wage right away, but we can talk about a raise once you are hired." Perry noted strongly with only a hint of hesitation.

"Dr. House, I really need the money, and I think my resume speaks for itself," she sniffed.

Perry was starting to melt in the face of her resilient poise and could feel that he was becoming putty in her hands. At times like this—and also when he was extremely nervous—Perry's right eyelid would twitch. It was in double-time mode.

"Ok, I will consider it?" he countered meekly and was inwardly shamed by his quick retreat.

Perry rallied enough to continue the interview with probing questions about job issues that were answered in a balanced and straightforward way. Carrie was tall and attractive, and she seemed to be confident. At the same time, she carried with her a deep respect for the diversity and difficulty of her past duties in Texas.

Perry is secretly filled with glee. His heart begins to beat a bit faster as the interview progresses. He then asks the question that is guaranteed to enlarge the circumference of pre-existing stomach ulcers for many hospital owners who think they might have an exclusive situation developing:

"How many other veterinary hospitals are you currently interviewing with?"

Carrie offered that this was her second interview and that she had two more after this one. She also stated that the first hospital had tentatively offered her a job and would be calling her tomorrow afternoon. She casually noted that her previous interview had been with his dreaded competitor—Elsewhere Animal Clinic.

Perry could feel the lump developing somewhere between his larynx and his pituitary gland. He had been looking for a certified tech for more than a year since his last tech departed to start a family. Carrie was just the kind of person he needed to fill the bill.

Dr. House completed the interview in a daze. He looked at the familiar tag line at the end of the resume. It read: "References available upon request."

Perry beamed at Carrie and added, "I will need some references as soon as possible."

As she left, Perry took her phone number and wrote it down in three different places. Later that evening he remained in a pensive mood that made him feel quite uncomfortable. He was desperate. He was in love. He was mesmerized. He was eager to call. He made her an offer the next morning. She could work at her going rate plus a promise for a raise that if things go well. Carrie accepted.

July 2003

Penny Taylor wanted to talk. Penny had worked for Dr. House for three years and was a very able and responsible worker. She now sat across from Perry's desk and was visibly agitated.

"Dr. House, I don't mean to complain but Carrie has created some problems that you need to know about."

Dr. House didn't want to hear about this. The X-ray machine had quit working that morning, and the cleaning service that seemed to be way too expensive had failed to clean the clinic last night. This was the second time this month that they had failed to appear. The practice looked like an unmade bed.

"Dr. House, Carrie lords it over us, and she has worked here only two months. She is late often and leaves a lot of the work to the rest of us so that she can call her boyfriend on the phone when you are not here. She also has left early when the other doctor is here. She also told one of the people up front that she would be gone over Christmas to Texas for about three weeks, and she needed someone to cover her. Janice came up to me yesterday and told me that Carrie has in the past asked her to change her timecard when she takes off early. I just thought you may want to know."

Dr. House looked puzzled. Carrie seemed OK when he was around. He did notice that she didn't seem to have the skills he had expected. Yet, all of this was news to him. He had listened attentively and asked Penny to keep him "in the loop."

August 2003

Janice got the call about 7 a.m. Carrie was calling from somewhere near Houston with the news that she was not returning to work—ever. Janice was nervous and somewhat confused—she forgot to get a telephone number. She had noticed that some things that Carrie had been saying around the office lately was not making a lot of sense.

Carrie had taken off Friday to be in a wedding in Texas. Perry had worked the schedule just a few days earlier in such a way to accommodate his newest certified tech. She had been grateful, and Perry was glad to do it. The rest of the staff would have to make adjustments. There had been some grumbling, but most were used to the issues cropping up in the employ of a busy veterinary office.

Janice now thought to herself, "Dr. House will come unglued!"

Ginger was in the kennel that morning and was having quite a time of it. Carrie had been scheduled to give her a hand with the boarders that had filled the clinic over the weekend. To Ginger, it seemed that all the animals in the place had waited until 6:45 a.m. to empty their colons and bladders. Petey was having his usual nervous diarrhea, and its fragrance was especially pungent this steamy Monday morning.

Perry arrived at his usual time and was greeted to the residual, but potent, elements of Petey's latest deposit. Yet, this morning added to Petey's familiar odor was an eye-watering invisible wall of ammonia that veterinarians instinctively recognize as an unclean kennel. It also appeared that the cleaning service had missed its appointment over the weekend, and the hospital again looked like an unmade bed.

Perry entered the kennel to find Ginger bathing Petey and silently crying. Just then, Janice arrived and brought Dr. House up-to-speed on the morning's development. Janice had been a prophet. Perry proceeded to come unglued.

The world stood still while Perry called an impromptu staff meeting where he learned that Carrie often had referred to a veterinary office in Houston named Gentle Doctor Animal Clinic.

Perry went instantly to his office to dig out Carrie's file with one hand while grabbing his AAHA membership guide with the other. That particular hospital did not appear on her resume, but a year-long hole in her resume suddenly glared from the piece of paper. He had never asked. The directory led him quickly to the hospital in Houston.

"Hello, this is Dr. Armstrong," the pleasant reply came with only a twist of Texas drawl.

"Dr. Armstrong, this is Perry House from Pennsylvania."

What Dr. House learned from the fraternal chat was that Carrie had been at first a model employee at Gentle Doctor. Soon Carrie had begun to cause problems and eventually left drawing unemployment for an injury that Dr. Armstrong was certain was caused while Carried had been moonlighting for a local equine veterinarian in the area. Eventually, he learned that Carrie had never attended a technician school at all. It had all been a ruse.

He then declared to Perry, " You know, all that glitters is not gold!"

Perry's right eyelid was on warp speed.

Janice peeked in the door.

"Dr. House, we can't find our new microscope."

Not too quickly

All of us are blinded by necessity. In life we encounter opportunity. When it knocks, it seems only prudent to grab the brass ring. Unfortunately, rash decisions can come back to haunt all of us. This is especially true during the hiring process.

The discovery of a gem in the midst of a seeming flood of unqualified applicants that darken our doors makes our profession vulnerable to the occasional poser (meaning an imposter to those over 60). We can be a bit gullible at times, and some staffers hopping from one hospital to the next have taken advantage of our good nature and intentions as gentle animal doctors.

In addition, veterinarians are more often than not in competition for a handful of qualified and registered technicians.

Some the reasons for this include:

  • High burnout rate and low pay leading to high demand but low-pay ceilings.

  • Technical school curriculum is poorly understood or appreciated by veterinarians.

  • Poor communications exist between veterinarians in private practice and technician schools.

  • Umbrella technical and veterinary organizations and schools rarely cooperate or communicate on employment issues.

  • Non-existent oversight of correspondence and Internet technical schools creates chaos for everyone involved.

Veterinarians are busy and sometimes desperate for qualified help. That makes it difficult to sort out the very best candidates with the best intentions. Enter the Carrie's of this world.

Dose of prevention

Interviews rarely resemble the careful checklists and sample questions and careful dialogue circulating in materials presented at HR seminars for major corporations or even at major veterinary meetings. Most interviews are hurried affairs conducted between clients by clinic owners or by staff members delegated this dreaded duty.

The person doing the interview is usually distracted by the visual presentation of the prospect and will haphazardly refer to the resume while asking banal questions that are guaranteed to put any methamphetamine addict into a soporific stupor.

Here are some things that are needed as preventive medicine. (Remember, these issues should be discussed with your attorney and on file at their office in case local laws require modification.)

  • Make sure you have the applicant's resume and references in hand before they enter your office.

  • Make sure each applicant has an appointment for the interview.

  • Make sure each applicant fills out an employment application that includes questions revealing where he or she is now working and each and every employment period in his or her working past.

  • Reason(s) for leaving must be included for each work experience.

  • Ask for a copy of a license (if applicable) and diploma to keep on file and to display in the waiting room. Hesitation here is a red flag. Copies of documents will be required for employment.

  • You must ask permission to call all past employers.

  • During the interview, account for periods of non-employment.

  • Make sure that all references include phone numbers and addresses that are current. (You will have to ask the candidate.)

  • Propose a trial working period where both parties can agree (after an employer/employee meeting) to terminate the employment without hard feelings.

Post interview

Take a deep breath and realize that you deserve the best employees in the world. A bad choice is a whole lot worse than being understaffed.

Realize that interviewing at other veterinary offices is to be expected and that your requirements and the applicants' requirements might not be congruent. This is to be expected.

Call every person on his or her resume, and expect some real softballs from friends and relatives. Call every former boss and ask as many questions as they feel comfortable answering. Due to legal issues you might get some very circuitous responses. These responses (even a period of silence) can be quite helpful if you have any question at all about the applicant. After all, this is your hospital; you deserve to sleep at night.

If there are green lights everywhere, pay as much as you can to retain his or her services.

No TIPPING. Don't take it personally when your offer is declined; this is really difficult but very important.

A simple ending to a complex subject

Hiring the right employees is a paramount issue for any enterprise. Doing it well can be a little tricky if the business owner is impatient or sloppy. If you have been a victim of your own haphazard hiring process, then don't let it happen again. The results always reflect the process.

“He who is shipwrecked twice is foolish to blame the sea.” -Publilius Syrus

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