Seaside Animal Care owner Ernie Ward, DVM, outlines how to create a positive practice at CVC seminar


Success relies on development, implementation and constant reinforcement of core values.

The morning session of the Practice Positive seminar by Ernie Ward, DVM and his senior staff member Julie Mullins provided tools to transform your veterinary team using consistency, support and an intentionally positive approach in line with your core values.

First, Ward says you must develop and understand your own core values as a person and as a practice owner. Then you must reinforce those values with your team through your actions and consistently implement them through education, practice culture and communication.

Education “Investment in our staff is the best investment we can make,” Ward says.

•Education and support starts on an employee’s first day from product location—even how to make the office coffee— to participation in a fully developed training program.

•Assign new hires a senior staff member as a mentor.

•Encourage and support independent continued education.

•Hold regular staff lectures—not staff meetings—that stick to a productive agenda and have an educational purpose.

•Trust and expect employees to use their education and training to speak confidently with clients about policies, procedures and fees.

Practice culture “Doctors decide the emotion of the day,” Ward says. “It takes effort to create a good attitude.”

•Tie your core values directly to your practice culture. If compassion for patients and clients, the overall health of your employees or a commitment to volunteerism in your community is a priority to you, implement it in your actions and the activities of your practice. This may manifest by paying for health club memberships for employees or practice involvement in philanthropic activities.

•Celebrate accomplishments and milestones by embracing celebration days and giving public praise.

•Be intentionally positive with employees and clients. Catch someone doing something positive every day.

•Encourage conflict resolution. By teaching and supporting techniques, practice leaders can stifle morale killers such as gossip, conflicts and negative attitudes.

•Have a clear—even written—understanding of your ideal candidates for employment. Hire employees who fall in line with the practice’s core values. Get to know a candidate by asking about his or her pet and how they care for it. The answer is a good indicator of how the candidate will fit into your practice. Ward suggests the following as desired attributes in prospective hires:

—Owns less than six pets and all receive regular veterinary care. This weeds out those few that may be simply looking for a discount on veterinary services or those few who may hoard animals. Also, you want your employees to be as compliant with pet care as you would like your clients to be.

—Experience in retail sales or in a restaurant. This ensures that they’ve dealt with the public and more specifically, people complaining.

—A positive first impression. A candidate should have good eye contact, good posture, be well dressed and groomed and articulate.

—Fits in with the core values of the practice. Candidates must give the impression that they will be willing to take direction and constructive criticism.

Communication “It’s the best communication tool for our staff,” Julie Mullins says of embracing social media for the employees at Seaside Animal Care.

•Create a secret Facebook group that only employees can access and view. It will provide automatic notification of updates, protocol changes, product shortages or price changes, but also act as an open forum for the staff. They can discuss problems or frustrations, giving them an outlet to vent within the understanding of their professional peers, instead of on their personal pages. It also provides a place of motivation to give encouragement and “shout outs” to each other.

•Create and make available a performance evaluation schedule. Evaluations should give consistent feedback; recognition and praise; a feeling of control for their future; review progress; and provide training focus.

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