Stretch! 20 ways to grow your job and the practice


Are you committed to helping your practice--and your career--grow? Here's how you can make your hospital a better place for people and pets--and make yourself a more valuable, more marketable employee.

It's no secret that developing a broad range of skills and interests makes you a more desirable employee. That's why we discourage all veterinary team members from simply accepting the jobs they've been given. Instead, we suggest that you jump up and find new challenges and responsibilities that will help you—and the practice—stretch.

Plant the seed

When you develop a particular expertise or establish valueadded services in your practice, you'll increase your level of job satisfaction, and you'll help your practice become more progressive and competitive. Not sure what to do? Consider these ideas:

Reach for the stars

Great team members take ownership of certain responsibilities to help their practices meet the challenges of our competitive industry. These 20 items—some simple, others more complex—indicate areas where you can do just that:

Everyone wins

1. Make photo albums of the clinic's extended family. Clients love looking at photographs of people and their pets. Start a practice album, and encourage your clients to submit photos to include in the book. In addition to the album of your present "family," you might create a memorial photo album to honor deceased pets.

2. Create seasonal displays. Brighten up the clinic and advertise hospital services by regularly redecorating the front counter or bulletin board, building a floor display, or painting a mural or a window display. The decorations can highlight a theme or hospital service, such as dentistry or weight management.

3. Become a veterinary nutrition consultant. Maintaining a focus on preventive medicine includes talking knowledgeably with clients about nutrition. Most pet food manufacturers offer written material about their products, and your sales representatives will be happy to teach you even more. Because few pets suffer from an unbalanced diet, it's important to go beyond a product's ingredients to understand the health problems, including obesity and food allergies, that create special dietary needs.

4. Develop a puppy/kitty kindergarten curriculum. Is there an area in your clinic that you could use to conduct a puppy kindergarten class? If not, explore alternate locations. Talk with a trainer or behaviorist to develop the curriculum, and take advantage of the wealth of good books available on puppies and kittens. Offering early training forms close bonds with clients. Plus you'll get pets off to a great start by helping to prevent many common behavior problems.

5. Become a first-aid specialist. Every veterinary clinic can use a person who's trained to administer first aid to people. The American Red Cross offers firstaid courses and certification throughout the year. You can extend your training to include firstaid for pets—and develop a training program for pet owners in your area.

6. Publish a hospital newsletter. Have you always wanted to try your hand at journalism? Try producing a newsletter for the hospital staff. If your team likes the results, you could produce one for clients.

To cut costs, provide copies of your client newsletter at the front desk instead of mailing it, and find out if you can place copies at your local library. All you really need to produce a newsletter is a word-processing program, but to put out a more polished piece, consider taking a desktop publishing course.

7.Offer to spend two hours a week checking client compliance. For example, you could pull files for a certain number of clients each week and check that all the care your team recommended was provided. If the client didn't schedule care, you could follow up with him or her by mail or with a personal call.

8. Learn American Sign Language or a foreign language. If your client list includes several people who are hearing-impaired or speak another language, translating for these pet owners—especially during stressful times—can help bond them to your practice. Check with local community colleges to see if they offer courses on these subjects.

9. Develop wellness protocols. Every veterinary clinic gives specific recommendations for patient care, including advice on flea management, inoculations, heartworm prevention, and much more. However, most clinics haven't developed written protocols that reflect those recommendations. Wellness protocols help keep the healthcare team on the same page, plus they give team members a script for discussing various treatments with clients.

To develop the protocols, work with the doctors in your hospital to identify topics that clients bring up frequently. Write a one-page protocol for each topic, and ask the practice owner to read each piece for accuracy and to judge its appropriateness for your clinic. After the doctor approves the protocols, gather the final pieces into a notebook.

Want to take this idea one step further? Use the wellness protocols to develop client handouts on pet health care.

10. Organize an open house. You don't need a special occasion to plan an open house—just pick a time and day that's convenient for your team and for clients. Ask team members to talk to friends and clients about what they'd like to learn at an open house, and decide as a group which ideas to include. Then print and distribute fliers advertising the event.

A few fun suggestions: Post radiographs on the viewers, prepare stuffed animals for mock surgeries or radiographs, assemble a packet of educational handouts for guests, and provide refreshments.

11. Be a goodwill ambassador. Organize and lead clinic tours for school-age children, or even for individual pet owners, to let visitors experience the "behind the scenes" activities in your hospital. Outside the practice, offer to give talks at local clubs and schools. Veterinary medicine is a fun, exciting profession, and people are interested in learning about it.

Ready to take the next step? If you enjoy writing, consider submitting a column to your local newspaper. Or share your message on a local radio or television talk show.

12. Become the practice expert on animal behavior. Problem behavior is one of the main causes of pet euthanasia. As a behavior consultant, you can save as many lives through counseling and training as the doctor does in surgery. To learn more, talk with your veterinarian to identify animal behavior experts, and become familiar with their articles and books.

Another strategy: Pick a behavior topic that appeals to you, research it in depth, and prepare a speech and a handout on the topic to present to the rest of the staff. Keep expanding topics until you're comfortable discussing a variety of behavior problems. Also consider attending veterinary conferences and workshops that address behavior issues.

13. Head up efforts to become an AAHA- certified hospital. Receiving certification from the American Animal Hospital Association gives your practice team great recognition. Contact AAHA at (303) 986-2800 for a copy of its most recent standards. Read through the list and identify the standards you know your hospital meets, the ones you don't think your hospital meets, and the ones you're not sure about. Then meet with the hospital manager or owner to share your findings. Explain that you'd like to help the hospital become accredited, and develop a timetable for reaching compliance.

14. Start a pet adoption program. Talk with your practice owner about housing orphaned pets at your clinic until adoption. Then work with your team to develop guidelines to limit the number of pets you keep and the time you keep them. Meet with the directors of local humane societies, rescue agencies, and animal control agencies to learn how your clinic can help advertise and place pets. Also discuss the option of involving interested clients as "foster parents."

15. Become the inventory manager. If you like to work with numbers—and you're a stickler for organization—inventory management might provide a fun challenge. Tell the hospital director that you're interested in working with inventory. Then offer to enter items into the computer as they arrive from suppliers.

Work with the person who orders supplies and learn his or her system. It's also a good idea to sit in on meetings with sales representatives. Then ask for permission to take over some of the ordering. Once you're familiar with the stock, you might suggest new ways to organize the products. As your knowledge and skills increase, your responsibilities can too.

16. Create a Web site. More and more people use the Internet each day, and it won't be long before your clients start looking for information on veterinary services online—if they're not already. The first step: Decide what kind of information your practice would post. Read books and attend seminars to help you enter this new frontier.

Sound daunting? Consider taking a small step toward the information age by establishing an e-mail address for the hospital. Communicating via e-mail is a convenience for many clients. Plus using e-mail can cut down on phone tag.

17. Teach clients about dental care for pets. Many pet owners still don't know they should brush their pets' teeth. And even if they know they should, they often don't know how. Take advantage of the excellent books, videos, and seminars available on pet dental hygiene. Then, organize a dental health clinic for your clients, and offer complimentary dental examinations and brushing demonstrations.

18. Create a library. In our clinic, we believe the best clients are informed clients. That's why we offer a lending library stocked with books, videotapes, and audiotapes. The library communicates our love of pets as well, because we dedicate every book to a deceased patient. Work with your team to develop a library and a checkout system. Then encourage your clients—and their kids—to use the resources you offer.

19. Become your hospital's bereavement specialist. Do you always seem to know what to say when clients are worried about their pets? If you're willing to talk to clients about euthanasia, pet loss, and grief, consider fine-tuning your client communication skills with the many excellent tapes and books on the market. We strongly recommend two books, both by Laurel Lagoni: Connecting With Clients—Practical Communication Techniques for 15 Common Situations (AAHA Press, 1998) and The Practical Guide to Client Grief—Support Techniques for 15 Common Situations (AAHA Press, 1997).

20. Prepare client handouts on zoonotic diseases and their prevention. Talk to your veterinarian about developing educational handouts tailored to your clients' needs. One good resource: "HIV/AIDS & Pet Ownership," an article by Drs. Gloria Dorsey, Caroline Schaffer, and James Ferguson. You can view the article online by following the "Health Resources" link at

These 20 ideas are only a beginning. Keep an eye out for new ways to influence and enhance your practice, as well as to cultivate new skills and knowledge. And watch your job—and the practice—grow.

Sharon DeNayer and Robin Downing, DVM, are Clinic Manager and Hospital Director of the Windsor Veterinary Clinic, PC, a Practice of Excellence in Windsor, Colo.

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