The practice of choice

dvm360dvm360 March 2023
Volume 54
Issue 3
Pages: 30

Using workplace culture to attract and retain top talent

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It’s no mystery that practices today are short-handed. We were facing a recruitment crisis even before the pandemic, and today the situation is tougher than ever. There simply are not enough trained people to fill DVM, RVT, and other professional roles, and it will take years for the industry to catch up. The struggle is real. However, you as an owner have the power to determine how it plays out in your hospital.

I’ve had the privilege of working with hundreds of practice owners around the country, hearing first-hand about their experiences with today’s labor market. Although things are difficult everywhere, they vary greatly by practice. For some, nonstop ads—and even high recruiter fees—turn up few viable candidates. Others routinely hear from applicants eager to interview. What makes these hospitals succeed when others struggle?

The practice of choice

In any community, a few practices will attract the best talent because they are visibly the strongest in the area. My peers and I call this the “practice of choice.” Becoming that practice in your area comes down to culture and communications.

Culture: more than a mission statement

Practice culture has become a buzzword. Yet from what I’ve observed, it’s not clear that culture, despite being endlessly discussed, is really well understood. Culture refers to the shared values, beliefs, and behaviors that shape the way a practice operates and how clients, patients, doctors, and staff interact. A culture centered around the well-being of both the animals and the employees can foster effective collaboration. A culture that promotes communication, community, and growth can make the practice more attractive to potential recruits.

Culture isn’t just the mission statement you post on the wall of your office. It emerges from the behavior of all the people involved. You can’t choose not to have a culture; you can only choose whether you’re going to shape it or let it default into dysfunction.

If you’re not confident that you have a strong culture:

  • Gather your team to identify the cultural values you want to embody.
  • Discuss how you can put those values into action.
  • Agree to operate this way going forward.
  • Align behaviors with identified culture.

If you can create that great culture, you’ll not only improve the lives of your team but will have embarked on the road to being the practice of choice. That’s only the first step.

Communicating your culture

It would be wonderful if simply having a great culture were enough to attract all the recruits you need. Sadly, that’s not the case. It takes another key step: an effective communications strategy.

Great marketing will not make up for a lousy culture. But once you’ve achieved one, you need to spread the word. First, it’s vital to understand how potential recruits find practices these days. This has changed drastically during my 25-plus years as a practice owner. Today, associates, technicians, and other staff do their research online. They have nearly unlimited options and can assess many practices before applying, without ever leaving the couch. How job seekers evaluate a practice is not all that different from how clients look for a new veterinarian:

  • They google veterinary practices in their city or in one to which they plan to relocate.
  • They check out the Facebook and Instagram pages of the practices they’ve identified.
  • They visit practice websites, read their careers pages, their owners’ bios and those of DVMs and other staff, and the content pages that reflect how they practice medicine.
  • They read reviews to see whether the practice is reputable and takes great care of patients and clients.

You can buy ads or hire a recruiter, but before candidates schedule an interview, they will still do all of the above. If they don’t like what they see, you’ll never hear from them. So the right digital strategy makes all the difference. It’s not just about having a visually appealing website, although that’s part of it. You also must ensure that your website and social media illustrate your culture with real images and video. It’s also vital that the story isn’t being told only by the practice owner. Videos from happy doctors and staff sharing experiences are far more effective.

Bringing it together

By creating a great culture, and letting the world know about it through your digital presence, you’ll be in a position to become the practice of choice in your community. It will be a while before recruitment becomes easy, if it ever does. But until then, owners that take these steps will have the best chance to attract and retain the quality people it takes to run a successful practice.

Michele Drake, DVM, is the owner of The Drake Center for Veterinary Care in Encinitas, California—a 10-doctor, 55-employee hospital. She has served on committees and advisory boards for the University of California, American Animal Hospital Association, Novartis, and more. Drake completed her DVM at the University of Missouri and founded The Drake Center in 1992. She also serves as the chief veterinary officer for GeniusVets. Drake can be reached via email at:

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