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In their shoes


It's time to bare your sole to team members and share what rubs you the wrong way. Use these tips and insights to put your team on an even heel.

Those strappy slingbacks look pretty snazzy on the rack. But you'll only discover the pinches, pulls, and blisters if you try them on. So slide out of your slippers and take a turn in your co-workers' sneakers.

Use these examples to learn how to tread lightly with team members and give them a leg up when they're feeling low.


Main tasks: Client care, including greeting clients and checking them in, answering phones, assessing pets' needs, scheduling appointments, educating clients, and checking clients out—all done with a smile

Biggest challenge: Angry, aggressive, utterly irate clients. While clients are the practice's lifeblood—and many are a pleasure to serve—sometimes receptionists must pull out the combat boots to protect themselves from the flak.

At Ardmore Animal Hospital in Ardmore, Pa., receptionist Karen Sabatini finds it particularly frustrating to deal with irate clients and those who buy or adopt pets, then refuse to pay for proper care. "Some people spend more time investigating what kind of refrigerator to buy than they do on their living, breathing pets," she says.

Tips to relate: Remember, the receptionist's role is hectic and mentally exhausting. "Receptionists must always be at their very best—upbeat, never frustrated or angry," says Sabatini, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member. "And it's difficult to always remain in control." She advises other team members, "Just be nice and realize that receptionists aren't your personal secretaries. They are very busy with clients and doctors." Translation: If you need something and can get it yourself, take the initiative—especially if the front desk is swamped. Better yet, if you're not busy and the front desk is crazy, jump in and lend a hand.


Main tasks: Exam-room upkeep, appointment flow, exam-room assistance (including pet restraint), client education, lab work (perform basic tests, file reports, complete forms), prescription preparation, and possibly kennel attendance

Biggest challenge: If you're the middle child in a large family, you understand why veterinary assistants often feel as overlooked as moccasins on the sandal shelf. "Veterinary assistants work exam room after exam room with an assortment of doctors—and that can get hectic," says Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, a Firstline board member and a partner with VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. "They don't feel they're appreciated for what they do, and between all the other team members, they often feel forgotten."

Tips to relate: Acknowledge the valuable contribution veterinary assistants make to the team by treating them as equals and respecting their time, too. "Assistants can make or break the receptionist or credentialed technician," Grosdidier says. "And managers need to remember to show veterinary assistants equal respect by avoiding favoritism of one group over another." Without their efforts, moving clients and pets out of the waiting room and into the exam rooms is chaotic at best, and finding someone to help restrain a pet or draw blood can be difficult.


Main tasks: Patient history and evaluation, surgical preparation, surgical monitoring (before, during, and after an operation), anesthesia administration, radiography, lab work (perform basic tests, file reports, complete forms)

Biggest challenge: Picture dance shoes that never see the stage or cleats that never feel the soil of the baseball diamond, and you'll understand how it feels to be underutilized.

"Credentialed technicians can do everything a veterinarian does except diagnose, prescribe drugs, and perform surgery," Grosdidier says. "Practice owners and managers often need to be educated about the full scope of responsibilities their technicians can assume."

Tips to relate: "Practice managers, veterinary assistants, and receptionists should use technicians as the valuable resources they are," Grosdidier says. "They're more accessible than doctors, so if you have a question a technician can answer, don't wait in line to ask the doctor."

Debbie Allaben Gair, CVPM, a Firstline board member and President of Bridging the Gap, a business geared to helping people work together more effectively, in Sparta, Mich., agrees. "Technicians are veterinarians' right-hand people," she says. "So respect technicians as knowledgeable medical people and delegate appropriate responsibilities to them."


Main tasks: Human resources, finances, marketing, practice organization, laws and ethics, strategic planning

Biggest challenges: If every day is a marathon, practice managers are the running shoes. Hands down, the No. 1 challenge for practice managers is time management, says Brian Conrad, CVPM, the practice manager at Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Wash.

A practice manager's duties may include recruiting, scheduling, evaluating, training and motivating team members; analyzing reports, budgets, and fees to meet the financial goals of the practice; and creating and maintaining client education materials, practice brochures and business cards, advertisements, Web sites, referral programs, and newsletters. And that's just for starters.

"A practice manager has to make everyone—the practice owners, team members, and clients—happy," Conrad says. "When all three groups are happy at the same time, I'm doing my job."

Tips to relate: Conrad reminds other team members a practice can have 10 team members or more and one practice manager. "Practice managers have a variety of duties, and they must balance all the demands placed on their time," he says.

If you need to address an issue with your practice manager, Conrad recommends showing you're aware of the manager's time constraints: Ask politely for what you need, instead of making demands. Even better, come with possible solutions, and volunteer to implement those solutions yourself. "If a team member sees a problem, presents a plan of action or several options, and offers to take responsibility for it, I'd be much more apt to say 'yes,'" he says.

Fig. 1

As a member of a veterinary team, doing your part isn't enough. Building a stronger team won't happen unless team members regularly tap into their colleagues' challenges and aim to relate. When you clash with a co-worker, approach the situation through his or her eyes. Looking at the challenges of daily practice from a different perspective will help you see the situation more clearly. Then you can get back to focusing on the pets and clients who need your help.

Julie Gurnon is a freelance writer in Olathe, Kan. Please send questions or comments to firstline@advanstar.com

Click here to listen to team members share their ideas on how to make their jobs easier.

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