Lacey heard the tell-tale chirp from her cell phone.
Lacey heard the tell-tale chirp from her cell phone. She looked down from the dashboard and grabbed the silver device stuffed between an empty soda can and the cupholder in the middle console of the clinic's new van. She popped open the screen. It read, "get candy at WM."
The text was from Sandi.
She looked up in time to see brake lights approaching at close to 40 mph and stomped on her brakes, then plopped the phone back into the cupholder.
As Lacey waited in line to turn right into the Wal-Mart parking lot, she was glad to receive the message. She made a mental note to add "candy" to the list of items she was to buy for the clinic.
Lacey and the rest of the staff were closet candy and chocolate fanatics. They had hidden various goodies all over the practice for those precious "sugar breaks" every hour or so. After all, Lacey thought to herself, there isn't enough time to sit down and eat anything "normal," with pets and clients always coming at you like a blizzard.
Sandi was her best bud at the practice. They could relate and often hung out together after work. Lacey was the designated "Wal-Mart buyer," and she enjoyed the 20-minute hiatus from the hectic practice environment.
Lacey and Sandi were both in their 20's and enjoying life as best they could on their limited incomes.
Ken Thurmond was old school. He had graduated in 1977 from Texas A&M and had worked in a mixed-animal practice for a number of years before opening his own practice in the 1980s.
Originally his was a mixed-animal practice, but demographics of the area finally twisted his arm — he now owned an exclusive small-animal practice on the edge of the suburbs.
But he was still old school. He liked to do surgery — the more the better.
Sarah Rogers looked up from counting some pills and smiled at Ken. She was 30-something and, after a shaky beginning, was starting to be very confident in her abilities. Many clients asked for her first.
"Yes, Ken. You look puzzled."
"What ever happened to that Swinford case? You know, the Basset hound with osteosarcoma. You saw it last week but never talked to me about amputation or medical follow-up."
"Ken, you were off last Wednesday when they came back in. I sent you a quick e-mail to let you know I was sending them to a specialist in Dallas for follow-up. They wanted the best care possible."
Ken bit his lip.
"Sarah, we try to give the best care possible here before we send things out. Remember? We talked about that at the last vet meeting."
"I'm sorry, Ken. I didn't want to disturb you at home, and you never turn your cell phone on, so I just went with what the owners wanted," Sarah replied sheepishly.
"Sarah, I read my e-mails at least once a week," Ken said firmly but with resignation in his voice.
"I'm sorry. I'll try to call your home phone next time," Sarah said sympathetically. "I know the Swinfords are longtime clients of yours."
Ken didn't say anything aloud but thought about it for a moment. "As long as the lungs and blood tests are clear, that Basset just needs an amputation — right here in our practice. This would never have happened five years ago. The vets seemed to communicate better then. What has happened?"
They both smiled and headed toward different parts of the clinic.
Sarah walked into the storage room (aka the break room) where she found Sandi and Kathy, the lead tech, embroiled in a heated dispute. Kathy was closer to Dr. Rogers' age, and the two often sided with each other on various issues.
"What is the problem here?" Sarah asked.
"We ran out of everything today," cried Sandi. "We need heartworm medication and insulin and who knows what else, and we have two clients out front right now mad at me –just me — because they want it right now."
Kathy jumped in. "Sandi wants to run over to Lake Street Vet Clinic and get all this stuff right now. We need her here because Lacey is at Wal-Mart. I might add that she left for Wal-Mart without telling anyone."
"How do you know they even have any of that stuff?" offered Dr. Rogers.
"I was online and I instant-messaged Brenda at Lakestreet. She said they can lend us a partial bottle of insulin and they have some broken heartworm boxes that they can give us," Sandi replied.
Dr. Rogers tried to mediate.
"Let me go up and talk to the clients. They can surely wait one more day while we find a way to get their medication to them."
As the doctor went up front to patch things up, the staff members continued.
"Sandi, there is a solution to all this. We have a want list, and when things get low you must add that item to the list, and I will order it like I always do on Wednesdays," Kathy said.
"I think we need a new way of doing this. It doesn't work for me. We need to get a group of us together and brainstorm a solution. Maybe we should be online all the time, perhaps work out a weekly messaging system with the other vets in town and just share drugs. Maybe when people call in we can send them to the other vets right away. I just don't want anybody mad at me," lamented Sandi.
"I don't think that is a very good business plan, but we do need a meeting soon. We need to make a list of things to cover and this will be one of them," Kathy said.
Both Sandi and Kathy were calmer and feeling better. After all, Dr. Rogers was doing the heavy lifting up front.
Just then both Sandi and Kathy were jolted from their internal thoughts by a cell phone ringing in Sandi's purse.
Sandi snared it from an inside pocket.
She opened it as Kathy looked over her shoulder.
The message read:
"Accident-Am OK – van smashed — LC."
Sandi hung up and crushed the speed-dial setting for Lacey.
"Are you all right?" Sandi asked.
"Yeah, I am eating chocolate."
Dr. Thurmond entered the room.
"What's going on?" he remarked impatiently.
Kathy looked up and remarked:
"You will not be LOL. Your clinic van is SOL."
I never understood why my father harped about how deep the snow was and how far he had to walk to school.
In like manner, today's younger generations have a hard time picturing life without text messaging and cell phones.
Last year I was caught in the middle of a generational gap while teaching a practice-management class for a local veterinary technician program. I noticed that two of my poorer students were looking down onto their laps during a test. A fellow teacher came in and informed me that the two were texting answers to each other on their cell phones. I was dumbfounded and caught in a generational "gotcha."
I am a Baby Boomer. If I tell a Gen Y that I was raised in an era whose times were somewhat "Pollyanna" they would look at me and wonder if I was referring an ancient album recorded in 2000 by the rock band Northstar.
As a Boomer child I might have told friends that I "liked" this girl or that girl, implying that I would like to be her boyfriend. Now the word "like" is sometimes sprinkled non-stop into every sentence of a personal story told by someone a few decades younger than me.
How does this affect the veterinary workplace?
Like every other workplace, our staff ranks contain three distinct groups: The Boomers, the Gen Xers and Generation Y.
For veterinarians, the real issue in the practice environment is communication.
These three groups often do not communicate well with each other. In some cases generations are in conflict over "who makes the rules." This may come down to a conflict between younger staff with "fresh" ideas vs. those with "experience."
If your practice is large enough, cliques will form around generational groups. This is because these groups have similar outlooks that are a reflection of the popular culture (environment) that they have been exposed to, including family, friends, school and media. These generational groups have expectations based on these cultural outlooks. When these expectations are not met, conflict erupts.
It is important for the owner to ask staff to interact with each other on all generational levels. This may be uncomfortable for some at first but vital if the practice is to become a functional unit. Most practices create a specific culture from within. The veterinary culture should be as inclusive as possible.
It will help if all generations strive to help and support each other.
One of the most important things a staff member can do is to try to understand and successfully interpret what is important to the lives of others in the workplace.
It is the Golden Rule.
Or, loosely paraphrasing an American Indian saying: In order to understand someone you must walk a mile in their moccasins.
Dr. Lane is a graduate of the University of Illinois. He owns and manages two practices in southern Illinois. Dr. Lane completed a master's degree in agricultural economics in 1996. He is a speaker and author of numerous practice-management articles. He also offers a broad range of consulting services. Dr. Lane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org