The veterinary practice manager's role increases during hard times


Every practice, whatever its size, needs a strong, reliable manager to oversee associates and staff. Once trained, he or she should have a relatively free hand to deal with all management problems as they arise.

Despite reports that the overall recession is ending and the sub-prime mortgage crisis easing, Part 2 is coming up fast. That is the prime-mortgage crisis — the failure of those who once could afford a home but are now increasingly jobless and can't make their mortgage payments. This will be bigger than Part 1.

And don't forget that the rest of the trilogy — the credit-card crisis — is soon to approach as well.

Economically, most veterinary staff members can barely afford a working car and a decent apartment, so when car repairs are needed or a roommate sharing the rent leaves, economic woes ensue. The simplest solution for them is to find a better-paying job.

Turnover costs you more than increasing benefits. However, with unemployment looming, workers remain on the job and share their misery with the entire staff.

The worst person to deal with these staff problems is the practice owner. Some doctors try to juggle patient, client and staff needs simultaneously, but it cannot be done.

That's why every practice, whatever its size, needs a strong, reliable manager to oversee associates and staff. In many states, there is no requirement that the hospital director be a veterinarian.

A practice manager, once trained, should have a relatively free hand to deal with all management problems as they arise (within guidelines set by hospital ownership).

Owners are the last and worst resort. Hospital policy should direct staff members not to come to the owner with a problem. Any who do should be immediately asked, "Have you discussed this with the practice manager?" Their dealing with you directly will undermine the effectiveness of your practice manager and bring back the chaos of yesteryear.

Establish practice policies with your manager to ensure that individual favoritism is never introduced into your office culture.

Example: If you don't already have one, create a written policy on the cost and legal limitations on the treatment of staff pets. (Be mindful of the Tax Form 1099 requirement for discounts greater than 30 percent.)

If you establish an updated pet-insurance guideline of two pets insured by the practice at 100 percent and additional pets at 50 percent employee participation, a practice manager can deal with that. In the absence of such a policy, X and Y staff members may perceive being treated differently, resulting in discord.

The manager's role

It is the manager's role to relieve medical professionals of all tasks for which a state license to practice is not required. He or she does this by supervising an adequate number of trained staff, enabling the veterinarians to concentrate on practicing diagnostic medicine and surgery.

Practice managers supervise hospital staff by:

» Ensuring distribution of updated hospital policies and ensuring compliance

» Instituting and ensuring compliance with job descriptions

» Monitoring preset monthly production goals

» Ensuring a smooth and efficient client/patient flow

» Creating and maintaining a hospital environment in which staff can work together as team members

» Creating and maintaining an environment where clients are satisfied with the thoroughness of services performed.

Practice managers must work with veterinarians and staff to uphold the practice team concept, which in turn fosters more productive client attitudes. Managers must bring out the best in the entire staff, which ultimately benefits clients and patients.

As the owner's staff liaison, the practice manager interprets the hospital director's approach to staff, client and patient care.

Managers essentially are accountable for everything that occurs in your practice and are the primary communicator of policy.

Practice success hinges on an effective manager.

Required skills, talents

The veterinary practice manager must be a mature professional with the abilities to:

» Gain trust and command respect

» Accept and delegate responsibility

» Confront problems successfully

» Listen well to others

» Be organized and consistent

» Work well with others

» Stay cool under pressure

» Work well with the public

» Counsel or terminate unproductive staff.

The accompanying managerial performance evaluation form (see the Related Links section below) is a constructive tool that can help determine where managers are meeting or exceeding expectations and where they might need to improve.

No evaluator should be penalized for honestly stating his/her views. Several evaluations can be averaged to gain an overall impression.

Dr. Gerald Snyder publishes Veterinary Productivity, a newsletter for practice productivity. He can be reached at 536 Grand St., Hoboken NJ 07030; (800) 292-7995; or

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