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VHMA announces 2024 Emerging Leaders scholarship recipients

Press Release
Article

Esteban Sotomayor, MBA, and Rebecca May are receiving funds to attend the association's annual convention and apply for professional certification.

Scholarship winners

Photo: lexiconimages/Adobe Stock

A pair of veterinary professionals have been named the 2024 Emerging Leadership Program Scholarship Award winners by the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA). Esteban Sotomayor, MBA, the owner and practice manager of All Pets Hospital Veterinario in Ecuador, and Rebecca May, the business development and personnel manager at Happy Tails Emergency Veterinary Clinic in Greensboro, North Carolina were selected to receive the award for their commitment to professional growth and leadership.

The VHMA Emerging Leaders program is intended to create an opportunity for the next generation of veterinary management professionals to engage in the association in meaningful ways that contribute to their professional growth, according to an organizational release. The program also aims to energize the association with new leaders and the future direction of the profession.

Award recipients are provided with an annual $2,500 scholarship for 2 years, which can be used toward registration and travel costs to attend the VHMA Annual Meeting and Conference and apply to the veterinary practice manager certification process. Candidate are expected to "give back" to VHMA through specific volunteer activities that position them as an ambassador to promote the program, the association, and the profession.

Esteban Sotomayor, MBA

Sotomayor grew up at All Pets Hospital Veterinario, which his parents opened as the first 24-hour emergency hospital in Ecuador. Following the 2 generations before him into veterinary medicine, Sotomayor wanted a career in hospital management. “I started to take an economics class during high school, and it clicked for me immediately. I learned that I love the business side of the veterinary industry,” said Sotomayor, in the release.

Sotomayor received a scholarship to the University of New Orleans and went on to earn a bachelor’s degrees in business administration and marketing, and a master’s degree in business administration. After completing college and returning to Ecuador, he viewed the hospital’s operations from a new perspective by observing issues the facility was facing because of a lack of business expertise. “While my parents did the best that they could with the knowledge that they had, the hospital lacked the business structure that it needed to grow,” said Sotomayor. “The hospital was not dynamic enough to adapt to market needs. We were near bankruptcy and client retention was extremely low.”

In an effort to improve the work environment, Sotomayor’s initial focus was to implement several new policies for retaining staff and increasing employee satisfaction. He then worked to cultivate customer-oriented culture. The staff was taught how to prioritize customers and to deliver a unique, personal touch to give clients a positive experience and inclination to return, according to VHMA. Sotomayor also saw that the hospital adopted a new management system that could provide instant feedback and information needed to make quick decisions. The new system is helping the team to make better decisions, identify inefficiencies, and increase the speed of the billing process.

“Through strategic changes, team building and embracing new technology, we have been able to turn the situation around and set my family’s hospital on the path towards success,” said Sotomayor, in the release.

The Emerging Leaders Award and Sotomayor’s efforts to become certified as a practice manager will help him support the hospital’s staff and the practice. According to VHMA, these achievements also support the veterinary industry in Latin America through his speaking engagements and close collaborations. “In Ecuador, a large majority of the clinics and hospitals are run directly by veterinarians with no formal education in business or management. If we give veterinarians a chance to learn about administration and management, we can all thrive together,” said Sotomayor, in the release.

In his free time, Sotomayor enjoys walking his pet Chihuahua and boxing. He also owns VetFlexx, a veterinary equipment distribution company that he operates out of the hospital, which enables him to stay ahead of the curve and have an intimate knowledge of cutting-edge technology before it enters the marketplace.

Rebecca May

While she was working for an insurance sales company, May saw a newspaper advertisement for a short-term receptionist role at a veterinary clinic. Although she was unhappy in her then-current position, she applied for the job. “I had thought I would just collect a paycheck or 2 there while I searched for my next sales job. I had always loved animals and always enjoyed customer service, but when I started working at the clinic, I also developed a passion for caring for the people who care for the animals. There was no going back after that,” said May, in the organizational release.

May focused on accruing as much knowledge and experience as possible, trying out multiple roles within the clinic. May found that she was most interested in management, and while working as a veterinary assistant, she completed Penn Foster’s Veterinary Practice Management Certificate Program. This helped her to develop a stronger foundation of medical knowledge and to understand how to support her staff. May has now been in the veterinary medicine industry for over 18 years, with her last 6 years being exclusively in management, according to VHMA

May encountered her biggest obstacle as a manager when one of her employees overdosed in an attempted suicide. “Prior to working in management, I had lost a team member to suicide. When this [overdose] happened, I had just lost my father as well. I knew there was so much more that I could do for this employee who had just joined my team months prior. With no specific plan in place to follow, I began to research what resources were out there,” said May, in the release.

May completed the coursework through Evergreen to become Compassion Fatigue Certified, CCFP, to be more aware of the warning signs and how to intervene before it is too late. A plan was developed to reintegrate the individual back into the workforce when the employee was medically cleared to return to work.

“This experience absolutely transformed me as a manager. I would encourage any manager in this position to seek as much help and resources as possible for their employees suffering from mental health issues. The numbers behind veterinary suicide statistics are staggering. The time has come to destigmatize this topic,” said May, in the release.

May has worked with VHMA in the past, and expressed surprise when she learned that she received the Emerging Leader Program Award. “The real push for applying was that I have a passion for teaching and also sharing my experiences and connecting with people in the field, and earning my CVPM will allow me to do that,” said May, in the release.

May lives with her husband, Brandon, and her 2 sons, Jake and Grant. She enjoys going on long hikes with her dog, Beans. May also is a Cub Scout Leader and serves as the STEM Coordinator for the Old North State Council.

Reference

Esteban Sotomayor and Rebecca May named 2024 VHMA Emerging Leaders Program recipients. News release. Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. January 5, 2023.

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