Why technicians leaveand what you can do about it
Julie Carlson, CVT
Julie Carlson is a freelance author and certified veterinary technician in Phoenix. She is the founder of Vets for Vets Pets, a nonprofit organization providing supplies and medical care to the pets of homeless and at-risk veterans.
As a practice manager, you play a key role in keeping veterinary technicians happy and healthy and at your practice.
Check out this quick snapshot of why veterinary technicians leave-and how to stop the exodus from your practice.
Let's face it, techs will never earn what they're actually worth to a practice, but they have to make a living wage. Veterinary technicians go through extensive training and education, and most have made the commitment to achieve a two-year degree and are paying off student debt. While it may not be in your budget to pay your techs handsomely, here are some ideas to close the gap.
• Pay them better. If you can find the funds to raise their pay, do it. Good, fast technicians improve hospital profitability. They pay for themselves by being efficient with their work, allowing you to see more patients and boost your bottom line.
• Provide benefits. Health insurance, CE, scrubs, pet insurance and lunch and learns all show you care about your techs' education, health and well-being. It costs a lot for techs to buy these items individually, but you can get discounts and bulk rates for your whole team by making connections with companies. These benefits make a lower wage more palatable.
• Explain the bottom line.If techs understand the costs of running and owning a practice, it helps put their wages into perspective.
• Be open with the books. Your technicians know if your practice made $5 million last year, and they may wonder, "Why are we making $12 an hour?" Explaining the cost to run the business shows your team the big picture-and they might even have ideas about how to improve the bottom line.
• Ask for their input. Techs who feel heard feel valuable. Ask for feedback on hospital policies, procedures and so on. If your techs say a client should be fired, consider it. They take a lot of grief from clients you might not even know about. Keeping a cruel client tells techs that you don't care about them.
Many techs leave practice because they feel that they're not respected as professionals. Some feel belittled by veterinarians or managers, others feel dismissed and even harassed by their employer. Here's how to show technicians you value them.
• Listen to your techs. They have valuable insights into every part of the business. Many have ideas on how to improve the workflow, streamline appointments, make scheduling less complicated and even rearrange work areas to make them more functional. When you give team members a sense of validation and value they feel respected. And don't forget to ask technicians what you can do better-you might be surprised by the feedback.
• Schedule regular meetings with the entire team. It's common for technicians to have a monthly meeting, but how often do veterinarians attend? Show your team that you think of them as equals by making sure all team members, including veterinarians, attend meetings and listen to the messages your team shares.
• Encourage your doctors to get silly. It might sound strange, but doctors who can find the right balance of serious to funny are oftentimes held in higher regard than those who are stoic all the time. When doctors show they're comfortable being silly in front of your techs they show they trust their technicians.
• Don't have secret meetings. Techs know you must meet with other practice leaders-co-owners, shareholders, and so on-to develop financial strategies. But when you have a lot of closed-door discussions, especially inside the clinic, it creates an us-versus-them feeling that can make your team uncomfortable and on edge.
• Don't trash talk any staff member. Techs are smart. They know if you're talking crap about one of them, you're likely doing it to the others.
• Be clear with instructions, but be nice about it. Explain the task and ask if the technician has any questions or needs assistance to achieve the goal. (And make sure your doctors are doing this too!) No one responds well to condescension or passive-aggressiveness.
Every technician I know has dealt with frustration in the workplace. Here's help to quell these common irritations.
• Don't give confusing or conflicting instructions. Get owners, managers and supervisors on the same page so you can give clear instructions to the team.
• Follow through. If you tell your team that you're going hold an event, fix a broken piece of equipment or stock a certain product, do it! It makes your team feel unimportant when you put them off, and they're frustrated when they must make do. For example, Mrs. Smith has been asking for Doxie the dachshund's favorite type of dental chew, and your technician told her it's on the way. But you didn't order it. And it's your technician who takes the heat when Mrs. Smith gets mad that Doxie's dental treat never arrived.
• Address staff issues. If Roxy is consistently late, discipline her. If Lisa takes a lot of unauthorized breaks, make her stop. If a tech comes to you with a problem they're having with another team member, help them solve it. Ignoring staff issues is a surefire way to breed frustration and animosity, and team members might just get so frustrated they quit.
Most technicians have gone through years of schooling and hands-on training, as well as passing lengthy state and national exams and attending regular continuing education classes. When you don't use their skills to the fullest potential, you're conveying a message of mistrust in their abilities and doubts about their knowledge. (Not sure what they can do? Here's a starting place.) Here are some ways to help use your technicians more effectively.
• Put your technicians in charge. If you have a tech with a proclivity for client education, put her in charge of developing client handouts. If your tech is interested in lab work, put her in charge of maintaining lab equipment and training other team members on lab procedures. If your tech loves dentistry, surgery, radiology or another area of practice, send her to CE classes where she can learn more on the subject and then teach it to the rest of the team. These will be your go-to people and subject matter experts who can help train your team to raise everyone's satisfaction level in the workplace.
• Send techs to CE conferences like CVC. They will learn a ton of information to bring back to the clinic and reignite their passion for veterinary medicine. That passion is contagious to other staff members and will get them excited to try what they've learned.
CVT, LVT, RVT, technician, nurse, assistant-what does it all mean? There's confusion even among us in the profession, so how can we expect the public to know what's what? We've all had the experience of seeing the confused looks we get when we tell someone, "I'm a veterinary technician." Or worse, have someone reply, “Wow, I wish I could play with puppies and kittens all day!” Take the opportunity to teach your clients by using the following tips.
• Don't lump all your techs into one category. Call them credentialed veterinary technicians (or nurses, if that's the direction your state board is heading), call them assistants, call them what they are-give credit where credit is due.
• Explain techs' worth to clients. Tell clients about their skills. For example:
- Mary will be performing Fluffy's dental cleaning and taking radiographs.
- Kirstin will take a blood sample and analyze it.
- Annette will scrub in with Dr. Cares on Fido's surgery.
• Celebrate National Veterinary Technician Week. This is your chance to show the world how much you appreciate your techs. Here are a few ideas to get started:
1. Post a photo of each technician with a bio of their interests and hobbies.
2. Ask your technicians to create a handout or display that will show off their knowledge and skills.
3. Publish a daily post on social media about your techs and the work they do.
4. Give technicians personalized gifts that show you care about them (for example, bandage scissors engraved with each tech's name).
• Update your website with bios on each tech. Leaving them off the site shows they're not important. Not updating because “there's too much staff turnover” shows they're replaceable and not worth investing in.
Losing good veterinary technicians is disappointing. Sometimes it's for reasons beyond our control. But we can help our techs feel cared for and valued. And when in doubt, just talk to your technicians. Ask them for feedback on what you can do to improve your hospital and be the most effective leader for your team.
Julie Carlson, CVT, is a freelance author. She is the winner of the 2015 Hero Veterinary Technician Award from the American Humane Association and the Founder of Vets for Vets' Pets, a nonprofit organization providing medical care to the pets of homeless and at-risk veterans. Julie has five cats and two Chihuahuas and lives in Phoenix, Arizona.