Change Starts Here—Radical Improvement in Veterinary Medicine Requires Radical Change
No matter where you go or where you are, modern veterinary professionals all seem to be saying the same thing:
“Everything is so bad right now.”
“How much worse can it get?”
“We can’t go on like this.”
Serious issues affecting professional and personal wellbeing—including staffing shortages, escalating burnout, compassion fatigue, and rampant attrition—are fueling further misery and struggle. We seem to be in an inescapable tailspin.
Especially when you start looking for solutions.
When you dig a little deeper and investigate the root causes of this ongoing, relentless stress and strife, and when you examine workflows, protocols, and staffing decisions looking for a potential source, you’ll often hear another chorus-like statement:
“But, we’ve always done it this way.”
Flip the script, right the ship—stop expecting old habits to fix new problems
Tradition and familiarity have served our industry well for a long time—but neither James Herriott’s sleepy pastoral patterns, nor outdated technologies, workflows, relationships, and job descriptions hold up in today’s evolving practices.
We can’t complain about veterinary medicine and simultaneously cling to our comfortable and familiar routine. To tackle the big issues, veterinary professionals need to take off the blinders and examine each section of their practice with a clinical and unbiased perspective.
Here are five ways to drop old excuses and start a new—and positive—conversation about veterinary medicine’s future.
#1: Set the tone for your team
Practice owners, managers, and senior associates often don’t realize how strongly their actions shape hospital culture. Although small behaviors, such as complaining about clients or colleagues, can seem a natural part of any workplace—and often are staunchly defended by the perpetrators as “therapeutic” or “necessary”—such actions create an emotionally unhealthy environment.
Yes, veterinary teams are underpaid, overworked, and often abused—by patients and clients alike—but waving a flag of martyrdom or jadedness only compounds negative feelings, until the only escape is leaving the field entirely.
Team leaders should instead focus on fostering a healthy practice culture that emphasizes and includes:
- Learning and growth — Not bullying and shame
- Accountability — Refusing to defer blame
- Mentorship — Not trial and error, or “sink or swim”
- Collaboration — Unity, not autonomy
#2: Embrace technology
This advice is not groundbreaking, but bears repeating, because many veterinary practices focus on potential negatives, such as purchase and operating costs, conversion problems, malfunctioning equipment, and data leaks, and are hesitant to embrace the digital world.
But, the advantages of updating your practice’s technology aren’t limited to the digital realm. Properly integrating and using technology can streamline your team’s day by automating time-consuming but repetitive tasks, shaping your business decisions with up-to-date tracking, and providing team members greater job satisfaction because they can spend more time with patients and clients.
#3: Examine your workflow—work smarter, not harder
Efficiency is a cheap, easily uttered buzzword, but more challenging to achieve—because truly examining your workflow means holding up a mirror to your practice’s imperfections and blemishes, and then instituting change.
Spend a week tracking time-consuming responsibilities (e.g., inventory management) from start to finish, and hire an efficiency expert to measure the time your team spends on their daily routines. Look for unnecessary delays or repetitive steps, as well as micromanaging, insufficient training, or lack of knowledge, which can smooth day-to-day operations, improve schedule flow, and provide team members with a better work-life balance when addressed head-on.
#4: Trust, train, and empower your technicians
Licensed technicians are integral to practice success, but often are relegated to menial tasks, because of staffing shortages or—more commonly—a lack of trust or proper utilization. Instead of asking your techs or other skilled team members to perform entry-level and general housekeeping tasks, revisit your hiring strategy and consider relief support, seasonal employees, or vet tech or pre-vet students for less skilled tasks.
If you give your licensed technicians the space and time to grow their skills and take on appropriate responsibilities, you’ll increase your technician retention rates, attract additional licensed technicians, improve patient and client care, and drive practice revenue.
#5: Train, don’t blame—avoid client conflict by setting expectations and boundaries
Stop painting clients as the enemy. While the service industry has undoubtedly suffered from increased inappropriate, rude, and aggressive customer behavior, retaliation—in-person or not—will only add to the hostility and may unintentionally bleed into your interactions with “good” clients.
Don’t feel victimized by client behavior—instead, shape their actions with clear expectations and boundaries that are reaffirmed at every visit. Consistent messaging about your practice values, approach to medicine, and accessibility to care will weed out clients who aren’t a good fit for your clinic and help you cultivate a proactive, thoughtful, savvy clientele.
Client training is an ongoing process, so ensure your team is on the same page about important issues, including:
- Communicating cost of care — Outline pricing to prevent surprises
- Practice standard of care — High, mid-tier, or low-cost medicine
- Veterinarian availability — After hours or on days off
- Client behavior standards — What’s expected and what won’t be tolerated
Complaining about veterinary medicine won’t move the profession forward unless we give up our entrenched ways and embrace change. Fortunately, in the past few years, we have seen that the veterinary industry is made up of adaptable and innovative individuals who can look absolute uncertainty in the face, and say, “How can I help?”
Let’s recognize our own needs—as well as our faults—so that we can continue to care for those around us. Need help getting started? Request a Veterinary System Services consultation to learn how our services can support your practice to achieve long-lasting change.