Professionalism Raises the Bar in Veterinary Medicine

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What do you think of when you hear the word “professionalism”? 

  • Competent
  • Confident
  • Respected
  • Businesslike
  • Teacher
  • Honest
  • Establishes priorities
  • Driven
  • Above gossip
  • Productive
  • Well-dressed
  • Takes initiative
  • Problem-solver
  • Resilient
  • Self-aware
  • Relationship builder

Professionalism is another area where we should focus as we excitedly anticipate the changes coming about from NAVTA’s Veterinary Nurse Initiative (VNI) (for more on this, read my VNI blog here). In addition to title protection, conformity of credentialing across states, and scope definitions in state veterinary practice acts, we need to address professionalism for veterinary technicians, so we can raise technicians to the level of our cohorts in human medicine.

Did you know that it is standard in human medicine for professionalism to be taught in medical and nursing schools, and during hospital trainings? Did you also know that the AVMA specifically outlines principles of veterinary medical ethics and professionalism for veterinarians? Why do techs not receive the same training, and why aren’t we held to the same standards? 

To better answer these questions, we first need to better understand professionalism. Merriam Webster defines professionalism as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.” They further define a professional as “(1): characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession, and (2): exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace.” 

How does this apply in practice? Liz Mossop defines four core professional skills in veterinary professionalism in her thesis paper, “Teaching and Assessing Veterinary Professionalism”:

  1. Communication — Ensures a smooth flow of ideas, facts, decisions, and advice
  2. Ethical reasoning — The ability to identify, assess, and develop ethical arguments from a variety of ethical positions 
  3. Reflective practice Thinking about or reflecting on what you do to learn from experience and decide what you would do differently next time
  4. Learning skills Learning that deepens knowledge and understanding should develop thinking, knowledge, skills, and understanding; this type of learning is focused on enquiry and critical thinking

Utilizing these skills as a professional allows us to reinforce the technical and ethical standards of our profession. The benefits to the industry of emphasizing the importance of professionalism include improved team dynamics, increased client satisfaction, increased career satisfaction for technicians, better alignment with the practice’s core values and vision, and increased clinic revenue.

When you take Mossop’s four skills and look at how they can improve our clinics, our industry, and our careers as technicians, it elevates us to an incredible level of professionalism.

Improved team dynamics

Imagine what would happen to your team dynamics if your employees focused on professional communication. The ability to communicate with someone else in the way they best communicate is a valuable skill that goes a long way toward creating a highly functioning team. Now, imagine that your team communicates well and has the ability to see things from other people’s perspectives. It would alleviate the knee-jerk reactions of assuming a co-worker is being an a*$, instead of trying to understand where they’re coming from. Not only that, but they’re reflecting on their communication and relationships with their co-workers to learn how to better work with them in the future. In an environment that welcomes safe communication between team members, they feel safer asking for help, and teaching and learning from each other, which builds a bond of trust based on their skill set, vulnerability, and passion for the best care of the patients together.

Increased client satisfaction

How many times have you been frustrated with a client during an estimate review or a discharge because they “just don’t get it”? Now, picture a difficult client conversation you’ve had that, despite the circumstances, went really well for everyone—it just clicked. What if you could strive to make most of your difficult client conversations click like that? Each time we communicate with a client, we learn something about their communication style and about ourselves. Again, looking at something from someone else’s perspective and learning how you can do it better next time will deepen your relationships and level of trust with your clients. It will open them up to learning from your team and trusting your expertise.

Increased career satisfaction for technicians

When technicians and managers can improve their communication to better understand what the employee is passionate about, what their goals are, and what their opportunities are within the hospital, we give our technicians a career path within your practice. This builds to the trust of handing off more responsibilities to technicians, and allowing them to learn new advanced technical and leadership skills, keeping them challenged and, hopefully, keeping them in the field longer. 

Better alignment with practice core values and vision

When your team can communicate well and see each other’s perspectives, they can work together to further the goals and values of the business. If clinic owners and practice managers can approach these conversations with genuine passion about their vision, they will lead a team that will not just punch in and out for their shifts, but carry the torch of the company values through the trenches of the busiest days on the floor.

Increased clinic revenue

Now, your team’s communication has improved, your clients are recognizing the excellent customer service and trust the care that your hospital is offering to their pet, and all your employees are aligned with your clinic’s values and mission. You may start to see fewer employee absences, decreased turnover, and increased client approval of estimates. Your empowered employees may bring new ideas to you for services they’re passionate about and want to begin offering your clients. Just think of all the revenue this will generate for your practice!

The benefits of training veterinary staff in professionalism, and focusing on improving this within your clinic, can lead to improved team dynamics, satisfied clients, higher job satisfaction, and increased practice revenue. As leaders in the veterinary field, we should all encourage raising the bar on veterinary professionalism to reignite the passion of our veterinary teams for the long run.

KS Headshot

Katie is a CVT, wife, mother, manager, and adventurous chef. When she’s not working at VSS (or being a mom – work in progress), she’s hiking, traveling, reading, or trying out a new hobby to see if it will stick.

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