By Steve Pearson, DVM
Veterinary Practice News
"We've all heard the familiar saying about happiness at home. It says, "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Maybe it's time for veterinarians to admit, "If the doctor ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."
It's so easy to become overly focused on the clinical aspects of practice. As advances in veterinary medicine continues to expand, we can fall into the trap of preoccupation with medicine to the exclusion of enjoying our work.
As if that were not enough, economic realities including student debt often seem to pop into our minds as regularly as our screen saver does every morning.
If we aren't careful, we risk losing many of the joys of working in the veterinary profession.
It's a shame to habitually end workdays feeling totally stressed and overwhelmed. The good news is the burgeoning mountain of knowledge, the economic challenges and all the rest are manageable details.
Effective management begins with a plan. Effective plans stand on a set of basic tenets. Consider the following seven tenets intended to lead to genuine work satisfaction.
1) Take time to interact with clients.
Veterinarians love people, not just animals. When we're too busy or too preoccupied with other things, we can lose the satisfaction of getting to know clients personally.
When looking back over a long career in practice, faces, personalities and conversations with clients are what flash across my mind. Of course, their pets were central in it all. But, it's the unique 3-way bond that gives those experiences enduring value.
The busy nature of a veterinary practice is the reason we must be intentional about making an extra effort to casually and sincerely add a dash of social interaction to every visit. It's the "special sauce" that keeps the doctor, the staff and the clients eagerly coming back for more.
2) Make it easy for clients to do business with you.
While parenting three children through adolescence, my wife and I learned to choose our battles carefully. In other words, we realized not all errant actions were worth a skirmish. We saved our energy for times when we'd need to stand our ground. And we managed to keep the lines of communication open with our kids.
The same principle can be applied to a veterinary practice. Take, for example "800 Pet Pharms" businesses. I'm not a fan either, to say the least. And I know very few clients understand the true lack of quality they often get by going that route. But, if those clients sense your sincere intention is to help them care for their pet, the lines of communication are far more likely to remain open. That could be the difference between years of seeing their pet and losing a client altogether.
3) Act like a professional.
I fear this is another rewarding characteristic of veterinary medicine that's being undermined by changing forces within and from outside our profession.
Professionalism is inseparable from words like honesty, integrity and ethics. We invest huge chunks of time and finances to become eligible for inclusion in our profession. The ability to consider oneself a professional is a hard-earned reward.
We must individually and collectively guard against anything that threatens that privilege.
My favorite book on this subject is "True Professionalism: The Courage to Care About Your People, Your Clients, and Your Career" by David H. Maister.
Always doing the right thing is often not easy, and the rewards are seldom noticed quickly. it takes strong commitment over the long haul to build a reputation as an admirable professional.
4) Understand that you cannot please everyone.
During my years of traveling to the university, I often passed a small restaurant with a sign in the window that has kept my attention throughout my career.
Over the years, whenever I've encountered disgruntled clients, the sign in that restaurant window has encouraged me. It simply said, "We have over a thousand satisfied customers and a few old grouches."
It doesn't take long to realize that some people are going to misinterpret our intentions or something we say or something we do. It's just an inevitable part of dealing with people.
By the way, don't forget that we are all people, and we are all capable of mistakes.
5) Invest in your hospital's physical environment.
Everything from design, to cleanliness, to pictures on the walls contributes to the environment within a workplace. The effects of each can be positive, neutral or negative. Obviously, we need to accentuate the positive.
Money spent on improving the feel and functionality of veterinary hospitals has the potential to yield significant benefits. One reason we overlook the benefits is that those benefits are difficult to measure.
In the case of existing hospitals, take a look around after hours and note areas or objects that impart a negative sensation. It may be the presence of dust, animal hair or aging curtains. Correcting those issues is quick and easy.
Maybe there's a framed picture on the wall of an exam room that brings back memories from a bad experience every time you see it. Or maybe you've just grown tired of looking at the same scene for years. Replace it with something that sparks energy and positive vibes.
Of course, beyond simple changes like that, there are endless ways to remodel for brighter moods and increased efficiency.
At the end of the day, any improvements that increase emotional and physical equity are worthwhile investments.
6) Support your team members.
Every practice with a top-notch staff should provide team members with a good salary and benefits package. Helping team members experience personal growth and a healthy work-life balance contributes to an atmosphere of work satisfaction.
Beyond that, practices can provide valuable support by functioning like a family. A family philosophy can create and foster loyalty, unity, and productivity.
Another critical aspect of staff support is that the doctor's default reaction must be to defend team members in misunderstandings with clients. Details can be sorted out in time. Team members either deserve that kind of support, they deserve private coaching to improve or they're not the right people for your organization.
I was recently informed that years ago the vet assistants at our hospital appreciated knowing I had their back. Honestly, it was news to me, or I'd forgotten it. But it seems to have had a lasting effect on them.
7) Take care of yourself first.
Each of the tenets in our list is designed to help veterinarians take care of themselves. But that's not easy for driven people like us to actually put into practice. It takes a long-term perspective to visualize the true value of making self-preservation a priority.
We should continually remind ourselves that the well-being of our families, our coworkers, our clients and our patients is tied directly to the level of our own well-being. If we aren't physically and emotionally fit, we cannot expect to provide the support others need from us.
None of these seven tenets results in overnight success. It all takes time. In his popular book, "The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines Into Massive Success," Jeff Olson writes convincingly about how the best things in life are built over time by taking small steps. Eventually, they come together into something special. I'd say achieving satisfaction in our work happens that way, too.
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