Making 2021 Great, Part 3: Support the Veterinary Team You Have

smiling veterinarian

By Staci Welsh, CVPM, CVT, LVT 

It’s no secret that veterinary professionals are in short supply. Whether you’re looking for a CSR, licensed or registered veterinary technician, or a veterinarian, it would probably be easier to find a needle in a haystack. Since it’s nearly impossible to add to your veterinary team—much less find that perfect unicorn—focus on supporting the team you have.

Rather than hiring a rotating cast of warm bodies to round out your support staff, bolster your current team’s skills and motivate them to reach new heights of patient and client care.

Staff retention can be difficult even in the best of times, and COVID times are certainly far from the best. By catering to your team’s mental, physical, and professional growth needs, you can keep the team members you have, even in the midst of challenging times. Even if you don’t have a team full of unicorns, you can support them and help them grow into becoming these mythical employees. Incorporate the following strategies into your team-support toolkit, and you’ll soon have a team of star employees driving your veterinary practice to new heights.

#1: Rotate veterinary team members to different positions

No matter how invigorating, exciting, and challenging your job may be, we all occasionally fall into a rut. Even handling hit-by-cars, proptosed eyeballs, and dystocias every night at your veterinary emergency hospital can lead to numbness in a team member’s particular role. Spark enjoyment and fresh ideas by rotating your team through your practice’s various positions, and encourage them to swap roles for a shift or two—provided they’re qualified for their new role. This will help them to develop empathy and respect for their colleagues. 

There’s a reason many veterinarians, technicians, and assistants “hide in the back”—they’ve been in your CSR’s shoes and understand how difficult it is to work at the front desk!

Allowing your team to change roles in your practice can also help reduce burnout and compassion fatigue. If your CSRs are bearing the brunt of grumpy COVID clients day after day, they will likely appreciate a breather by acting as a veterinary assistant for a few days. This helps them decompress, snuggle some adorable animals, and find their zest for client service again. 

veterinary staff holding cat

#2: Support continuing education passions

Have you ever been stuck in a job where there was zero room for growth or advancement? Don’t let that happen to your veterinary team. Support their passions by investing in continuing education opportunities, outside of the general requirements to maintain their license. If your associate veterinarian is interested in incorporating more holistic methods into the practice, ask them to research acupuncture, chiropractic, or traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM) courses and certifications to see what they’re most intrigued by. In addition to supporting your team member in their professional growth interests, your practice will experience a boost in business through increased service offerings. 

Empower your team even more by asking your reps to help with resources that will allow team members to become “champions” in their chosen category. Drug and manufacturing representatives are a fantastic resource for free CE, which is typically the largest, most expensive, hurdle when it comes to pursuing professional passions. For example, food companies typically offer a certification program to become a brand ambassador after completing certain CE courses. Or, a company that produces pheromone products might sponsor a veterinary technician to become Fear Free certified, encouraging them to become an advocate for the brand while pursuing their passion. 

No matter what your team is interested in, each employee is sure to find the perfect fit for their personal and professional growth goals. Niches for your team to become involved in include:

  • Nutrition
  • Puppy and kitten education
  • Dentistry
  • Pet insurance
  • Behavior
  • Exotic pet care
  • Pain management
  • Anesthesia
specialty veterinarian

Veterinary technician specialties are an excellent starting place for ideas on passion projects for your team members.

Empowering your employees to participate in what really inspires them goes a long way toward keeping them engaged in your hospital—and the profession itself.

#3: Add a digital coordinator position

Is your hospital’s Facebook page lackluster? Freshen it up by creating a new position for your practice—social media manager. Many employees find this a fun task to handle for their practice, plus it’s a great way for them to earn some extra cash outside of their typical duties. 

If you have a veterinary hospital app, or are overwhelmed with emails and other messages from clients, switch the position to a full-fledged digital coordinator. The person granted this task can handle all your digital communication, which can be greatly rewarding, and it often provides a welcome reprieve from the daily grind. Schedule appropriate time for your team member to accomplish their tasks, and choose the slowest time of day to schedule your digital coordinator’s duties so other team members don’t become resentful.

#4: Implement regular one-on-one meetings with team members

Depending on the size of your team, schedule monthly or quarterly “check-ins” to see how they’re doing. Use these one-on-one sessions to see if a team member is struggling with anything or what new responsibilities they’re interested in learning. These personal meetings are a great way to build relationships with your employees. 

The intent is not a “review,” but a “hey, how are you?” and it’s important that you are 100% engaged in the conversation. This lets an employee know that you truly care and are a resource for them, and it gives the manager a pulse on the mindset of the employee. Periodic check-in meetings are great stepping stones to get to know your team on a personal level, and it allows you to identify problems, signs of burnout, or other areas within the practice that need work.

veterinarian and staff wearing masks

#5: Schedule—and follow through—with annual evaluations

Your team may look forward to and dread evaluations in equal measures, but these annual reviews are often paired with at least a cost-of-living raise, if not more. Many of your team members rely on raises, bonuses, and discounts to make ends meet. Use these in-depth meetings to discuss how your team can reach the next tier for a raise, or how they can pursue their passions within veterinary medicine. Talk about what skills need to be mastered, certifications that can be achieved, and other criteria your practice has for different pay levels. Offer what you can to help your employees reach their professional goals, and take their suggestions, complaints, and questions seriously to help them thrive.

All too often, annual evaluations focus on the negatives, but strive instead for constructive criticism. Work through problem areas together, and offer solutions to tasks or relationships your team members may be struggling with. Use these annual reviews to further strengthen your personal and professional relationship with your team, rather than treating it as a scary trip to the principal’s office.

#6: Plan team-building activities

Although planning team-building activities outside work is challenging right now, they’re an excellent way to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate before heading back to work. They also provide a great opportunity to see your team members as individual people, rather than solely as employees. Choose from fun activities that get your mind off the stress of the job, or ways to help give back to your community.

While COVID can make team-building activities difficult, they can be adapted to follow social distancing guidelines, or even be taken to an online space. Some ideas include:

  • Unleashing your creativity at a virtual wine and canvas night
  • Signing up for game or trivia night at a local bar or team member’s home
  • Taking a trip to the zoo, especially if paired with a behind-the-scenes tour
  • Volunteering at a soup kitchen, or an animal or homeless shelter
  • Participating in a park clean-up day

Whatever activity you choose, by doing it as a unified team, you’ll only further strengthen your group and help them grow together. 

Despite being the leader of your team, keep in mind that you also need to take care of yourself. While you’re caring for your team and supporting them through difficult times, it’s easy to forget to take care of your own needs, especially when juggling COVID protocols, staff retention, and upset clients. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup, so take the time to prioritize your own self-care techniques to better care for your team and practice.

If your team is struggling to recover their mojo during such tough times, help them out by simplifying their tasks and streamlining their workflow. How? Schedule a 30-minute, one-on-one demo with our team to find out how the Vet2Pet platform can make a real difference in their experiences at work each day.

Staci Welsh CVPM, CVT, LVT

Staci has been integrally involved in veterinary medicine since 1990. After getting her start in shelter medicine, she progressed to a long career as a veterinary technician and practice manager. Eventually, she left general practice to join a well-known pet insurance company as the veterinary services manager. After 10 years in that role, she went back to operations and worked as an area business manager for a group of startup multi-site veterinary hospitals. She achieved her CVPM designation in 2017. As the director of strategic partnerships at Vet2Pet, Staci is passionate about building industry relationships and helping practices grow with the latest technology. She can be reached at staci@vet2pet.com.
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