As vaccinations for the novel coronavirus become more widely available and the world becomes hopeful for a return to normal, veterinary hospitals are looking for ways to smooth the transition back to their pre-COVID processes. With their ability to adapt on the fly, veterinary professionals implemented numerous curbside-care protocols to better serve their patients and clients, and many of those methods can be carried over when reopening their veterinary practice.
Before you fling open your doors, plan your approach so you can best support your team—mentally, emotionally, and physically—for a seamless reopening after months of only offering curbside care.
Step 1: Create a safe spot for your veterinary team
With your veterinary hospital locked up tight against any intruders, the entire building was a safe space for your team. No clients in the building meant you could yell across the treatment floor for supplies or help, screech when that German shepherd tried to alligator roll during his nail trim, or vent about a high-maintenance client. But, now that you’re reopening your veterinary practice, you must be on your best behavior and put on your client-facing face, which can be incredibly draining for 10-plus hours a day, especially for introverts.
Combat social exhaustion by creating a safe spot for your team to decompress. This haven allows your team a place to relax, cry, or meditate for a few minutes to release the pressures of their job, especially when clients are in the building. Although you may not think you have room, since empty exam rooms that were used as workstations are now full again, the building is packed with clients, and there appears to be no private places anywhere, you can create a mental health space for your team.
Step 2: Allow your team time to recharge
Working through a pandemic is grueling, especially when it’s necessary to pick up the slack of an ill team member. As we regain our physical health, allow your team to rejuvenate their mental health by honoring time-off requests. As the world opens back up, people will want to complete their missed travel plans and recharge away from the stresses of work. To avoid falling back into the same short-staffed pattern—or even worse, denying vacation requests—plan far in advance to ensure adequate coverage.
Veterinary relief services are an excellent resource, provided you have a company in your area. Otherwise, it can be tough to find a relief veterinarian, technician, or receptionist to cover a week or two. Instead of praying you can find a relief worker, cross-train your team. Not only will this training method perk up their daily routine by boosting them out of the same old rut, it will provide better care for your patients and clients if everyone knows how to help out. Even better, cross-training allows easier coverage of time-off requests in the future, since you’ll have an in-hospital team member to cover the needed position.
Step 3: Monitor your team for burnout
It can be all too easy to experience burnout in veterinary medicine, and a pandemic situation doesn’t help. And, if you have a people-pleaser or two on your team—those who always say “yes”—they are most in danger of burning out. People-pleasers are your go-to people to handle difficult clients, restrain unruly Labradors, wrangle freaked-out cats, stay late, or cover shifts. However, all these little asks can pile up on their shoulders, and the burden will weigh them down and lead to burnout.
Act as your people-pleasers’ advocate and say no for them when other team members continually ask them to work extra.
Step 4: Create remote positions for your team
Some days, you don’t want to throw on your scrubs and head into work. You know the incessantly ringing phones, demanding clients, and difficult patients are waiting for you, and you’re tempted to drive past your hospital straight to the airport for a vacation. We’ve all been there. So what’s a veterinary practice manager to do? Help your team battle this urge by creating a remote position. The stresses associated with working inside the hospital can be greatly mitigated by allowing a team member to work from home, whether it’s by managing your veterinary hospital’s app, answering phone calls, creating social media posts, or ordering inventory. Cycle your interested team members through this remote position for a less stressful and intense workday, as the different workflow allows for a physical and mental break.
Step 5: Be mindful when planning team activities
Consider your veterinary team and their family’s health and safety if you begin implementing team-building and family activities again. Although businesses are opening back up, large, crowded gatherings are best avoided for the time being, but team activities are a great way to boost morale. Choose open, outdoor settings, or take your team online for fun activities to strengthen their bond and promote workplace wellness and happiness. Consider such online activities as game nights, murder mysteries, or show-and-tell sessions. Or, your group may be able to head outdoors to hike and explore a local park. Whatever activity you choose, ensure the meeting is purposeful to keep your team’s mind off work and allow them to fully decompress and relax.
Step 6: Reach out to your vendors for support
Your vendors have also been missing out on the in-person interaction they’re used to, and you can welcome them back into your hospital as your team’s wellness champions.
Reach out to your vendors to help support your team’s mental and physical wellness as you roll out your reopening.
Ask if they’ll sponsor quarterly wellness care packages, a coffee hour, chair massages, or passes to a spa, gym, or fitness class. Your vendors may have some incredible ideas on how to help support your team, so ask them for assistance.
Step 7: Take your team’s TPR before opening
Before reopening your veterinary practice, have a meeting to check in with your team. Are they breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought of interacting with numerous people in close quarters? Are their heart rates skyrocketing when thinking about going mask-free? Or, maybe they’re hyperventilating in excitement to chat with their favorite clients in-person again. Take a poll and see what your team is comfortable with. Instead of a grand reopening, you may opt for a slower transition, like only allowing one client per pet into the building, and quickly ushering clients and patients directly into exam rooms.
During your reopening team meeting, discuss what worked well during curbside care, and if your hospital should keep those services in place. Consider offering boutique services to cater to your clients. Drop-off services for boarding and grooming, telemedicine appointments, drop-off appointments for sick pets, and prescription pick-up in the parking lot—provided they prepay—could all work well as you slowly open your hospital doors.
Once your team has finalized their reopening strategy, it’s time to open your doors once more. To keep an eye on your team’s thoughts about how the roll-out is going, schedule a brief meeting one week after your initial opening. See what needs to be tweaked and what’s working well, and you’ll be up and running like normal in no time.
As you prepare to reopen your veterinary practice to the general public, support your team and your clients with an all-in-one client communication and engagement solution. Schedule a 30-minute demo with Vet2Pet to learn how we can help smooth your transition from curbside to tableside as you welcome clients back into exam rooms.
Kelly McElhinney, CVPM
Kelly has been working in the veterinary industry since 1999, with experience in private practice, corporate, specialty and emergency. In 2013, she earned her Certified Veterinary Practice Manager designation and holds an MBA in Human Resources. As an App Success Coach at Vet2Pet, Kelly makes it her mission to help practices exceed their goals, increase client engagement and bridge the gap between veterinarian and pet owner.