DVMs weigh returns on training investments

DVMs weigh returns on training investments

Jan 01, 2002

Albuquerque, N.M. ­ Dr. Michael Riegger spends roughly $6,000 a year employing a clinical psychologist to meet monthly with staff in his New Mexico practice. It's a program he's maintained for 15 years. He even springs for lunch.

In metropolitan Indianapolis, Dr. Mike Thomas shuts down his seven clinics for the day and hires professionals to train his staff at a local hotel. Renting the site and catering to his 100 employees isn't cheap.

Still, the veterinarians say training is an area where they can't skimp.

"It's the undercurrent of our business," says Riegger, who dedicates 2 to 3 percent of gross revenues to staff training each year. "We could shut down and do nothing but train, there's so much to learn. It's just like turning on the light or the heat. It's always ongoing."

Training challenges

The biggest threat to effective training is repetition, Riegger says. It's monotonous. It's time consuming. And as soon as a staff member is trained in a task, he or she needs to be retrained, he says.

"Studies show that consumers need to be hit with six messages before they remember something," Riegger says. "So you train and you train and you go through it again. We keep a list of things we do and we review them. We have outside people come in.

"The very critical issue in veterinary practice is communication, and we have a fairly substantial budget to train on just that."

That's because the rewards of training far exceed its challenges, he says, especially when growth and low employee turnover are the results.

Exponential growth

"There's no substitute for doctors and staff teaching each other everything they know," says Riegger, who boasts annual growth in his practice for the past 27 years. "So the more they know, the more they can pass along. This is an on-the-job essential."

That's the most important form of training, adds Dr. Peter Weinstein, a consultant and one-time practice owner. But calculating and identifying returns on its effectiveness can be tough.

"It's easy to measure what you spend," he says. "That's a tangible thing. You can also add up housing, room, board, tuition, and staff to cover the person's absence.

"But most of the time, the knowledge gained by staff can't easily be identified as a tangible asset. It's something that enriches a practice over time."

For example, if training improves staff morale, there's no tangible way to measure that, Riegger says. "You get that gut feeling that, 'Hey, this was a good investment.' It's when you can train the entire team by investing in one person."

Seeing is believing

But gut feelings can't replace hardcore numbers. So for real scientific comparisons on the cost of training versus its value in practice, Thomas makes a few suggestions:

· Tally the percentage of client returns before and after particular training sessions for a comparison.

· Calculate increased productivity per employee hour. The formula is to divide the practice's gross revenue by number of support staff hours.

· Compare the average client transaction before and after major training episodes. Thomas' decision to close his clinics and train at a hotel is one such example.

"Afterward, our revenue increased immediately," he says. "Of course, there could have been other factors, but intuitively, I have to believe that this was money very well spent."

The final product

Even so, Thomas says he doesn't need to concoct formulas to know his training methods work. Most of the time, he just uses common sense.

"As an example, we instituted a Canine Wellness Panel at the beginning of this year," he says. "Every animal due for a heartworm test is offered this extended blood panel at a very reasonable price. My clinics that took time to train their staff on the benefits of it identified more medical concerns, initiated more procedures and generally had a higher level of revenue than the clinics that did a poor job of informing their clients of the new option."

And providing the training to be able to offer those options is what makes an excellent practice, Weinstein adds. That's immeasurable, he says.

"The objective is to give clients and patients the care they want and deserve," he says. "That's what we're here for, and you can't attach a number to that."