Equine veterinary associates: Getting out from under the boss's shadow

Equine veterinary associates: Getting out from under the boss's shadow

How practice managers and owners can make sure their newest doctor is a success.
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Aug 03, 2016

Competition between doctors in a practice can work out badly. Find out how associates, managers and practice owners can help new doctors find their path. (Photo Getty Images)This is an interesting time for new-grad veterinarians who aren’t drawn to companion-animal-only practice. Many local economies are experiencing lower demand for equine veterinary care, making it harder for DVMs to jump out of school and hang their own shingle. And, of course, equine and mixed practice jobs usually come with mandatory emergency work and long hours.

This means many young associates will find themselves working for an equine veterinarian with dozens of years of experience and a strong bond with clients. Those qualities are terrific assets to the practice, but they can also be an obstacle for new docs.

Here are a few key ways that managers, new graduates and all the doctors in the practice can help new equine practitioners make their way out from under the shadow of an experienced boss—and into healthy production numbers.

MANAGERS: Hunt down your lone wolf

The longest-standing, most successful equine veterinarian in your practice must be willing to look into the future and understand the importance of a clientele that’s willing to see Dr. Not-Him or Dr. Not-Her. Territorialism and competition among veterinarians within a practice is damaging. Mentoring and camaraderie pays dividends for years to come. Owners and managers need to foster and reward the latter.

MANAGERS: Introduce the newbie online

Tell clients about your newest addition on your website and in social media as soon as possible. Information matters to clients. It may be as simple as posting a few pictures of your new doctor, along with a simple bio and a few details on what the newest doctor is most passionate about.

MANAGERS: Introduce the newbie in person

If you can spare them, allow new graduates to spend time riding along with the more seasoned veterinarians. Introductions made on calls by senior practitioners go a long way to convincing clients that Dr. Newbie is someone they can trust. Those relationships will pay off later, and the opportunity for the new graduate to see exactly why their peers are so successful will help them develop their own skills with clients.

MANAGERS: Mix it up a bit

If yours is a mixed practice, balance the caseload. New graduates may have a plan coming in for what patients they want to see, but they probably don’t have a roadmap of their future. And we all know futures change. Give these new doctors equal time seeing companion animal appointments, doing companion animal surgery and seeing equine cases. In these practices, many clients have dogs, cats and horses, and gaining their trust in one area will certainly help with the other.

Now that's a lot, management team members! Deep breath! Then let's ride out to see what the doctors can do ...

Practice owner Mike Stewart, DVM, mentors associate Ada Norris, DVM, (blue shirt) on a lameness workup. (Photo courtesy author)DOCTORS: Get on the same page

When the first question arises from a client about why Dr. Newbie did something one way while Dr. Familiar does it differently—you know they'll ask—put some thought into the answer. Veterinary medicine offers few absolutes, and it’s important to let clients know that both ways might be correct. While a new graduate should feel empowered to explain his or her decisions directly to the client, it will make a huge difference if that same message comes from the horse owner’s regular veterinarian.

DOCTORS: Double-check fees

The quickest way for a new graduate to get an unfavorable reputation is to charge more than Dr. Familiar. Older veterinarians (especially practice owners) tend to hand out discounts to clients more regularly. Sometimes they just undercharge because they detest a world where complete care has to cost so much. Don't force your new graduate to hold the line on fees while the experienced doctors discount willy-nilly. This a key opportunity to send clients the signal that you operate a veterinary practice rather than a building full of separate practitioners.

DOCTORS: Equalize emergencies

If your practice sees emergencies, all veterinarians should rotate equally. New graduates should understand why clients might demand another doctor in an emergency situation, then take those opportunities to gently explain (and demonstrate) that the practice has many competent practitioners. Discourage veterinarians from providing their personal after-hours phone number to clients who will use it to circumvent whoever's on call. It's a nice customer service gesture, but it really just says you don’t trust your co-workers.

NEW GRADS: Meet your bosses halfway

Be open minded, especially to the (seemingly) antiquated way some longtime veterinarians practice. Sure, they didn’t just finish four years of intensive, up-to-date veterinary education, but they’ve survived in a world of constantly changing medicine, finance and clientele for a long time. That survival was built on a foundation of medical choices that worked then—and still work now. And that leads us to ...

NEW GRADS: Ensure you're a fit

Decide as soon as possible whether you’re going to be able to marry your medical and client service philosophy to that of the practice you joined. There are all types of equine practices out there and all levels of what's deemed an acceptable standard of care. Think about the tough decisions:

> In what scenarios are you comfortable performing euthanasia?
> How much are you willing to let a client’s financial decisions impact your diagnostic and treatment approach?
> Will you allow a “good, better, best” approach to the care you prescribe, or will you try to serve only the clients who believe in the highest standard of care and can afford it?

I don't believe there are right or wrong answers to any of these questions, but how you fit into a practice hinges on how you feel about these issues. You don't do anyone any good (least of all yourself) by trying to shove your square peg into their round hole.

Now, saddle up. Smart managers and experienced practice owners help themselves and their practices when they embrace new equine doctors—who are currently some of the smartest to ever emerge in veterinary history.

Kyle Palmer, CVT, is a frequent dvm360.com contributor and a practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Oregon.