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Fitting in on the job

Fostering appropriate relationships between new associates and staff starts at the top
Nov 01, 2004

As a new associate fresh out of school, it's probably safe to assume you would like to find a practice where "everybody knows your name."

And veteran veterinarian Dr. Eddie Garcia, since his initiation into the practice of veterinary medicine 34 years ago, has taken great pains to ensure new associates always notices the proverbial welcome mat at his practice's front door.

"It is management or owner's responsibility to help make that new doctor's transition into the practice as smooth as possible," says Garcia, who practices in Tampa, Fla. "It all starts at the top with leadership.

"You have to walk your talk. What you expect from your staff you need to do as an owner/manager, a leader."

Introducing that new associate into the everyday life of your practice is the greatest gift you can give, he adds.

But what if you find yourself in a place where veterinarians are just too busy to walk you through the daily routines?

Expectations

During your initial interview or in your first few days of employment, Garcia strongly encourages associates to ask what is required of them.

"The new doctor needs to sit down with the owner/leader/doctor, who needs to spell out certain expectations of the new associate," Garcia says.

New associates should look, dress, feel and act professional, whether in the clinic or out, he says.

"You represent this clinic or hospital now that you're employed here," Garcia explains.

Just as significant, new associates always are counted upon to treat staff, clients and pets with respect and good care.

"I expect you to never chastise, criticize or crawl over a staff member in front of other staff or clients. I expect you to also compliment staff when they do things correctly," he says.

"If you have a beef or complaint with a staff member, you can come to me or a practice manager or confront that person in private."

Expectations should be established in the initial interview. If not, Garcia suggests speaking up and asking the practice owner or manager to outline his or her expectations.

Before signing

"It's a fair question for the associate to ask the doctor, 'Do you have a plan on how to introduce me to your clients?'

That's legitimate because the guy that's hiring may not have given it any thought at all," Garcia says.

When you're interviewing at a practice for your first job, don't be afraid to ask questions and take notes.

Once you've landed the job, request that the owner introduce you to every new client he or she sees.

"Ask them to make sure they tell clients if they're going to be out of town and that they discuss the case with you. This builds confidence in the client," Garcia explains.

He adds, as a new associate, recognize your place in the practice—it can go a long way toward earning you respect.

Know your place

Remember when joining a practice as a new associate that you will be part of a true team, says Marty Becker, DVM, a practitioner from Twin Falls, Idaho.

Teams should favor equality among staff members, including all veterinarians..

"The DVMs are called 'doctor,' but their contribution is not considered more important than any other staff member," he says.

Once you acquire the team mindset, you can engage in what Becker dubs high-commitment teamwork, where DVMs sit on teams or task groups, and each member has equal input.

"They are expected to work together to solve a problem or complete the plans for a new project or to handle a specific part of managing an area of the practice."

These teams are comprised of representatives from each group of staff, assistants, LVTs, receptionists, veterinarians, kennel staff and management, Becker adds.

Team spirit

As a new associate, it is highly unlikely that your veterinary institution —a traditional hierarchy—trained you on practice-equality issues that are so important. Becker concedes it is up to the owner to establish how equality plays out in the practice.

In an ideal situation, the owner will discuss how the practice should operate.

But in the likely event that veterinarians have not schooled their associates, Becker's advice is this: Leave attitudes at the front door.

Have respect for everyone at the practice, he says. "Respect for each other starts at the top, and it is the responsibility of management to reinforce respect," Becker says.