Perspective is everything

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Jul 01, 2006

He was a registered veterinary technician before earning his DVM and eventually buying Woodcrest Veterinary Clinic in Riverside (Calif.) in 1992. He is the only American Animal Hospital Association president who worked as an RVT, and that experience on both sides of the employment equation gives Dr. Michael P. Andrews unique perspective on why staffers choose to stay at a practice.

"Clearly practices need to compensate appropriately to get the best people, but a lot of what makes them stay is job satisfaction," he says. "Giving them responsibilities appropriate to their training is key, and with the advent of teams, I think that is even more important."

Q: What is the most important thing a veterinarian can do to facilitate professional growth?

A: One is having communication with staff. How can we best accomplish the mission we have to take good care of our clients and our clients' pets and at the same time, be a successful business.

It's my feeling, pretty strongly, that the era of the benign dictatorship, which is how I used to describe myself to the staff, is kind of going away. There are professionals working for us more, and they are in different areas; they might be a practice manager; they might be consultants, technicians or human resource people, and we need to be engaging them in conversations as we look at this job and utilize their perspectives to get the job done the best we can. Technicians are a critical element of that.

Q: How important are setting expectations and having ongoing conversations with support staff about professional goals?

A: In addition to having them be part of a conversation about how best to perform a task that the veterinary hospital has to do, it's also what their expectations are. And then following through on those agreements is important because it doesn't do any good to talk about things unless you are willing to follow through because these people are going to be disappointed, and that goes to the reasons that they are going to look elsewhere.

Q: Are there things that practice owners should be doing now to prepare for the impending labor shortages in a few years?

A: It's going to be the most important issue of the next 10 years as practices continue to learn how to find and keep good people.

We can make sure that we have clear job descriptions, that we are putting people into the right opportunities for them, and there are a variety of ways to try to do that. Some people utilize personality testing, and there are other resources available to make sure that you get a good fit.

You've got to compensate people appropriately, which goes to the issue of making sure that as we do our jobs as efficiently as we can, that we still pay attention to the fact that in order to practice good medicine, it's going to cost money, so we need to be able to charge appropriately and then compensate so that we can attract and keep the best people.

Once they come on board, then you need to talk about expectations and ways the practice can help them continue to grow and how that works for the hospital and periodically review those things. If you do that, then you are going to be in better stead.