Your best ally

Your best ally

Feb 01, 2004

Visions of a brand new job in a veterinary clinic may strike up images of a healthy client base, a plethora of chances to test your clinical skills on living patients and a real, but perhaps negligible, paycheck.

Don't forget the person behind the scenes of many such practices - the glue, bonding veterinarian to staff to clients. Meet the practice manager, whose role can be integral to the success of a young veterinary graduate.

When a new associate joins the practice, Sandra Brown Wiltshire, CVPM, of Walden, N.Y., says it's up to the practice manager to familiarize the associate with expectations of the practice, such as practice philosophy and vision and how they should relate to clients.

"We want to help them learn how to interact and make a smooth transition into the team. They need to learn especially because new graduates haven't had a lot of hands-on dealing with the public," she says.

Jennifer Inbody says at Animal Medical Clinic in Granbury, Texas, her practice incorporates an orientation for veterinarians, during which the new associate is paired up with a seasoned associate, the practice owner, or practice manager (or any combination) to learn inner workings of the practice.

"Helping the new veterinarian bond with clients and staff should be the top priority for the practice team during the first months of employment," Inbody says.

At Michelle Campoli's practice in Eugene, Ore., the practice team takes the orientation process to the next level. Their most recent associate hire spent the first month in the trenches: a week with receptionists, another week with technicians, a few days with the practice manager and so on with no clinical practice.

"To be honest, in hindsight, it was probably the best thing we ever did," Campoli says. Once the associate began practicing medicine, "not only did the associate start meeting their salary in production, but the veterinarian was making production-based bonuses faster than any other associate we'd had. This highly correlates to the fact the staff bought into that associate. There was more respect. It wasn't me versus them."

Job specifics

The job description of practice managers typically involves working with contracts, keeping doctors' schedules, financial input, marketing and advertising, OSHA compliance, and working with accountants and attorneys. In an ideal situation, the manager can take care of all business aspects of the practice: human resources, scheduling, client satisfaction, maintaining facilities and overseeing finances.

Simply put, some managers say they do everything administrative.

"The practice manager is someone to talk to about any issues that aren't medical," says Marty Bezner, CVPM, of Florida. "Our whole purpose is to help the doctors get their work done."

Mentoring chance

Wiltshire says it's common for practice managers to try to mentor the new veterinarian to get them acclimated to the culture of that practice.

Her best advice to fresh associates: "Have a practice manager working with you who has your vision of what you want to do in practice. Then give them the flexibility to let them do what they're trained to do, knowing that they have your best interests at heart," she says.

Inbody adds: "Practice managers can be one of the strongest allies that an associate or owner has. When a good working relationship, solid communications and established goals exist, then the sky is the limit."

Addressing struggles

Inbody says it's not uncommon to find new associates struggling with lack of confidence in abilities, deficient people skills and lack of basic business knowledge.

"Many associate veterinarians (both recent graduates and experienced) do not understand that veterinary medicine is not just a service we provide because we care about animals, it is also a business," Inbody says. "It's a business which needs to be run efficiently because there are many individuals (pet, clients, employees, owners) who depend on its success."

At Bezner's practice, the problems have focused on personality diversities, which prompted the practice management to profile everyone's personality.

"Personality profiles help everybody understand each other's weaknesses and strengths," she says.

Adds Inbody: "A team of diverse personality types can be both wonderful and stressful at the same time. Put forth the effort to learn as much as you can about the different personality types (including your own) and how to effectively relate to them."

Peachy relationship

An open mind and willingness to communicate with the practice manager goes a long way toward building a successful relationship between the new associate and practice manager, Inbody says.

"A new associate may have wonderful ideas, but there is a time, place and approach to sharing those ideas. I recommend that you not come in like a bulldozer. If you do, you will probably put most of the support staff on the defensive, have a harder time bonding and experience difficulty becoming part of the team," she adds.

Sage advice

Bezner advises new veterinarians to know the practice culture before signing on and pay attention to how it's organized.

"Having a well-organized practice, from everybody's point of view, is the best practice to go to. Most practices practice good medicine. But a lot of practices are not organized and not well managed. What you want is a practice that isn't full of fire engine situations," she says.

Practice managers recommend veterinary students visit www.vhma.org for a closer look at the responsibilities and certification process of a practice manager.