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Veterinarian Technician January 2007 (Vol 28, No 1) Focus: Basic Skills

Management Matters: "Inspiring Through Images"

by Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR

    Author's Note

    As a technician in general practice, I became familiar with challenges such as repetitive tasks and sudden crises. In specialty practice, I help my team cope with high stress and compassion fatigue. Over the years, I have come to realize that every type of practice faces these same challenges — there is high stress in general practice and repetition in specialty practice. No matter what the day brings, though, the hope is that the rewards of being in the veterinary profession outweigh the pitfalls. There are any number of ways to reward team members, yet sources throughout the literature all seem to agree that the best type of reward centers around something that is meaningful to the individual, no matter what their role on the team. Our common bond as veterinary professionals is our compassion for animals. Although continual stress can make team members lose sight of their original motivation for joining the profession, there are a number of practical ways to remind them — and reward them in the process.

    Many tools and resources are available to help your team get the job done. For front office staff, those tools and resources might include a phone, a fax machine, and a computerized appointment schedule. For technicians, a stethoscope, syringes, and patient forms are never far from reach. Managers rely on their personnel files and various human resource forms to get their work done. While these tools and re­sources will enable the staff to complete their jobs effectively, they are not likely to inspire staff beyond simply "getting the job done." To spark staff motivation, managers must consider what inspired individual team members to join the staff in the first place.

    Chances are good that you and your team members entered the veterinary profession because of your love of animals. It likely wasn't too long after accepting your first veterinary position that you realized there was more to the job than the pets. At the end of almost every leash is a client — a pet owner with his own needs and desires for his beloved companion. You also have to consider the colleagues whom you work alongside and the challenges of being a member of a team that provides health care. Regardless of your position on the team, it is vital to remember why you do what you do and to remain committed. For most veterinary professionals, it is important to look beyond the daily stress and pressure of the job and see the animals once again.

    There are many practical ways to remind yourself and your colleagues of why you joined the profession. One of the best ways to inspire your team can require as little as a camera and a photo-quality printer. These tools can be used to create a vital resource for the team by tapping into the myriad memories they have helped to create during the course of performing their jobs day in and day out.

    Capture the Moment

    The basic idea behind this motivator is to help staff remember why they joined the profession … to remember the pets that your practice has treated, the lives they have touched, and the lives they have saved. One of the best ways to do this is to take photographs. Take digital or film images of the new puppies and kittens that the practice helped get off to a great start. Even better, take pictures of the pets with their owners so that you capture the entire family as they start their new adventure together. Remember to take photographs of older patients as well, especially those that are entering the final years, weeks, or even days of their lives. Some of your patients are just beginning a long journey with their beloved families, and your team will be there to help create a lifetime of memories. Others are entering their final chapters, and your team will help a family spend a few more precious days or moments together.

    Tell the Story

    Although each photograph may be worth a thousand words, add some captions anyway. For each photograph taken, write a brief description including the pet's name, the date, and the significance of the visit. One visit may have marked a 6-week-old puppy's first examination, while another was a routine visit for an old stray dog that came to the door after a family lost their first canine companion. Perhaps the visit was the last one for a geriatric cat whose struggle with chronic illness touched every member of the team through the years of treatment. Maybe this family's final act of love was to choose a humane ending and to say goodbye to their beloved pet in your hospital where all of the pet's caregivers could surround and comfort them. Even when a pet cannot be saved or has reached the end of a long life or terminal illness, we should recognize the significance of our team's part in this process and give ourselves the opportunity to reflect on the situation.

    Whenever possible, include the pet's "history" by explaining how the pet came to be a part of your practice. If the pet was hospitalized with an illness and had a successful recovery, provide updates of how the pet is progressing at home. Show the team the success of their efforts and how the care they provided during the hospital stay made it possible for that pet to go back to the comfort of its home. So often as veterinary professionals we get caught up in the moment — making sure medication is administered, ensuring that the proper equipment is ready for a procedure, handling a client complaint — that we forget that the sum total of our efforts is the recovery or continued health of the pet that we call patient. Too often, we forget that the person who brought that pet to us is more than a "client." They are a family who treasures the companionship of their beloved animal. Often, we play an integral part in giving them the opportunity to create more memories together, and we deserve to celebrate that success as well.

    Spread the News

    Often, clients will send in letters with their own photographs of their pet. It is heartwarming when these images show a younger, healthier time in the pet's life. It helps the team to remember that although they may have only known the family a short time, the pet had a long history of love in its home. Some photographs may show that the puppy or kitten has become a healthy adult, thanks in part to the loving care that your team provided.

    When clients feel compelled to show their gratitude with thank-you cards and letters, be sure that the entire team knows of the gesture. Circulate the cards and letters so that everyone on the team — from the front desk professionals to the patient care technicians to the managers behind the scenes — has a chance to read them. Managers in particular may no longer have the opportunity to meet every patient that comes through the door, but they still play an important part in ensuring that care is given to that pet through the organized efforts of the entire practice.

    Display the Gratitude

    The next step in creating something special with these cards, letters, and photographs and the stories attached to them is to purchase a large corkboard. Place the corkboard in an area where it is visible to the entire team. Each week, hang up a few photographs along with their stories. Add a client card or letter to remind team members about the role they played in the pet's health care. Updating bulletin board photos and replacing stories periodically will help keep the feelings fresh and are sure to keep team members engaged in the project.

    Use staff gatherings as opportunities to reflect on even more memories. During staff meetings, annual parties, or special employee events, develop short slide shows using a collection of recent photos. Also include random pictures of the staff doing their jobs within the practice. Insert some humorous moments as well to show that at times there is a lighter side to what we do in veterinary medicine and that it is okay to celebrate these times as well. Drop in appropriate background music that touches the heart and soul of the recollections or the humor of the moment, and be prepared to pass around the tissues.

    Not Just for Managers

    What motivates each one of us to remain in veterinary medicine may be slightly different. Yet we share a common goal to heal pets and comfort clients. Although it is often the practice manager who would spearhead a campaign such as this to motivate and inspire staff, it need not be — especially in clinics that do not have a designated practice manager. Any member of the team can initiate a "photographic journey"; doing so may be a motivator in itself.

    Take the time to remind yourself and your staff what is important and what brought us to this profession. Memories of the past can motivate us to embrace the future.


    Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, is the regular contributor to Management Matters. Katherine is the founder of the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Practice Association (www.vespa-home.org), which is dedicated to helping emergency and specialty practice managers and other veterinary professionals manage their clinics more effectively. 

    NEXT: Microscopic Examination of Urine Sediment


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