Archive for February, 2011

Articles Originally Written for Veterinarians – Table of Contents

Monday, February 28th, 2011

1

Overcoming Team Conflict

2

Building a Best of the Best Clientele

3

A Dramatic Wellness Exam

4

Recommending a High Level Standard of Care

5

Effective Communication Stratagies

6

Self Evaluation

7

Changing Times

8

Twitter for Veterinarians

9

Year in Review:  2010 in Veterinary Medicine

10

Conflict Resolution

Click on the article title to get to the article itself.  I know it would be cooler if I did not actually mention this and just let people find this out for themselves, but I never claimed to be cool (quite the opposite)…

Every one of the ten articles has a Scrubs link in it that pertains to the article.

Awesome.

Building a Best of the Best Clientele

Monday, February 28th, 2011

This was my second article published in print. I feel safe putting this one out there, because those of you who read Riley and James and are clients ARE the Best of the Best.  I used to put the following on every blog post, I dunno why I quit.  It is still true…

You are awesome, and I love my career because of you.

Thank you.

This article could be helpful to anyone in a service business I suppose, not just veterinarians.  And it could be an interesting peek into my views on clients.  I realize I have a rosy glasses sort of view sometimes, but I am telling you, my clients really are this great.  Every time I get established at a veterinary practice (In as much as it depends on me, I am staying here.  I love where I am right now.) Anyways, every time, my team members remark on how nice the clients are on the days I work.  I was asked so often why that is true, that I tried to explain it in this article.  The short answer:  you.  The long answer…

Building a Best of the Best Clientele

by Shawn Finch, DVM

Imagine if our clientele consisted entirely of clients we love to see, clients we know well and clients whose trust we have earned.  Picture how this would transform your attitude, your day and even your career.  The majority of us probably have mostly satisfied clients.  A few clients drive us crazy.  Let’s call them “meanies.”  A few very special clients, those we would handpick if we could, we will call “best of the best.”  Starting from this assumed demographic, I believe we can shape our clientele to be almost exclusively best of the best, and that will make our careers more rewarding.

Satisfied Clients

Our interactions with these clients will make for a pleasant day for our team and for our clients, and we will meet our goal of maintaining and restoring the health of pets.  If we have a client base that consist mainly of satisfied clients, we are probably doing pretty well.

However, our colleagues at other veterinary hospitals are probably pretty good, too.  Clients may wanter off to another veterinary clinic – not because of malice toward us, or a bad experience.  They are simply sticking around until the next best thing comes along.

Perhaps we can use this window of opportunity to overwhelm them with our excellence.  This “window” may be only the length of the office visit, or we may be fortunate enough to have several months or years to earn their trust.

Meanies

Clients need to be exceptional to fit into this category!  I only classify clients as meanies after severe infractions, such as cruelty to my associates or extreme rudeness or profanity.  These clients need to be either cut loose or given a chance to change their behavior.  It is never ideal to let them coast, because they are the ones whose cats will live twenty-five years due to your awesome care.  That is a quarter of a century that you and your team will have to put up with them.

Whenever possible, give meanies the opportunity to rise to your expectations.  Often these clients are not aware they are being rude.  They may be having a difficult day, or even a difficult season.  Having a sick or injured pet or dealing with the expense of a veterinary visit may also cause or compound anxiety that can manifest as inappropriate behavior.

Calling clients on poor behavior can actually become an opportunity to care for them.  Some of my most heart-wrenching conversations have been after some great empathetic comment on my part, such as, “Wow!  I haven’t heard that one in a while!  Where did that come from?”  Clients are then free to share what drove them to such behavior or at least apologize and start fresh.

Do not “hold on” to a meanie for the sake of avoiding a conflict, not hurting feelings or losing revenue.  Consider changing your goal from retaining every possible client to building the clientele you would love to work with for the next several decades.  You and your team are worth being treated well.  And a good client having a bad day is worth being cared for and called on for inappropriate behavior.

The Best of the Best

When I started in veterinary medicine, my best of the best consisted of my family and a few friends.  And if you have the support of those closest to you, you are well on your way to success.

If you have earned the trust of another person, remember that it is a gift someone has chosen to give you.  Value and nurture that relationship.  Treat their pet the way you hope someone would treat your pet.  Treat the client the way you would want to be treated.  If clients could be in our best of the best group, the ones who can trust us with anything, they would love that almost more than we do.

The entire team should be intentional about building new relationships and strengthening existing relationships.  Transforming satisfied clients – and even meanies – into best of the best happens on purpose.  Does an associate enjoy client communication?  Put him in charge of sending a welcome card to every new client.  Is someone especially empathetic?  Put her in charge of ensuring that clients who are grieving are well cared for.  Figure out what your team members love and do well, and let them do it.  Over time, you will see your existing clients become best of the best, and they will refer clients who also become best of the best.

Working toward an entirely best of the best clientele is a win-win-win situation for clients, pets and the entire veterinary team.

This was first published in Banfield, Achieving Success in Practice as Seeing Our Favorite Clients, November/December 2009.

Joy, A True (Short) Story

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

I reached into my nightstand drawer for a pen and accidently jingled the tags on Ebony’s collar. Joy the Puppy came running into the room full-speed, wagging her tail. She stopped and looked up at me. I did not know how to explain to her what had just happened.

See full size image

Self Evaluation

Friday, February 25th, 2011
Self evaluation is important for veterinarians. We want to do the very best we can for our patients, clients, teammates and ourselves.  You probably already evaluate yourself informally, as you go through your day, and perhaps on the drive home.  Consider also periodically evaluating yourself formally, with a checklist of criteria important for success.
Feedback is always helpful when determining what is working and what needs work.  For a well-rounded, accurate assessment of yourself, consider implementing a 360 degree evaluation in your practice, in which each person is evaluated by themselves, others on the team, and possibly even clients.
S: Subjective variables that relate to success include relationship quality, communication skills and attitude.  How are your relationships with your boss, coworkers and clients?  Do you communicate well?  Do you work together as a team?  How is your attitude towards your job, towards others?  How are others’ attitudes towards you?  Are there red flags of impending conflict?
O: Objective criteria are easier to measure, but are also easier to oversimplify or misinterpret.  If the team is getting along well, and pets are well cared for but the number of patients you see a day is down from normal, have you succeeded or failed?  I would contend you are succeeding with room for improvement.  Fortunately, if subjective measures of success are positive, objective measures of success will usually reflect that.  As my Dad always says, “Practice good medicine, and the money will follow.”
So what are good objective criteria to measure and track?  A few to consider are number of patients per day and overall income for a day/week/month/year.  Just remember that each statistic only tells part of the overall story.
A: Assessment of the data is the next step.  Consider the subjective and objective data you have just gathered and determine what you are doing well and what needs improvement.  Again, using the 360 degree evaluation concept, either formally, with standardized questions prepared ahead of time, or informally, by asking others for their feedback on your performance, will help you develop a more accurate assessment.
P: Plan how you are going to improve problem areas and maintain what you are doing well.  With your assessment in front of you, this is the time for goal setting, for dreaming even.  You are back where you started-envisioning success, but now it is even better, you are envisioning success with a personalized checklist of things to restore, develop and maintain.
Recheck: If you have found that things are going pretty well, you may want to revisit your self-evaluation quarterly.  If you have problem areas that have been revealed, perhaps a weekly self-evaluation is in order until all is well.  Write out your plan and jot a note on the calendar on the date that you plan to revisit your self evaluation.
Sound familiar? I thought it’d be easier to remember that way, Doctor.
This was first published on The Wagging Tail for Veterinary Professionals on February 24, 2010.

Overcoming Team Conflict

Friday, February 25th, 2011

I love this article for two reasons, neither of which have to do with content – it was inspired by a walk I took with two of my Very Favorite Women in the Whole Wide World, Jodi and Lu (and a few of our favorite kids and dogs), and it was my first article in print.

Grown-ups (left to right):  Lu and me, Jodi is taking the picture!

Dogs (clockwise from left):  Oscar, Ebony, Taco, Noodle, Max)

I had a disclaimer in the original article draft about how this was about team conflict, not dog behavior – and it is.  I spend my days with dogs but am not a trainer or behaviorist!  So I try to keep the interpretation to a minimum and just use it as an example of a group interacting in a healthy way!

Overcoming Team Conflict

Shawn Finch, DVM

I am about to anthropomorphize, but go with me on this.  Is there a simpler word for ascribing human traits to nonhumans to explain a concept?

A few months ago, my two friends and I took our three kids and five dogs for a walk together.  Some of these dogs were friends, some were housemates and some had never met, but all five had never been in the same place at the same time, and all had strong and distinct personalities.

My dogs are Ebony the Labrador mix and Noodle the Poodle.  Ebony is fine with any dog.  Noodle is afraid of many dogs and will growl if he feels threatened.

Jodi brought Taco, the huge Belgian Malinois, an incredible dog who has phobia issues like Noodle’s.

Lu had Oscar, the kind Greyhound-Lab, and Max, the Pit Bull, who is as strong and bullheaded as he is sweet.

We took them on a two-mile walk around the neighborhood.  We lat the dogs play together afterwards while the people visited.  They interacted as if they had been friends since puppyhood.

Let’s talk about how this relates to team conflict.  Here is where anthropomorphism comes in.  We are not, of course, the same species, but I think we can learn much from our dog friends.

I believe the key to the dogs getting along well is that they were all traveling in the same direction with a common goal and strong leadership.  For the first hour of their first group gathering, they were walking together in a straight line.  They were sniffing the same poles.  They were crossing the same streets.  They all love walks and believe very strongly in them.  They did not have the time or lack of focus to worry about any differences that may have distracted them from their goal of walking.

There are several significant factors that could cause or heighten conflict within a veterinary team (or group of dogs on a walk), such as personality differences, varying temperaments, unique preferences and a variety of goals and priorities outside our careers (or walk).  I believe that trying to negate or minimize these differences is not a healthy or effective way to avoid conflict.

Rather, minimizing conflict comes down to getting all of us moving in the same direction and involved in a common goal.  Our overarching goal is to protect and restore the health of pets.

If we can focus on that, we should be able to do what it takes to work with each other, our clients and patients to achieve it.  Our differences can then become assets, instead of distractions.

With strong leadership, we can then come together and lead associates through the day-to-day achievement of our goals.  Gently lead your associates on a path you know is best for them and for the team as a whole.

Oh!  I thought of another word for anthropomorphism:  fable.  But this is a true story, really it is.

This was first published in Banfield – Achieving Success in Practice and Life, September/October 2009.

Effective Communication Strategies for Veterinarians

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

I have always bristled at any suggestion that males and females fit into boxes based on separate, distinct gender-specific traits.  So when I heard the suggestion that the gender pay gap between men and women may have to do with differing communication styles between the genders, of course I threw a fit.

Then I started researching…and writing.  Is it true??  It seems as though it kind of is.  But there are more variables than gender, and, I was happy to find, communication differences do NOT divide neatly between gender lines.  We are, in fact, all unique and valuable individuals who do NOT fit neatly into little boxes.  *phew*

Effective Communication Strategies for Veterinarians

Shawn Finch, DVM

Are gender-communication differences contributing to the gender-pay gap?  In the June 2008 Veterinary Economics article “Are Women Tough Enough?” Jan Miller explores the role of communication style differences in the revenue discrepancy between male and female veterinarians (20 – 30% on average according to a 2005 AVMA-Pfizer study!)  Are women and men in our profession communicating differently?  Are our differing communication styles affecting our salaries?

Donna Zajonc and David Womeldorff, in the August 2006 workshop entitled “Emerging Perspectives on Feminine and Masculine Leadership Styles-and Why We Need Both” explained that the only area in which males and females tend to consistently differ in the Myers-Briggs personality assessment is decision-making function, with two thirds of men assessed as thinking and two thirds of women assessed as feeling.

According to Zajonc and Womeldorff, “Some of the key aspects of ‘thinking’ relate to an emphasis on objectivity, logic, clarity, justice, consequences of action and being firm and fair.  Some of the key aspects of ‘feeling’ relate to an emphasis on values, interpersonal relationships, harmony, mercy, empathy and compassion.”

They assert that leaders need to be able to utilize both decision-making styles.  While I agree that we need to be able to function as both “thinkers” and “feelers,” I believe improvements in our communication abilities will be best achieved if we identify how we tend to make decisions, and focus on strengthening that tendency.

If you tend to make decisions based on thinking, you may need to consciously convey compassion, but do not try to negate your “thinking” tendencies.  Clients are confident in medical care of their pets when they know that you are absolutely sure of your recommendations and can firmly lead them through difficult decisions.

If you tend to make decisions based on feeling, nurture that tendency.  Beware of the potential of becoming emotionally over-invested in patient care, which may increase your risk of burnout.  Protect your compassionate nature, but allow it to emerge when communicating the importance of your medical recommendations.  Clients are reassured when they know that you are recommending for their pet what you would do for your own.

We are not women in a man’s career (or men in a woman’s career).  Neither is a feeling or thinking-based mode of decision making superior to the other.  We are called to the care of people and pets, and have been endowed with different yet equally valid strengths to assist us in fulfilling our calling.

As we improve our communication skills, honing our strengths and bolstering our weaknesses, client confidence will improve, which will allow our patient care to improve.  As we all approach our highest potential as communicators, perhaps the gender pay gap in our profession will begin to narrow as well.

This was first published at The Wagging Tail for Veterinary Professionals on August 3, 2010.

Recommending a High Level Standard of Care

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

The present economic climate provides a challenge for veterinarians.  We strive to provide the absolute best medical care to our patients, and we also strive be sensitive about the affordability of that care.  Kristi Reimer, the editor of Veterinary Economics, wrote an excellent piece on the matter: Affordability vs. Excellence, Do Veterinarians Have to Choose? She asks, “Is there a way to maintain excellent medical standards, charge appropriately for them, and still be a compassionate veterinarian who’s accessible to the majority of Pet owners in the community?”

The answer is “Of course!”  We need to be offering the very best we have to every client and every patient at every visit.

The veterinary team and the pet’s family have the same goal of restoring or maintaining the health of the pet.  I believe we even have the same financial goals.  We want our clients in sound financial health so they are able to return again, and they want us in sound financial health so we are here when they need us.

Instead of offering “good/better/best” medical plans and “bargaining” with our client until we meet in the middle, consider offering the very best and using the treatment plan as an open dialogue.  Be transparent about what is absolutely mandatory and what is optional for your patient’s well-being and return to health and why each component is important.  You may be surprised with what your client will allow you to do when they understand why each portion of the treatment plan is important.  However, even a gazillionaire is not going to toss money at you for stuff they think you threw in just for the heck of it.

This is where your relationship with your client becomes important.  Clients who trust your integrity and medical expertise will know when you say something is mandatory or even ideal, that you really believe it and that you are probably right.

Sometimes, clients ask for help finding ways to afford the treatment their pets need.  We may have payment plan options, charity information or other helpful resources available.  However, keep in mind that our clients’ financial situations are none of our business unless they choose to make them our business.  We are no more equipped to guess about the level of care they can afford than we are to guess about the strength of the bond they have with their pet.  If we are focusing on the financial aspects of a case at the cost of focusing on patient care, we will convey that to the client whether we mean to or not.

Recommend the very best for your patient.  Explain to your client why the components of the treatment plan you propose are important.  You know your patient is getting the best care you have to offer, your client is well cared for and you are being fairly compensated.  Win-win-win situations are possible for the patient, the client and the veterinary team, and are worth striving for with every case.

—–

This was first published on The Wagging Tail for Veterinary Professionals on December 1, 2009.

The Year in Review – Veterinary Medicine in 2010

Monday, February 21st, 2011

This was meant to be a summary of veterinary medicine in 2010 in 500ish words – ha!  I picked some highlights.  What would you have added??  If I talked about my personal year as a veterinarian, that would have been a completely different article.  This was very fun to write.

The Year in Review – Veterinary Medicine in 2010

Shawn Finch, DVM

Stem cell therapy has become fairly common, the melanoma vaccine is being used in dogs with great success, Proheart returned to the veterinary market, we were all affected by the melarsomine shortage, the balance tipped from a majority of male veterinarians to a majority of female veterinarians…2010 has been quite a year to be a veterinarian!

This year has seen exponential growth in veterinary internet involvement.  We started out dealing with the internet “defensively,” trying to undo problems created by false information.  We quickly learned to proactively add our voices as reliable authorities on animal health issues.  We have had to deal with client feedback in a more public way than ever. As disconcerting as that has been, we have handled it with the prompt attention and grace that we always have.

The increase in online interactions between pet parents and veterinarians has raised many ethical issues.  We can put all sorts of medical information onto the internet, but we still cannot diagnose or treat without a valid patient-client-doctor relationship firmly in place.  We have the ability to post patient pictures and cases onto the internet in full view of the world almost instantaneously.  We have shown tremendous restraint in doing that only when we have permission from our team leadership and clients.  Clients know that in this age of instant information, they can still trust us completely with their privacy and that of their pets.

Many of our veterinary journals have become accessible online.  As much as I have enjoyed the internet explosion and accompanying learning curve, I still request paper copies of my favorite journals.  I will probably be among the last of us to give that up.  Just admitting that makes me want to plant a tree.

We have always advocated humane breeding practices.  As restrictions on high-volume puppy sellers have tightened in the United States, international puppy sources have become more popular.  Our next battle may be assuring that the puppies imported into our country are shipped humanely and legally and enter the country free of contagious and zoonotic diseases.

A second report on veterinarians and suicide was published in England earlier this year.  The authors’ first report revealed that we are much more likely to commit suicide than people in the general population.  Their second report explored the reasons this may be true.  Everyone is an individual, and the sample size was relatively small, so we are not doomed.  Do keep a caring eye on your colleagues though and take good care of yourself.

Finally, the United States Congress recently proclaimed 2011 “World Veterinary Year” in honor of the 250th anniversary of our profession.  The resolution was introduced by the two veterinarians serving in Congress and passed with support from veterinarians across the country.  2010 was quite a year to be a veterinarian.  I am excited for what is to come, next year and beyond.

This was first published at The Wagging Tail for Veterinary Professionals on December 28, 2010 as “A Great Year for Veterinary Medicine.”

Changing Times

Monday, February 21st, 2011
Almost 80% of new veterinary school graduates are now female. Fewer veterinarians are going into large animal practice.

Fewer veterinarians have practice ownership as a goal.

Many have speculated on how these changes will affect our profession overall. I can not speak for all veterinarians, or even all female veterinarians of course.  But I can, as a female veterinarian, give my perspective on some of the issues we as individuals and a profession have before us.

I will start with what I know best, my own present experience, and work backwards to when I first knew I would end up here, though I did not know exactly what this would look like.  Today, I am a female veterinarian in my thirties.  I graduated in 1998.  I am a wife and a mother of two daughters.  I love our profession.  I love my part time job and the family-friendly hours that I work.  I need you to understand that I am as hard-working and dedicated to veterinary medicine as you are.

I am a small animal veterinarian in the city.  I apologize for not being the buyer for the practice on which you are relying for retirement.  I apologize for not taking over the care of the large animal patients you now tend, or being there for the small town whose veterinary needs you have met for all these decades.  I need you to figure out a Plan B.

I am home with my newborn on maternity leave.  It is my first time away from full time veterinary work since I started my career.  I need to be included in team meetings and continuing education opportunities, and to be kept up to date on cases we treated together, and told about new cases you are seeing.

I am only a few years into practice and considering starting a family.  I need you to consider flexible schedules or job sharing or part time employment as I look forward to my new life as both a mother and a veterinarian.

I am a veterinary school graduate searching for my first job.  I do not expect you to ignore the possibility that I may decide to procreate at any time, but I do not want to be interrogated about my family plans or asked to make promises that have no bearing on whether I am the best person for the job you have available.  I need you to believe me when I say that I will give your practice my very best if you hire me.

I am a twelve-year-old girl in your waiting room with my sick friend in my lap.  I want to be like you when I grow up.  I need you to tell me that even though you do not know exactly what that will look like, you do know that it is possible.

I am the future of veterinary medicine.  We are the future of veterinary medicine. I need you to walk through this new chapter of our profession alongside me.  We will combine our strengths and work through the upcoming challenges, making our profession better than it has ever been.   Even though I do not know exactly what that will look like, I do know that it is possible.

This was first published at The Wagging Tail for Veterinary Professionals on March 31. 2010.

Staying: Another True (Short) Story

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Once, when we were going through a rough patch, I realized that if I walked out, I would be taking the very real risk of no longer living with Max the Cat and Ebony Dog.  I sat back down.  We talked.  Things (eventually) got better.