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Monday, December 29, 2008

Things They Don't Teach You

It's pretty much a "given" that veterinarians are well trained in medicine and surgery. We spend four years or more receiving incredibly intense and specific training in recognizing disease, interpreting lab results, understanding medications and their effects, and performing surgery. Once we graduate, we have a very good understanding about how to be a doctor. We hone those skills over years of practice, until most of us become very good at our jobs. Our clients also generally understand that we are skilled physicians and surgeons, and realize that we had a lot of training to become this way. Vets are required to attending regular continuing education seminars to maintain our license, so the learning doesn't stop at graduation. However, there are many non-medical things they never teach us, but we still have to deal with.

One of them is personnel issues. My lead tech was recently promoted to that position this past Summer, and was doing a good job. However, over the past couple of months her performance has gotten worse, and she is not good at being able to handle the rest of the staff. She criticizes bad things, but doesn't complement the good things. Our weekly supply orders have been getting messed up so that we will often run out of things before our next order arrives. And she has a very negative attitude about things that she is asked or told to do if it doesn't exactly fit with her own ideas. I was called today (on my day off) by the other doctor I work with to discuss some of these issues. This isn't the first time in my career that I've had to try and intervene with poor attitudes or performance, and will likely not be the last. At other times I have had staff that constantly bickered at each other, staff that angered clients, staff that wouldn't do their jobs properly even with considerable and repeated coaching, and just about ever other issue you could commonly think of.

Did we get any training in how to handle this in vet school? Noooooope. Sure didn't. Yet most of us have to deal with handling the staff in situations like this. I don't think any vet went to school because they dreamed of being a personnel manager or business leader. We get no training in these areas either before or during school. Once we're in our careers, we end up falling into these positions, and quickly sink or swim. I've been lucky that I have had good opportunities for training, but I've also made many mistakes. It's much harder for us to handle a situation like my head tech is causing, than it is for us to remove a spleen or cure skin mites. We also usually don't like this kind of interaction, otherwise we would have gone to school to get a career in Human Resources.

As much as I can't stand this aspect of my job, and as much as it causes me great stress, it's also one that I can't ignore. I think that veterinary schools need to be more proactive in recognizing the situations their graduates are going to be placed in, and give at least one course in managing people and businesses.

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  1. Good points.. being a vet often means running a business, being an accountant and managing staff - I think Massey University in New Zealand has been a little pro-active in trying to address some of these issues, but it will never be enough and is something that needs to be added as a requirement if you go into practice management later. Many larger practices here employ a specialised manager for that reason - and they are often HR or similar people, not vets or vet nurses/techs.

    The other issue is that the selection process for vet training, and now vet techs, is often based on academic ability - and there are many working in the profession who have trouble relating to their clients or other staff.. As someone actively involved in selecting and training para veterinary staff over here, I interview all applicants in a panel, once they reach a minimum academic level, then part of the interview assesses their skills as leaders, teachers and backgrounds in any customer relations, i.e. "people people".... and many of the local clinics have expressed thanks for the quality of our graduates who can not only do the job, but work as part of a team and look after the clients and the pets. I certainly hear warning bells when applicants say they love animals but don't like working with people...

    In your case, the position sounds wrong for the person - and they may need to step sideways - hopefully they have some strengths as you did promote them... so focus on them, and see if someone else can help with the other issues.
    I agree - it is hell and very hard to cope with and even as a teacher, I still face these issues with my staff.. there is no escape :)
    Good luck...

  2. I agree with all of your points! Yes, we're going to re-evaluate to see if this person needs a different position.

    We also use hospital managers here, but doctors are still considered the "boss". That means that we often have to get involved. Smaller practices don't often have managers, with the vet doing everything.

    I agree about the caution of not wanting to work with people. That's a red flag to me, as we deal with people every day, and have to handle difficult situations. If you're not comfortable working with people, this is definitely not the career for you. And if you don't realize that in the beginning, you certainly do later on.


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