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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Stresses Of Being A Business Leader And A Vet

I manage the clinic location where I work, so I have responsibilities beyond being a veterinarian.  I work for a multi-location practice so I don't actually own my clinic (and have no desire to do so), but I am responsible for managing the doctors and medical side of things, as well as some responsibility for the business of the practice.  I have a office manager who does most of the business management, but it also falls to me to make sure we are running a responsible, profitable practice. 

There is a different sort of stress when you manage or otherwise lead a business.  And I think it's a bit harder for a doctor than the practice manager.  We already have a lot of stress from simply being a vet.  Every day we have to make decisions about animals' lives and health.  Our abilities as doctors and surgeons often determine whether a pet lives or dies.  That's a big responsibility and one we never forget!  Believe me, that's a sword hanging over our head throughout the day, and is one of the primary reasons for burnout in the profession.  When it comes to patient care the buck usually stops with the vet and it often weighs heavily on us, especially when we honestly can't figure out what is wrong with the pet or know we can't do much to help them.  Being an associate doctor is hard!

Now add onto that the additional stress of making sure that the business runs well and makes a profit.  No, "profit" is not a curse word in medicine and there is nothing wrong with a reasonable one.  That allows us to invest in newer, better diagnostic and treatment equipment and allows us to entice and hire higher quality doctors and staff.  To be perfectly honest, veterinarians MUST make a profit or they will close their doors.  There are no government-run veterinary facilities for the average pet owner so the only way a veterinary office can stay in business is to turn a profit.  Those who fail to do so end up closing, which doesn't help anyone.  So being profitable is vital to the success and growth of any veterinary practice.

As a business leader I have to help my office manager make sure our schedule is filled, that we're not over-staffed or under-staffed, that we're not ordering more supplies than we need, and that we're charging appropriately.  Thankfully the lion's share of this burden falls on the office/practice manager!  I couldn't function well if I didn't have a good one and she is vital to our success.  But it also falls to me to help motivate the staff, send people home when we're slow, push the front desk to call clients and make sure the come in for appointments, and generally help manage the whole clinic.  Additionally it falls to the clinic managers to handle most of the unhappy clients or any complaints (which are thankfully few in my clinic). 

There are days and weeks that we are slow and no matter how many phone calls we make or take we simply can't fill our schedule.  That doesn't happen often, but Winter is traditionally a slow season in veterinary medicine so it's been happening with a little more regularity in the last month.  I know this as I've seen it every year in my 30+ years in veterinary medicine.  But I still can't just shrug and say "Eh, it's the slow season and it will get better."  I still have to push to make sure that we're doing everything we can to support the business end of the clinic.  And believe me, when I have times that I go an hour without any patients to see I get stressed.  When that happens for multiple doctors on the same day it really makes my stomach churn.  All I see and think about is "are we going to make our financial plan for the week?"

They don't teach us how to do this in vet school!  There are little to no lectures on the business of veterinary medicine, even though the majority of graduates will end up working in a private small animal practice.  Even those schools who do give some instruction in business don't give you training on how to actually lead and manage a business.  So most vets who go into practice have minimal experience or even idea about how to be a leader and manager.  This lack of business training is probably one of the biggest faults in veterinary education, though it is somewhat understandable considering everything else that has to be packed into a four-year program.

Those who want to go into veterinary medicine need to realize that there is more stress than simply being a doctor, and you'll likely be ill prepared when you graduate.  But it is something that can be learned, and I've become pretty good at it.  I still become very stressed about our business at times, but we're successful much more often than not and over the years I've gotten better and handling this side of the job.