Finding Balance , Practice Management

How to Support Professional Development Among Your Team

Kate Boatright VMD

Dr. Boatright is a 2013 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. She currently works as a small animal general practitioner and emergency clinician in western Pennsylvania at NVA Butler Veterinary Associates and Emergency Center. Her clinical interests include feline medicine, surgery, internal medicine, and emergency. As a freelance writer and speaker, Dr. Boatright enjoys educating veterinary students and colleagues about communication, team building, and the unique challenges facing recent graduates. Outside of the clinic, she is active in her state and local VMAs and serves on the VBMA Alumni Committee. In her spare time, she enjoys running and spending time with her husband, son, and three cats.

How to Support Professional Development Among Your Team
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Professional development is an essential part of the successful veterinary practice. While credentialed technicians and veterinarians are required to maintain a certain number of training hours annually to keep their license, all team members can benefit from professional development. In a 2016 survey on practice culture, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) found that supporting career development for all employees was rated as one of the top attributes of a positive workplace culture.1 Positive workplace environments can help to improve employee retention, client satisfaction, and overall profitability. There are many ways that veterinary practices can support the professional development of all employees, whether they are credentialed or not.

Continuing Education

Clinics should support continuing education (CE) training for veterinarians and certified technicians to help them maintain their license. This can be done through providing an annual stipend and time off for CE courses. While these benefits are common for associate veterinarians, not all certified technicians receive the same treatment. In a 2016 NAVTA demographic survey, 70% of technician respondents reported receiving a CE stipend, but only 50% received time off to pursue their CE training as part of their benefits package.2 Providing a stipend and time off for certified technicians to pursue CE sends a message to these employees that their certification and work are valuable to the clinic.

Some clinics also require noncertified employees to obtain a certain number of CE hours annually. Clinics who have this requirement should provide opportunities for CE and consider providing a small stipend for these employees as well. While a small stipend may not allow for travel to a large conference annually, consider allowing employees to bank their funds over several years if they are interested in traveling to a national conference. Veterinarians and certified technicians can encourage their noncertified team members to join them at conferences, which can provide opportunities for bonding and team development outside of the clinic in addition to professional training.

There are many ways to earn CE credit. Many are open to all employees, not just those with active licenses. CE credit can be earned through:

  • Online training courses, though some states have limitations to the number of hours that can be earned in this way
  • Local evening meetings or day-long seminars sponsored by specialty hospitals, industry representatives, or local veterinary medical
    associations (VMAs)
  • State and national conferences.

As a return on investment for CE stipends, clinics could consider requiring team members to share information from lectures with the rest of the staff. This ensures that all members of the team stay aware of current advances in medicine and business, not just those who are taking classes or traveling to conferences regularly. If a team member is uncomfortable speaking in front of a group, they could make a handout summarizing key takeaways to distribute to their coworkers.

In-Clinic Training Opportunities

Professional development goes beyond CE credits and attending lectures. Most clinics have set training or onboarding programs for new employees, but training should not stop here. Feedback is known to be an essential part of a successful training program and can be used as an opportunity to encourage professional development. Ask employees what skills they would like to develop and what areas they have an interest in learning more about. Additionally, reward employees who regularly pursue professional development opportunities with opportunities for advancement within the clinic.

Staff meetings provide a great opportunity for group professional and team development. Ask employees what areas they would like to learn about, such as pain management, preventive care protocols, communication with clients, or common disease processes. There are many ways to provide education for the team during staff meetings, many of which are free or have very low costs:

  • If an employee has a specific interest in an area, invite them to research the topic and present to the rest of the team. This will allow the employee to pursue an interest of theirs and enhance their own learning through teaching the material to other staff members.
  • Invite your veterinarians to present on specific topics of importance, such as emerging diseases, common presentations of disease, or new preventive care protocols. These presentations can help train staff members on how to best educate clients and ensure that consistent recommendations are coming from all levels of staff.
  • Industry representatives can help provide training on new products and will sometimes have traveling speakers who can accompany them to your clinic and provide RACE-approved (Registry of Approved Continuing Education) CE in-house.
  • Hands-on training in areas such as handling and restraint, blood draws, radiograph positioning, and other technical skills can be a helpful refresher for experienced and new employees alike. Plan a training session during a staff meeting and ask employees to volunteer their own cooperative pets for practice.
  • Simulating emergency situations will help to ensure that the team is well-prepared for a true emergency and administration of CPR. All members of the team, from front desk and kennel staff to technicians and veterinarians, should participate in this training and know their roles.
  • Communication training should be implemented for all staff members as well. This benefits all areas of the clinic and helps to improve client service and team dynamics.

Advanced Training and Certifications

There are numerous advanced training programs in the veterinary profession, including veterinary technician specialties or species-specific board certification for veterinarians through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. Practice managers can also pursue a certification in veterinary practice management. Beyond these specializations for veterinarians and technicians, there are many certifications and advanced training courses that veterinarians and technicians may pursue to gain skills in specific areas, such as acupuncture, physical therapy, ultrasound, orthopedic surgery, dentistry, low-stress handling and more.

If your staff members are interested in these opportunities, encourage them and ask what the clinic can do to support their training. Ultimately, having employees with advanced credentials and certifications will help set your clinic apart from others in the area and allow you to offer unique services. Additionally, supporting employees in their professional advancement will help improve employee satisfaction and retention.

Conclusion

By committing to professional development for all team members, veterinary clinics can improve employee engagement, perceptions of practice culture, and the level of service offered to clients. There are many ways to achieve professional development both within and outside of the clinic, and clinics should be creative in determining ways to offer their employees these opportunities.

References

1. Fukami C, Hutton B, Hoffman D, et al. Understanding the impact of organizational culture in veterinary practice [white paper]. aaha.org/public_documents/professional/resources/aaha_2016_du_culture_white_paper_final.pdf. Accessed on May 23, 2019.

2. NAVTA 2016 Demographic Survey Results. navta.net/page/Demographic_Survey?. Accessed on April 12, 2019.

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