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Clinical Medicine , Practice Building

Selecting Continuing Education for Your Practice Team

Selecting Continuing Education for Your Practice Team

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Sheila Grosdidier, RVT, PHR, and Monica Dixon Perry, CVPM

With all the continuing education (CE) choices available, how does a veterinary practice get the most out of the time, energy, and money spent to receive this education? Veterinary team learning has evolved and the health care team needs targeted, meaningful training if they are to adapt to the changes in veterinary medicine and the ever-rising expectations of clients.

The Four Rs

Meaningful training is based on the four Rs: retention, readiness, response, and “revving” up your employees.

Retention

Finding, engaging, and retaining good team members is a constant challenge. Consistent CE has been shown to be a significant tool in retaining employees.1 Employees also comment on the sense of commitment they feel when their employers invest in training, which boosts morale and helps inspire passion for learning.2 As veterinary practices are being pressured to do more with less, training becomes the logical choice to ensure that employees know how to properly and efficiently do their jobs.

Readiness

Have you noticed that often the team members who are the most engaged in CE are some of your best employees? Yes—there is a correlation between performance and training.3 Trained employees can better understand the purposes and goals of their respective positions as well as those of the practice. Training is also a valued reinforcement of knowledge and strengthens your team’s confidence. Identify what you need to be ready for this year by responding to the questions in Table 1.

Table 1. Is Your Team Ready?

  1. Do you have a comprehensive training plan for the year?
  2. What type of training would support this year’s practice goals?
  3. Identify three ways that you could enhance your practice’s services this year.
  4. What are your veterinarians doing that could be done by the team if they receive effective training?

Response

Team members often make decisions based on their own reasoning. Respond to this thought process by providing training that is relevant to the business and also blended with the needs and goals of the entire team. Ask your team members what is important to them and what training would be the most helpful.

A veterinary clinic recently posed that question to their team—veterinarians and support team members alike—and the responses on the list included:

  • Stress management
  • How to manage personal finances
  • How to demonstrate confidence.

What would be on your team’s list?

Rev Them Up

Businesses are continuing to invest in training even in this tight economy.4 Learning impacts the culture of a practice by:

  • Increasing confidence
  • Reminding team members that they are valued
  • Building interest and integration if the method of training is correctly selected.

See Table 2 to review ten ways to create a valuable training program for your practice.

Table 2. Ten Training Tools for Your Practice
1. Case-Based
  • Collect cases for discussion among your team.
  • Conduct rounds with the team at shift change to ensure that everyone learns how cases are being handled.
2. Conferences &Meetings
  • Whether national or local, conferences and meetings are an excellent way to receive a variety of information at a single destination.
  • Visit avma.org/meetings/calendar/default.asp for a comprehensive list of CE opportunities.
3. Information Sharing>
  • When team members have completed a CE opportunity, ask them to provide a presentation to the rest of the team.
  • This summary should include what they learned and suggestions on how to implement this information into everyday practice.
4. Investigation
  • Assess client services, standards of care, and employee utilization at other veterinary practices or businesses.
  • This can often be done by going into the business as a client.
5. Online Education
  • Allow team members to pursue online degrees, certification, and training while working at the practice.
  • For a listing of online courses for veterinary technicians and assistants, visit navta.net; practice managers can receive certification from vhma.org.
6. Mentoring
  • Train through guidance and partner new team members with solid performers for counsel and support.
  • For team members interested in specialization, explore the idea of helping them find a mentor through a university/college or specialty practice.
7. Boards, Colleges, & Academies
  • Veterinarians and veterinary technicians can pursue specialty recognition through boards, colleges, and academies (avma.org/myavma/member_resource_ directory/associations_and_boards.asp or navta.net/specialties/specialties).
  • Not only does this process provide additional training but the practice benefits from having credentialed specialists on staff.
8. Standardized Training
  • Develop educational standards for team members.
  • Create a structured training process, with outlined phases of training.
9. Traditional Didactic
  • Use this method in conjunction with other methods of CE or to stimulate ideas.
  • While still the most popular method of information delivery, it remains limited in its transfer of knowledge.
10. Webinars
  • Embrace these online presentations that are growing in popularity and can usually be watched live or from an archive.
  • They are cost effective and typically provide Q&A sessions with the presenter and/or discussion with other participants.

The Realities

Once you have determined which training tools are applicable to your team and practice, it is equally important to consider the expense factor.

Setting a Budget

Industry benchmarks give us a guideline as to how much should be allocated for your CE budget. Recent studies suggest that 0.5% of your gross revenue be applied to CE for your health care team, associate veterinarians, and management.5 It is recommended that you use your gross revenue from the previous year to determine the current year’s budget.

As a general rule, budgeting at least $200/year for each full-time employee and $100 for each part-time employee is a good start. Additional allowances will be needed for associate and management training, which can range from $750 to $1500 as a conservative guideline. Remember, this is all dependent upon what your practice can afford, and larger practices may need to offer larger allowances. This is also an investment; to calculate costs versus return see Table 3.

Table 3. Calculating Training Costs Versus Return on Investment (ROI)
1.         Enter number of participants_______
2.         Enter anticipated costs and savings (ROI) below:
Costs Estimated Amount Savings/ROI Estimated Amount
Administration costs (eg, set up/take down, organizing, emails)   Fewer errors  
Communication (method to assure training is shared with the team)   Greater team productivity  
Equipment costs (eg, computers, projectors, video conferencing)   Improved supervisory considerations  
Facility cost   Increased compliance by client + proper implementation of client strategy**  
Hourly wage for participants*   Nontangible benefits  
Materials (eg, workbooks, handouts)   Other changes as a result of training  
Meals/refreshments   Reduced team turnover & recruitment costs (able to hire from within)  
Training fees   Savings from team members performing tasks versus veterinarians  
Other costs (specify)   Other savings (specify)  
Total Costs $ Total Savings/ROI $
3.         Determine costs and savings per participant:
Total cost / total participants = Cost per participant Total savings / total participants = Savings per participant
Cost per participant $ Savings per participant $
* Determine by multiplying hourly wage by total time spent (H) by all participants** Determine by multiplying amount of increase by value of increase© VMC, Inc

Selecting Team Members

Ideally all team members (including your kennel team) should be encouraged to participate in at least one of the aforementioned training opportunities. However, helping the practice grow and thrive may require periodic exceptions to this rule of thumb. For instance, if a veterinarian would like to become certified in acupuncture, this training allows the practice to offer more comprehensive services; however, it may also require exceeding your budget for CE.

Additional Considerations

Other factors that should be considered when developing your practice’s continuing education policy are as follows:

  1. Check your state laws (wage and hour division) regarding compensation for travel and participation in CE events. Some states require no compensation, while other states require that you pay for the event as well as pay employees for the hours they would have worked had they not been attending CE.
  2. Present tuition repayment agreements for CE events that cost more than your typical training budget allows. These agreements map out expectations and requirements if employment ends within three years of attending the CE event.
  3. Establish team requirements/expectations upon completion of the CE opportunity. It is recommended that team members provide a one-hour presentation to the practice team, summarizing:
    • What they learned from the training
    • Suggestions regarding how to implement that training to benefit the practice and team.
  4. Establish whether employees will be evaluated on their willingness to participate in CE during their annual performance reviews. Some practices require that team members attend at least eight hours of continuing education within a 12-month period.
  5. Create a career development plan for each team member outlining the year’s training plan. This plan is mutually agreed upon during the yearly evaluation.
  6. Develop a system to track CE hours, such as how many CE hours are required for veterinarians and credentialed technicians annually and deadlines for submission of these hours, since each state has different regulations regarding CE requirements.

Continuing education can be a valuable investment if you are methodical about your approach. It will boost your team’s morale, give them the opportunity to increase their knowledge base and experience, and ultimately provide the best care for the patients in your practice.

CE = continuing education

Resources

  1. Allen DG. Retaining Talent–Society of Human Resources Managers Report, 2008, shrm.org/about/foundation/research/Documents/Retaining%20Talent-%20Final.pdf
  2. Whitehead M. Businesses Invested in Employee Training During Downturn. Birkhead Associates, 2008.
  3. Cosh A, Hughes A, Bullock A, Potton M. The relationship between training and business performance. Research Report RR454. University of Cambridge, 2003, p 4.
  4. 2010 State of the Industry Report. American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), 2010.
  5. Benchmarks 2011: A Study of Well Managed Practices. Lenexa, KS: Veterinary Economics, industrymatter.com.

Sheila Grosdidier, RVT, PHR, is a partner/consultant with Veterinary Management Consultation, Inc, and specializes in staff training/ utilization, client service excellence, and technical proficiency within veterinary practices. She is also an editorial advisory board member for Today’s Veterinary Practice. Ms. Grosdidier conducts extensive on-site consultations and has developed a seminar series directed toward taking practices to their next level. She has authored numerous book chapters and journal articles, lectures nationally and internationally, and has been named Speaker of the Year by the NAVC Conference and International/Australia Veterinary Nurses Association. Prior to her current position, she was a senior veterinary educator with Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc, and also a director of information technologies and certified systems administrator in both Unix and Microsoft operating environments. Ms. Grosdidier received her BS in human behavioral science from New York Institute of Technology and her AA in veterinary technology from Maple Woods College in Kansas City, Missouri. She has also completed postgraduate work in psychology and adult learning.

Monica Dixon Perry, CVPM, is a consultant and speaker for Veterinary Management Consultation, Inc, presenting the seminar Principles of Veterinary Practice Management throughout the U.S. She has lectured at national and international veterinary conferences as well as veterinary schools and written numerous veterinary management articles. In addition to lecturing, Ms. Perry consults with practices on-site, assisting owners, managers and administrators, and health care team members as a coach and mentor. Prior to her current position, she managed a full-service small animal practice in Raleigh, North Carolina, for 11 years. Ms. Perry received her BS in biology from University of North Carolina and is a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager.

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