7 Tips for Managing Your Practice Around the Summer Vacation Calendar

The busy summer season is in full swing, and as your team navigates an influx of pets affected by heatstroke, noise aversion, near drownings, and other summer emergencies, you're trying to keep the practice running smoothly despite a full summer vacation calendar for your staff.

So, what's a practice manager to do? How can you ensure that your staff members are able to enjoy some much-deserved time off without negatively affecting the care and attention you provide, and leaving the rest of the team to suffer as the appointments pile up? Rebecca Rebillard, practice manager at AAHA-accredited Aspetuck Animal Hospital in New Preston, Connecticut, offers seven tips to help practice managers navigate summer vacation calendars.

1. Cross-Train Your Team

When your team members are cross-trained and can work multiple jobs in your hospital, you'll be less likely to find yourself in a short-staffed position, even when your staff vacation calendar is full. Cross-train assistants and technicians as client care representatives and vice-versa to help cover staffing needs when times are tough.

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2. Clearly Convey Expectations

Ensure your team understands what's expected of them when it comes to taking and requesting time off. Your vacation policy should be clearly stated in your employee handbook, and employees should be required to sign off, indicating they understand. At Aspetuck Animal Hospital, employees are required to request time off at least 45 days in advance, and time off is granted on a first-come, first-served basis. If a staff member needs time off after the schedules have been posted, that person is responsible for finding coverage for their shifts.

3. Use Technology to Your Advantage

Rebillard relies on technology to help her create employee schedules and manage vacation calendars and time-off requests. The cloud-based scheduling software she uses is called Humanity, and it enables staff to access their schedules and request time off from their smartphones. Through Humanity, Rebillard approves time-off requests, announces shift changes, and posts open shifts, with email announcements being sent to the team. And, the different views visually lay out schedules, enabling Rebillard to more easily see potential bottlenecks.

4. Plan Ahead

Rebillard posts her schedule for support staff 45 days in advance, and she attempts to nail down the doctors' vacation schedules for an entire year each December. Her effective planning is why she says she has few scheduling issues.

5. Build Relationships With Trusted Relief Veterinarians

No one knows the ins and outs of your hospital like you and your team, but there will be times when it will be necessary to seek outside help to cover shifts. Rebillard recommends finding relief veterinarians whom you trust and who fit well within your team, and work to maintain good relationships with them. "It's no easy task," says Rebillard, who has two relief veterinarians she has turned to when needed for the last five years.

6. Be Flexible

You can't control everything, so being flexible yourself and having a few flexible part-time employees can help when staffing is short. Rebillard, who typically works Monday through Thursday, recently covered the Friday and Saturday shifts of a team member who experienced a death in the family.

7. Take Care of Your Team

Again, you can't control everything. There will be times when, despite your best scheduling efforts, someone calls in sick or has a family emergency and there is no one to cover the shift, leaving the rest of the team to pick up the slack. Rebillard says, "A little food goes a long way in showing your appreciation for the team on a particularly busy or short-staffed day." Provide lunch for a tired team or bring cookies for an afternoon pick-me-up to show your appreciation. And, of course, don't be stingy with the "thank you's."

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Sarah Rumple
Owner, Chief Creative Officer of Rumpus Writing and Editing

Sarah Rumple is an award-winning veterinary writer and editor. Since 2011, her work has focused on pet health/behavior and veterinary practice management topics. Her clients include individual veterinary practice owners, national corporations, nonprofit associations, media companies, consultants, and others. Learn more at sarahrumple.com.

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