Staff Training, Not Hiring: How to Get More Out of Your Team

The practice manager's lot is wide and varied, but we simply can't be everywhere at once. The teams we build deliver on promises made to clients, and embody the practice's philosophy. Competition for the best team members is high, and the cost of turnover is too often underestimated. Invest in the team you have now and avoid hiring altogether with these staff training tips.

Set Training Goals

While learning in general is a noble pursuit, the goal of veterinary staff training should be more specific. Lack of clarity in the expectations for each position or in how to perform tasks slows down your practice, letting mistakes slip through. Help your teams be more efficient and confident in their work by defining what is expected of each role in your organization, and then develop an individual training plan for each team member. Try to address the gap between what they already know how to do and what they need to do. Tailored plans provide tangible feedback and offer employees a structure to own their development and career.

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Find Training That Works for Your Team

Everyone has a different learning style, so talk to your team about what works best for each of them. Here are a few options:

  • Job Shadowing: Working alongside a seasoned team member and absorbing what they know teaches not just skills, but also the practice's culture.
  • Written Protocols: Comprehensive written guidelines ensure that everyone learns the same key skills — for example, room flow or how to receive inventory — and offers employees who prefer learning on paper a chance to review their knowledge.
  • Team Discussions: Walkthroughs at team meetings are great two-way learning opportunities where you teach your staff new information, and they can offer feedback on ways to improve protocols.
  • Cross-Training: A few hours here and there learning about another part of the practice can bring down walls between departments and, in a pinch, provide much-needed coverage. Having a technician who can book appointments in the exam room or a client services representative who can take a client to a room and get a patient's weight can really improve the client experience.
  • Vendors: Learn about new products and protocols directly from vendors. A demonstration over a complimentary lunch is a fun way to focus the team.
  • 1:1 Coaching: Quick five-minute refreshers can address an issue as soon as it arises.
  • Conferences and Events: Trade shows are an investment in senior team members and staff with specific continuing education requirements to maintain certifications or licenses.

The time and cost of training is an investment for the practice, so be sure to monitor progress. Even a simple quiz a few weeks after training to see if everyone remembers the heartworm protocol they learned can be valuable in helping you figure out what's working and adjust what's not.

Use Your PIMS to Deliver Efficiencies

Does your team really know how to use your veterinary PIMS? If the answer is no, you have company: Many practices only scratch the surface of what their software can do for them. If you only train your team on the basics of entering charges and making appointments, they will struggle when something out of the ordinary happens. If your team understands how your PIMS fits into their day-to-day workflow, they will be better prepared to solve problems themselves and understand why issues crop up when the process is not followed.

  1. Start by checking if your PIMS models your practice's flow by reviewing which service and invoice items are included in procedure groups, whether they're optional or compulsory, and whether they represent your protocols. Creating groups that include all items and steps in a given protocol streamlines estimates, prompts team members to offer their best medicine, and gives doctors the option to further tailor care to specific patient needs.
  2. Create product and service groups that match your medical protocol to prompt team members to offer all relevant services to each patient. Clients like the speed and consistency, and it gives team members a strong reference for the practice policies.
  3. Take full advantage of your PIMS's ability to include electronic records and payment capture, so you can stop searching through multiple folders just to verify a credit card slip or check a diagnosis.
  4. Use your software's reporting tools to identify areas where protocol is not being followed, and provide training tailored to improve this. For example, if your protocol is to include pain relief with all alter surgeries, run a report showing discrepancies between when the surgery item and pain medication are used. By reviewing optional item sales against mandatory ones, you may discover which team members need better training on speaking with clients about the value of optional services.

Don't Forget to Reward Progress

As your team improves, remember to recognize their effort when they complete a training module or progress to a new role. Tying pay increases to improved efficiency keeps the interests of the practice and team aligned. A team member who feels their practice cares about their development will be more productive, creating a more positive atmosphere that affects clients and peers alike.

Don't forget about yourself. Practice management grows and evolves just like all other aspects of the practice. Hold yourself to the same expectations by staying up to date on the latest ideas, processes, and developments — you'll make your practice a happier and more efficient place for everyone.

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Des Whittall
Practice Manager

Des Whittall is an owner and manager of two veterinary clinics and pet resorts in Texas. A software engineer by training, he worked with an investment bank for 13 years in roles ranging from technical support to business divestment, managing large international teams and complex vendor relationships. With his partner, he has grown the clinics and resorts and is focused on developing businesses that can provide high-quality medicine and development opportunities for their teams.

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