It’s been over 2 years since the COVID-19 pandemic swept in, bringing with it a multitude of changes for veterinary hospitals. In the early days, we wrote about this in the Perfect Storm of Bizarre Busyness, Preparing Your Hospital for What’s Next, and Retaining Staff in a Crisis.
As we settle into our profession’s new normal, it’s worth recognizing that veterinary hospitals are experiencing an unprecedented time of both exciting and challenging growth.
To summarize, demand for veterinary services and hospital revenues continue to set records, yet staffing and supplier shortages have never been more inhibiting.
The downstream effect? In my 25 years of working with veterinarians and as a veterinarian myself, I’d never heard of clinics closing their doors to patients except for rare and short-lived circumstances.
Until today: In cities around the world, even the largest and most progressive emergency, specialty, and teaching centers are struggling to attract and retain staff. Many are forced to operate with extended wait times, service pauses, and hospital shutdowns every single week. 😿
This has a snowball effect, with remaining staff and neighboring centers becoming overwhelmed, ultimately resulting in sick and injured animals unable to get the care they need.
🧡 Forgotten in all of this are the caretakers themselves—the nurses and veterinarians working the front lines. We got into this profession to help, yet now our days are filled with decisions about turning away animals at their time of need and coping with the professional and emotional ramifications of those impossible choices.
Why does all of this matter? As we approach 2023 and beyond, it is clear there is a dramatic shift occurring, with some private and corporate-owned hospitals unexpectedly closing their doors.
They aren't doing it because they can’t attract clients, are unable to pay their expenses, don’t generate referrals, or can’t find capital to fund their hospitals. They are doing it because they can't staff their hospitals!
All of the sudden your veterinary team is your Most. Important. Stakeholder. And it’s urgently time to start acting that way.
At Instinct, we are fortunate enough to work with some of the elite hospitals in the industry. Oddly enough, some of the centers we work with report the opposite problem: too many good staff.
How is that possible and what can we learn from them?
I think it’s because they optimize everything (and I mean everything!) around the veterinary team experience–think an organization-wide shift in attitude and the way they prioritize policies, tools, choices, issues, and more, specifically for the in-the-trenches medical team above all else.
In this 3-part series, we’ll share some ideas that we hope can help you and your center attract (and keep) those stellar staff members you need.
🫀 Anatomy of The Problem: The Great Veterinary Shortage
Let’s start with a (very) short history of the veterinary profession: For decades, practice consultants and veterinary hospitals have operated in an environment where veterinarians and nursing professionals are seen as a commodity of sorts and taken for granted.
Remember those industry experts years ago predicting the oversupply of veterinarians?1 🤦
Ultimately, this led hospitals to take advantage of veterinary professionals’ innate goodwill, offering limited compensation and inflexible schedules, restricting competition, and providing frustrating tools—with few consequences.
Big corporations and savvy investors saw this working really well, and they began buying up hospitals, looking to take advantage of the favorable financial dynamics of it all.
But there was a cost. Drip by drip, we’ve seen an erosion in operations and experience for veterinary teams on the ground floor. Slap on a pandemic and that slow burn has turned into a wildfire.
On top of it all, endless articles and management seminars tout optimizing client experience (CX) as the way to grow your practice. Similarly, in referral hospitals, we’ve operated for decades hyperfocused on rVet outreach in order to become the local referral center of choice.
Oops! All of a sudden many of us operate in communities with a wild excess of clients begging to be seen at any center that will open its doors. 😥
The Great Veterinary Shortage looks to be sticking around for a while, but thankfully many hospitals are already adapting for the better.
✊ Power to the People
If you run a veterinary hospital today, you have a number of stakeholders to consider: your clients, practice owners, managers, administrators, your inventory manager, an IT team, bankers/investors, referring veterinarians, the patients themselves, and finally, your veterinary team of associates, nurses, and front desk employees.
As the veterinary team has finally transitioned to being the most valuable stakeholder, staff can easily choose their employer.
And choose, they are! The Great Resignation? More likely, it’s the great reshuffling.
After years of loyalty, many in our workforce are abandoning long-term jobs and looking only at the hospitals that offer the best team experience.
Highly sought-after veterinary professionals will be in the driver’s seat for years to come. They will no longer tolerate cultures lacking flexibility, innovation, support, caring, personality, or investment in high-quality tools.
What are they looking for? Those 6-figure signing bonuses are nice, but I’ll let you in on a secret: They don’t move the needle for those considering long-term opportunities.
Instead, veterinary professionals are choosing a center due to the sum of its parts: a concept I call veterinary team experience (VTX).
🐣 The Birth of the Veterinary Team Experience Movement
What do I mean by veterinary team experience? In technology, user experience is defined as the overall experience of a person using a product (like a website or computer application), especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use.2
So there's user experience (UX) in software, and we all know about customer (client) experience (CX), and now there must be veterinary team experience (VTX).
👉 VTX is way more than culture and compensation. It’s the very personality of a practice, and it’s defined not by a mission statement or core values on a wall but by consistency across all parts of a practice: leadership, facilities, policies, people, and tools.
It’s a mindset shift toward your veterinary team’s experience as employees and caregivers.
How do you define yours and improve it? Think personalization, savvy prioritization, and an obsession with protecting your veterinary team members on the ground floor above all else through constant and visible actions.
Want an example (obviously near and dear to our little Instinct hearts)?
Did you choose a subpar software system for your medical staff because you got a “great deal” from one of your vendors? Did your administration team pick and implement the software system, rather than your medical team? Have you prioritized business functionality like reports or inventory, tools for your back office staff, or worse, price, over ease of use or helpfulness for your medical teams?
Guess what? You just clearly defined your VTX to your most important stakeholders!
Every day, your most valuable team will come to work and do their jobs through the filter of unacceptable and inescapable tools. It’s death by a thousand clicks, and veterinary staff members are paying attention.
Some well-meaning veterinary practices and corporate groups are asleep at the wheel right now. And if they don’t wake up to the importance of veterinary team experience soon, they risk becoming extinct due to the inability to staff their practices.
The good news? There are more and more centers that get it.
These forward-thinking hospitals have shifted to an uncompromising focus on prioritizing a set of tools and a culture that matters to the coveted medical teammates of the future.
Around here, we simply call them Instinct hospitals (yes, we’re a little biased). 🙂
These centers have a lot to teach the veterinary industry, so stay tuned for part 2 and 3, where we’ll share more on this topic, including tools and ideas we’re seeing being used out there to supercharge your VTX.
- 2013 U.S. Veterinary Workforce Study: Modeling Capacity Utilization. American Veterinary Medical Association. Published April 16, 2013. Accessed September 2022.
- User experience. Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Accessed September 2022.