Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed the entire profession’s focus has shifted to this fact: It’s becoming nearly impossible to hire nurses and veterinarians.
To that point, recruiters and staffing agencies are booming. Conference exhibit halls have become giant job fairs, where hospitals make up most of the exhibitors.
Even the best hospitals are having trouble staffing nurses and doctors, which means they can’t keep up and can’t keep open.
Most industry experts predict that the staffing crisis is, unfortunately, here for the long haul. Teaching institutions are doing their part by increasing class sizes and making veterinary education more achievable. But that alone won’t solve this problem.
👉 Here’s the thing: Besides the current shortage, data published by the AVMA suggests that 30%-40% of veterinarians are considering leaving the profession.
My point is that educating more veterinarians and nurses but putting them through the same sausage grinder that is our ground-floor veterinary experience won’t solve anything.
Continuing to run our hospitals this way is like driving a car with a hole in the gas tank: We won’t get far.
What Can Be Done
While everyone is looking outward to fix their staffing challenges, a more powerful approach is hiding in plain sight: Focus on meaningful change inside our centers to attract and retain staff.
This change involves looking in the mirror and is difficult for leaders, especially at large centers like teaching hospitals, corporate groups, or specialty centers.
But if you do, you’ll open up a world of possibilities for your center by freeing up minutes, hours, days, and ultimately careers by making your team more loyal and their work dramatically more sustainable.
🚨 Veterinary Team Experience Recap
In part 1 of this series, we introduced what we see as the Veterinary Team Experience (VTX) Movement and its role in the future of veterinary centers.
Here’s the summary: Like software user experience (UX), VTX is the experience you provide your most important stakeholders (the veterinary medical team on the ground floor). VTX is 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 5 critical parts of a center: leadership, facilities, policies, people, and tools.
As an industry, the reality is that our VTX is pretty lousy right now. There are many reasons for that, but it comes down to the widespread habit of prioritizing the veterinary team last.
But it’s getting better, and the good news is that it’s pretty easy to stand out!
Every week, it seems like independent hospitals and corporate groups are showing up with fresh ideas, perspectives, and approaches. Finally, it feels like a wave of hospitals are starting to get it.
Read on for how you can too.
1. Personality Matters 🥓
The first step in solving problems is recognizing they exist, right?
Your most important stakeholder is no longer your clients or rVets or administration employees. It’s your medical staff. Once you come to grips with that fact, you can reevaluate and reprioritize how your organization runs.
💡VTX is 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.
How you treat your employees and the facilities and tools you provide matter!
One of Instinct’s unofficial values is “Be Bacon (Bits)”. That probably means nothing to you (and maybe sounds a little nuts), but that’s kind of the point.
We added the bits part (shout out to all our vegetarians), but it comes from a concept I love known as Minimum Viable Personality. What it means is in the long term, people are attracted to interesting things, be it a product or an organization.
Personality at an organizational level can be really powerful for attracting (and keeping) amazing people, mainly because life’s too short, and it’s the motivating environment most amazing people want to be in.
Organizations with personality do 5 things:
- Take pride in their individualism.
- Have a mission.
- Are obsessed with their clients.
- Stand for something.
- And most of all, have local leaders who are present and lead with thoughtfulness and care over policies and handbooks.
2. Modern Practice Software Matters 🧡
Next on our high-impact list are your technology choices, which say more to veterinary teams than you probably realize.
Don’t believe me? You’ve probably noticed savvy veterinary job seekers asking a new question in the past few years: What practice software do you use?
And even more astoundingly, they choose where they work (or don’t!) based on the answer. We frequently hear from our hospitals about new hires accepting the job because of a certain software system (😉) in use at the hospital.
The point is that your practice management and workflow software choices say a lot about your priorities.
Why? Ever tried to hire a neurologist without an MRI? What about a janitor without a vacuum cleaner? Ever since the caveman days, humans have sought tools. And veterinary staff of today don’t want to do jobs without the best tools. 🤩
In the past, veterinary teams have been treated like a commodity of sorts, which ultimately meant they were equipped with whatever tools were easiest to come by: fax machines, software systems full of endless clicks, tabs, and workarounds, or even just paper. Unfortunately, this is still happening in some centers, where well-intentioned administrators continue to adopt software defined by unfixable and clunky medical functionality for their most important and hardest-to-retain teams.
Many centers that continue to roll out these systems face the stark reality of the negative consequences for their highest-value teams. As a wise practice manager once said to me, with software, there’s the price, and then there’s the cost.
If you are a veterinary professional in these hospitals, you start your day (and career) excited to take care of patients, only to leave late, tired, frustrated, and burnt to a crisp.
And eventually, you’ll look for a new job at a center with a more aligned VTX.
The point is this: Don’t tolerate software tools that your medical team doesn’t love. And when evaluating new software, leaders should mandate that software is chosen for your medical teams first and always, and better yet, make sure your medical team leads the decision process.
3. Facilities & Policies Matter💡
Start by looking around at where your team spends their time at work. Is your hospital perpetually dusty, cluttered, or dirty? Are things cared for and maintained? Is the paint in need of a touch-up? Is equipment constantly left broken? It doesn’t take much capital to clean your environment, and it can have an outsized impact.
Next, remember that we aren’t the first industry to face a talent shortage. Start by figuring out what matters to your team. Once you do, you’ll realize this is more than just enhancing your medical insurance or 401K benefits.
Here are some impactful ideas from other industries that compete for top talent as well as organizations innovating in our profession.
Local leadership matters more than you think. The most impactful thing I’ve seen is letting your local leadership, well, lead. This means giving your leaders autonomy and freedom to lead their centers in a way that best meets their team and community.
Avoid treating your team like a number, whether that’s in terms of compensation, benefits, or whatever. Build in flexibility because that’s what folks care about!
Change your ways by reframing policies as guidelines, not law, and trust your team and adjust as you go. Yes, this might mean inconsistency across your organization, and yes, that’s OK.
Thoughtful Technology & Innovation
Be thoughtful about the impact technology changes have on your medical team and compromise where appropriate to protect them.
- Keep websites and software open and accessible rather than locked down.
- Introduce new security protocols with care—and consider how things like 18-factor authentication might affect your team’s workflow.
- Let your team innovate and try new things.
If your medical team members (remember they are now your most important stakeholder) step up to lead or want to try something new, give them that opportunity with excitement. Shutting down innovation and initiative can kill your VTX.
Paid Time Off
Generous time off may not be novel, but how you institute it can be telling.
I’ve seen hospitals stop requiring reasons for vacation requests—and stop calling them “requests” altogether.
Instead, if someone shares details about their personal life with you, approve it and make it work! You’ll blow the team away with your refreshing approach.
When a veterinarian who is paid on production goes on vacation, many centers are coming up with ways to compensate them, such as paying their average production and crediting them for this time so their time off isn't a net negative. The point is to find a creative way to show that you value them!
Have a vet or nurse who’s been at your center for 5 or 10 years? Announce loyalty rewards by having milestone benefits! This could be done by issuing phantom shares in your company or providing profit-sharing bonuses to them on their milestone. You could also send them and their family on vacation! Find a way to do something else meaningful to align rewards with what you value.
Be personal with gifts. I know a hospital that gives a gift card specific to each staff member instead of a generic one for the holidays. For example, do you know that one of your nurses is renovating their house? Provide their holiday gift as a Home Depot card.
Rethink Shift Policies
Do you traditionally have four 12-hour shifts? Try reducing it to 3. Eight or 9-hour shifts might be worth experimenting with, too. They are becoming more popular in ER centers and afford a much better work-life balance. I’ve even seen some centers rotating in 4-hour mini-shifts with success. And if 36- to 40-hour workweeks are your normal full-time, have you tried experimenting with reducing that to stand out?
New Compensation Ideas
When it comes to compensation, let your team share in the profitability of your practice by looking into unique structures like ESOPs, team-wide profit sharing, or actual stock options. I’ve also seen some hospitals experimenting with nursing production payouts.
Support Recharging & Refueling
Finally, make it easy (dare I say enjoyable) to spend time at work. If someone is working a long shift, encourage an hour’s break outside the building or time to handle personal items.
Also, consider providing easy access to fuel and refreshments. Don’t want to pay for meals or coffee? Make mealtimes easier by having a café or food trucks in/near your hospital. Another idea is to add a delivery subscription like Doordash’s DashPass (free delivery!) as an employee benefit.
One savvy Instinct center installed a daycare center and beer garden for support and after-hours team building!
Provide a Supportive Environment
Finally, change your culture by supporting less experienced staff, which allows you to expand your hiring pool.
Give them tools (we’ll talk about this more in part 3), install software that safely supports their team experience (hint…Instinct!), and carve out time to train them on innovative topics such as presenting estimates in the highly charged ER and dealing with difficult clients.
In conclusion, you might think these ideas don’t make economic sense. I’d ask in return, compared to what? Because compared to having to close your doors due to staffing shortages, fresh ideas like this suddenly seem viable!
One act isn’t going to change your VTX overnight, but to start, you must begin. And while we don’t have all the answers, we hope these ideas help.
Go be bacon bits! 🥓
🚀 Stay tuned for the final installment of this series, Part 3 of 3, where we’ll cover some of the innovative tools (beyond practice management software) hospitals are trying today.