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Retaining Veterinary Staff During Our Current Staffing Crisis

Retaining Veterinary Staff During Our Current Staffing Crisis

This past year and a half has been exceptionally difficult on all fronts. And the veterinary profession is far from immune to widespread challenges: many veterinary practices are understaffed, and teams are overworked and downright emotionally exhausted.  

In my 30 years in veterinary medicine, I never thought I’d see the day that CNN and our local news would be broadcasting the plight of the overworked veterinary team. We are exhausted, and some days it doesn’t seem like there’s an end in sight.

Related Article: The Perfect Storm: The Bizarre Busyness of Veterinary Hospitals

Schedules are booked out weeks in advance, and some practices are unable to accept new clients. ERs and specialists are busier than ever, and pet owners everywhere are experiencing much longer wait times for care.

The end result? Clients are unhappy with waiting, and curbside protocols make it even harder to communicate with them, putting more and more pressure on our already overworked veterinary teams.

So let’s talk about one of the most concerning issues here: as a profession, we are facing a major staffing crisis, and the added challenges of a pandemic are contributing to an even higher increase in burnout. We already know that more than half (yes, half) of veterinary technicians leave the profession after only 5 years.

We all know the contributing factors:

  • Physically and emotionally demanding work
  • Underutilization and/or lack of support
  • Low pay
  • Difficult clients (“If you really loved animals, you would do it for free!”)
  • The rise in economic euthanasia
  • And of course, a pandemic

Throw all that together and we’re headed for disaster, right? If we stay on the same path, probably. But if this past year has taught us anything, it’s that this profession—as much as we dread change—is capable of shifting gears and making big changes happen at warp speed.

Think about it: We had to shift everything we knew about our normal daily routine almost overnight in order to develop new protocols and safety processes to keep staff safe the very next day.

If we can do that, we can also face these new challenges successfully. Here are 3 ideas that might help alleviate some of the pain points we’re all facing right now with staffing and retention.

1. Modernize your practice technology

Technology is rapidly changing—even in the veterinary profession—and there are so many benefits we can uncover when we catch up. With the increased patient load and need for time management and efficiency (and of course, patient safety), the technology we choose can be a critical tool for staff retention.

In the past, I’ve actually had an employee tell me in an exit interview that our practice management system (PMS, or PIMS if you prefer) was one of the reasons she was leaving. After a careful analysis, I realized she was right: our PIMS wasn’t meeting our needs. In fact, it was hindering us.

Do an audit of your technology platforms and see if they’re helping (or hindering) your process flow. Here are 6 questions to ask in your audit:

  • Is there a tool I could effectively implement to increase the staff’s efficiency and maximize patient safety?
  • Do I have the analytics to measure what I need to be successful?
  • Are my DVMs not getting home on time because they are spending too much time writing up their records?
  • Are sticky notes or treatment sheets with messy handwriting prohibiting us from providing effective patient care?
  • Are our current workflows contributing to recurring revenue loss?
  • Can we communicate with our clients in a responsive and technology-forward way (without the dreaded phone tag)?

In a veterinary hospital, technology needs to be efficient, user-friendly, and thoughtfully designed for the complexities of veterinary practice workflows.

It’s also extremely important to select a technology partner that is constantly updating and rolling out new features based on customer feedback and needs. A new tool can start out as a good addition but become a hindrance if it can’t keep up with your practice.

Good technology goes a long way in keeping your team happy and productive while making sure everyone gets home on time.

And of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t use this opportunity to invite you to learn more about Instinct’s modern veterinary technology tools, like Instinct EMR. Fill out this short form to request your demo.

2. Pay close attention to team culture

Overall, your team culture is critical to the success of your practice. This is being studied and supported more each day.

Consider engaging in one-on-ones on a regular basis with every member of your staff. This helps you stay connected with your team so you can better understand the struggles and challenges they’re facing—and more proactively provide the support they need.

You might also consider establishing a quiet room in your practice: a place where team members can relax, regroup, and recharge (or have a good cry) when needed. Stock the room with water, tissues, relaxing music, healthy snacks, stress balls, yoga mats, and more to create an effective space.

And of equal (if not more) importance, make sure you have resources available for your team when they need extra support.

Here are a few to consider making available to your team:

  • Not One More Vet (NOMV) provides educational resources and grants to help support veterinarians who need assistance with mental health and well-being.
  • NOMV Support Staff (NOMVSS) is a private Facebook group where support staff can safely (and anonymously, if preferred) discuss the many challenges they face in the profession.
  • Both NOMV groups have partnered with Better Help to provide veterinary professionals with a free month of professional online counseling.
  • Meditation and mindfulness apps like Calm and Headspace can help team members develop strategies to reduce stress, improve resilience, and get better sleep—and they offer plans you can provide to your whole team.

Steps like these go a long way in showing your staff that you support them and truly care.

3. Polish your recruitment approach

Don’t forget: All of these suggestions should help not only with retention but also with your recruiting efforts. It’s tough out there. There is fresh competitiveness to hiring like never before, and you don’t want to miss your opportunity to find that perfect employee.

Does your hiring ad reflect your stellar culture? What about the technology you use? Do an audit of your ad and try these tips to spruce it up.

  • Does it look any different from all the others?
  • Consider including a video and/or pictures that highlight your practice culture.
  • Be mindful of what your surrounding hospitals are offering in terms of pay and benefits, and make sure you are competitive.
  • Be responsive and timely in communicating with your applicants.

There are many more veterinary jobs than there are candidates to fill them, so it’s more important than ever to show why they should select your unicorn practice.

As a profession, we are facing a long list of unique challenges, and with those challenges comes change. While change can be unsettling, it allows us to push our boundaries and set new goals for ourselves—which is how we grow. Keep an eye out for those opportunities to grow together, as a team.

Here at Instinct, we’ve seen firsthand the outsized impact that fun, efficient software can have on employee well-being, retention, and hiring. We’re excited to share what we’re building with more of our colleagues every day.