How to Create An Effective Training Program

By Lauren Davis, CVBL, CCFP

It seems like everyone in the veterinary industry is in a constant cycle of hiring and training. We don’t usually run our hospitals overstaffed, so we end up hiring only when a critical position needs to be filled. The labor shortage is nothing new, with a small candidate pool and copious job opportunities for job seekers. By the time we find a candidate, that position may have been open for months causing the rest of our team to be stressed and overworked.

After investing our valuable time and money into recruiting, we hire someone to fill the position and get started on their training. Most hospitals have at least some kind of training program in place, but even the best-laid plans often go astray. This scenario may sound familiar to you. You onboarded your new hire, gave them their job description, and started training on the basics of how your hospital operates like how to use your practice management software, how to check in or check out a client, and how to restrain a patient. Pretty soon your team member is good enough to handle basic tasks around the hospital. They start getting pulled away from their training to answer that phone call, hold a pet for vaccines or go into the exam room with the doctor because the other technicians are busy. That is where their formal training ends. The “trial by fire” or “sink or swim” training experience happens in many hospitals. Maybe this was the training you experienced at some point in your career.

This method of training may work out for a short period of time. Eventually, you become frustrated that the person you hired to fill a veterinary technician role is not able to draw blood or the client service representative cannot complete the end-of-day task list. Even worse, your new hire feels overwhelmed, overworked, and under-supported because they didn’t receive the education and guidance they needed. So, they quit, and you watch all the time and money you spent on the recruiting and training process walk out the door with them. According to AAHA’s Compensation and Benefits, Ninth Edition, the average veterinary team turnover is 23% each year. As an industry, we must stop undercutting ourselves when it comes to training. We simply cannot afford to make the same mistakes any longer! What would our teams look like if we followed our training program to completion? What if we didn’t settle for just good enough to get by? This is our opportunity to do better! So how do you build an effective training program?

Document Your Processes

As a practice manager or owner, you probably have some idea of how you would like things to be done in your hospital. We need to get your vision out of your head and onto paper, so the rest of your team knows how you want things to be done. How should a receptionist greet a client? What process should your technician follow when filling a prescription? Documenting your standard operating procedures and including them in your training materials is the first step in creating consistency in your practice. Be sure to consider the various learning styles in your training program: auditory, visual, and tactile. Create videos of how to perform different tasks in your hospital. Utilize webinars or tutorial videos to aid in training on your practice management software, online store, reference laboratory, and other platforms you may use. Your training program should also allow time for your new hire to physically perform a task they’ve learned about. After they read your procedure on how to check in a patient and watch a tutorial video from your practice management software, give them time to practice checking in a client.

Organize Your Content

After you’ve decided what educational material you want to include in your training program, decide how you want the material organized. Establish a timeline for your new hire to complete the training program. How long should it take to complete your training program? What do you want your new hire to learn during their first week in your hospital? While drawing blood is a critical skill your new veterinary technician needs to have, maybe you would prefer that they become proficient in the use of your practice management software before practicing blood draws. Organizing your training materials in this fashion ensures your employees have a solid education foundation. How will your employees access their training materials? If the thought of printing out all your SOPs makes your head spin, think about upgrading to a digital training platform. Create a training folder to store your materials or better yet use cloud-based software like Trainual or SystemHub to house your training program.

Establish Accountability Partners

Now that you’ve documented your processes and organized your training materials, how do you make sure your training program is being followed? Let’s talk about accountability. Maybe your hospital has a staff member whose sole responsibility is training. Even if you don’t, it is essential that each employee in training has a trainer or mentor to track their progress and answer questions. This trainer can guide your new employee through the training program and make sure they are progressing to new content in accordance with the training timeline. Your trainer can then report to you on the trainee's progress and give you feedback on any adjustments that need to be made to accommodate their learning needs. Include quizzes in the training program to assess your employee’s understanding of the materials. Create a skills checklist that follows the order of your training material so the trainer can initial when the trainee has read or watched the educational content, observed the trainer performing the task, and then performed the task themselves.

By documenting your processes, organizing your content, and establishing accountability partners you can establish a successful training program for your hospital. When a hospital has an effective training program, your new hires can become long-term team members who are invaluable. Investing time and resources in your employees is the best way to ensure they are prepared to fulfill their job roles, feel confident in their work, and create a positive impact in your practice.

About the Author

Lauren Davis is a Practice Coach at Veterinary Growth Partners. She has held many roles in the veterinary field from Veterinary Assistant to Practice Manager. She has over 10 years of industry experience with a variety of practices from general mixed practice to large animal ambulatory. During her tenure as a Practice Manager, she excelled in business management and realized her passion for transforming practice culture and improving the well-being of those working in the veterinary industry.