A Veterinary Practice Manager is not a Cure for Practice Brokentitus

By Jessica Strohecker, CVBL, PCM, CDMP

If Veterinary Practice Managers were prescribed like medication the intended use label would probably sound something like this:

The intended use of a veterinary practice manager is to help support practice goals, aspirations and guide the practice, clients, patients, and team to success. Warning: Handle with care.

Veterinary practice owners typically start looking for a practice manager when things start to feel out of control in their practice. Especially when human resource issues become the priority, team turnover starts to cycle, and management tasks begin to fall behind. Thus, causing a full-blown case of “Practice Brokentitus”, making the practice owner ready to prescribe the cure - a practice manager.

However, hiring one is never a cure. It is just a treatment to improve the negative symptoms happening in a veterinary practice.

Practice owners will regularly relinquish management duties, like human resources, to a new practice manager, as soon as they are hired. Always with the intent that the new manager will turn the practice around and everything will be fixed immediately. Then after a few months, when things are progressing slowly, the owner becomes antsy, feeling there has been zero progress. Which triggers the owner’s internal thought loop, “I hired a practice manager to fix the practice, but the practice isn’t fixed yet, so why do I have a practice manager if they haven’t fixed the practice.” This leaves the practice owner frustrated, feeling as if they made a terrible decision, and hired the wrong person. Owners will begin to consult with peers and business colleagues, only telling the story from their own perspective – never taking into consideration how frustrated, isolated, lost and potentially overwhelmed the manager may feel.

The practice manager’s perspective

The first day for a new manager is a mix of excitement, nerves and possibilities. They spend time getting to know the team, protocols and procedures unique to the practice. Immediately wanting to be the puzzle piece that helps the hospital move forward. A few weeks, maybe even months go by and a manager may begin to realize there are some deeper issues effecting the dynamics of the practice. More specifically the owner and team dynamics of the hospital. The honeymoon period is over. Now some more challenging management issues unfold and need to be addressed. Usually this is not an easy task because the leadership relationship is new. Plus, maybe the manager has tried to discuss their thoughts, only to be ignored, dismissed or scared of confrontation with the practice owner. Unfortunately, this sets off the manager’s internal thought loop, “I was hired to help support this practice, but I can’t support this practice when the owner won’t try to change their behaviors to help me support the practice. Why am I here?”

It is humorous to think how similar these thought loops are, both wanting to know the answer to same question - “What is the role of a practice manager at this hospital?” The easiest way to solve this query is with a little more communication and dedication to the leadership relationship of the practice owner and manager.

The 5-step prescription for practice owner and manager success:

Accept that there is no cure for Practice Brokentitus (PB), only treatments and rehabilitation. Patience is key when treating this illness. Just like in veterinary medicine, no ailment can be healed overnight. The same goes for veterinary practices. Every treatment is different, sometimes we must try various options, and recovery can take months to years.

Monitor side effects. One of the most important aspects of a successful owner and new manager relationship is checking for side effects. Setting up a bi-weekly check-in meeting to monitor the health of the new relationship can improve treatment. Communicate clearly when the owner and manager team dynamic feels different or negative. Ask questions and seek to understand why these changes are happening. Then, adjust and support each other by listening to each other's concerns. Remember, side effects can be damaging to the long-term health of the practice, so it is important to make time for the leadership team.

Create expectations of treatment. Rehabilitation is easier when both the practice owner and manager understand the expectations for healing Practice Brokentitus. It is like when we discharge a newly spayed energetic Black Labrador puppy, the e-collar will only work if the pet owner uses it correctly. The same goes for our leadership relationships. The practice will run smoother if everyone in the leadership team, practice owner, and manager knows the expectations of communication, boundaries, work schedule, and decision-making. Setting these expectations in the first month of a new leadership relationship can boost treatment in a positive way!

Celebrate the small improvements. One of the biggest mistakes made when treating Practice Brokentitus, is forgetting to appreciate the smallest of improvements. Managers are always eager to see positive changes in the practice. Yet, their daily life is consumed by combating negativity, client issues, and solving team problems. Practice owners can elevate the prescription by showing appreciation for the manager. Pointing out the littlest successes, not only strengthens the practice owner and manager dynamic but will also be a major positive side effect for the practice. Small improvements matter and acknowledging the changes can boost the confidence of any embattled manager.

Follow a rehabilitation plan. Successful practices utilize a strategic plan, like Pathway Planning, to lay a clear foundation for a healthier practice. Investing in educational topics like emotional intelligence or conflict resolution can enhance the abilities of a leadership team. In turn, building a stronger resistance to a reoccurring flair-up of the dreaded PB.

Practice Brokentitus affects veterinary practices throughout North America, Europe, and many countries around the world. But veterinary practice managers are not the cure. By following the 5-step prescription for success, practice owners and managers will create long-lasting positive change for their veterinary practices to be healthy, grow and prosper.

About the Author

After spending 15 years in the veterinary field, with over a decade in practice management, Jessica Strohecker has gained a deep understanding of the challenges that veterinary practices face when it comes to marketing. With a background in studio art and starting her career as a client relations specialist in 2006, she quickly realized the importance of effective marketing strategies. Since then, Jessica has utilized her belief in the transformative power of creativity and her industry experience to assist practices in discovering innovative methods to achieve their goals.