From the outside looking in, the picture of veterinary practices may seem enviable for any business still dealing with client and/or revenue loss caused by the pandemic, its lingering effects, and inflation. Where many businesses lost customers due to pandemic restrictions and closures, veterinary practices were busier than ever through the pandemic and afterward. While some industries experienced revenue losses as high as 60% because of the pandemic, the AVMA reported in 2021 that year-over-year revenue for practices has grown 9.1% on average, and against inflation and the specter of a recession, the global veterinary market is expected to grow to $151.26 billion at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.2%.
Veterinary professionals, of course, know the other side of the picture—because they’re standing in it. Like many businesses, veterinary practices face staffing shortages and are challenged to retain staff. Because of increased workloads, stress and exhaustion are prevalent with practice teams. The average turnover for veterinarians is twice as high as it is for physicians in medical practice, and symptoms of burnout have increased for veterinary team members.
So, the question for practice owners and managers becomes an obvious one, especially since patient care is ultimately linked to it all:
“What are some things I can do today to improve the situation and operate more efficiently with fewer staff?”
Address a Common Perception That Affects Staffing and Retention
Burnout doesn’t just cause veterinary staff members to leave a practice. Where practices everywhere are struggling to attract new employees, a lack of burnout prevention strategies and tools at practices can dissuade many prospective employees from taking an opening.
Example: On the publicly accessible Reddit community page Veterinary Burnout (a frank-talk forum frequented by vet techs and other veterinary workers outside of doctors and management), one commenter writes, “One of my regular questions I ask during interviews is, ‘What is your policy on burnout/compassion fatigue and what is your clinic doing to prevent it and deal with it?’” In response, another commenter writes, “I added that to my bag of interview questions,” as others now do to safeguard their mental and physical health.
As difficult as such comments may be for veterinarians, practice owners, and/or management to hear, they’re central to staffing and retention because prospective employees have read the headlines. Others have lived the burnout experience, and as passionate as they may remain toward patient care, they’re not looking to repeat a bad experience and sacrifice their well-being.
In tandem with this, there is now a common perception among veterinary practice workers (both current and former) that practices are doing little or nothing to address burnout. As a result, this perception either accompanies prospective employees into an interview or causes them to forego applying for an opening.
As an example, the first commenter from the previous Reddit section adds that it always throws interviewers when asked about a practice’s burnout prevention policies and strategies, “and I can always see them try to come up with an answer.” The second commenter says much the same thing: “Most don’t know how or just don’t want to.”
Whether this is true for your practice, the truth effectively doesn’t matter to many current and prospective staff members. The notion of practices having few resources to address staff exhaustion and burnout is now a perception that colors how some veterinary professionals feel about staying with or joining a practice. So, how do you turn this perception around to help address staffing and retention?
Proof, as they say, speaks louder than words. Provide tangible, meaningful that evidence the contrary. Speak about your resources during interviews with prospective employees and foster open conversations with existing staff about well-being and the support resources you provide. Cultivating a workplace that promotes wellness and happiness addresses a key issue of staffing and retention and helps team members thrive, which helps practices operate more efficiently with fewer practice staff.
Invest in Technology to Improve Practice Efficiency
To help veterinary decision-makers create a healthier, more sustainable workplace, LifeLearn Animal Health recently surveyed 83 veterinary practice workers about their pain points, and many felt that workflow in the veterinary workplace wasn’t being properly managed to best handle appointments. The good news: Many solutions are available right now for practices to improve efficiency:
- Websites with industry-approved pet health content, educational resources, and self-serve tools for pet owners like appointment request forms and prescription refills save veterinary teams valuable time, increase efficiency, and improve compliance.
- Client communication software that syncs with your practice management system makes it easier for your team to book appointments and reach the right pet owners with the right information with as little administrative effort as possible.
- Pet health education resources, written by pet health experts and widely accessible to your veterinary team, save time and improve compliance by educating clients on the why behind following through with veterinary recommendations.
Whichever technology solutions your practice chooses to operate more efficiently with fewer staff, the thing to keep in mind is that the effectiveness of the whole ultimately equals the sum of its parts.
Individual technology solutions can certainly work well on their own to improve the lives of your staff. Yet when combined, technology solutions work better for your practice and staff because they support each other and increase overall effectiveness.
The other benefit of investing in technology is embodied in the immortal Jerry Maguire line, “Show me the money,” meaning to show someone the evidence of something.
It’s one thing to tell staff you understand the challenges they face, and indeed, you may already have a few technology solutions in place to address time and/or efficiency. Yet it’s another thing to robustly invest in technology and truly evidence to staff that you’re doing more to improve the workplace environment. This not only makes your practice more attractive to prospective employees but encourages existing staff to stay by providing tools for them to operate more efficiently.
In summary: Veterinary practices may face ongoing challenges but taking a proactive approach to mitigate them helps retain and attract staff and ultimately ensures the best care for patients.
In addition to this, adding technology solutions to your practice can free up to 40 hours per week of your staff’s time. That’s like having a whole extra employee. To see what technology solution works best for your practice, reach out to LifeLearn today.