Bossy boss or demanding veterinary job?
Sometimes it’s not the boss who’s the challenge, it’s the job. I’ve worked at a few different types of practices, and they both present their own challenges. Working in a one- to two-doctor practice is completely different than a five-doctor corporate-owned practice with three departments. My previous job was demanding because we were a small but extremely busy practice. Double and triple-booked appointment times were the norm. It was rare that we turned a pet-owner away, client or non-client; we just fit them in. I learned very early in my veterinary career that the closing time on the front door was merely a suggestion. We stayed until we took care of the last patient.
I don’t miss the long, insane days with no lunch break or the stress of having a line of clients at the desk, waiting to check out. What I do miss is the 15-minute commute. Those slow days when I counted inventory and placed orders. Staff meetings almost never started on time but we always learned something—new products, refreshers on old products, medications and food and so on. I also learned a lot about science and medicine, about blood chemistries, how to read fecal and urine samples under the microscope and acupuncture, massage and alternative therapies. I was much more involved with patient care than I am now.
The larger, multi-doctor practice is a completely different structure and atmosphere. They don’t need receptionists to assist with patient restraint, running lab work or counting pills because the technicians handle all that. Because we have electronic medical records, we don’t even enter exam charges anymore—the doctors or technicians do that as they finish with the patient. So lots of times, our job is to sit at the desk, smiling at the client and waiting for charges to appear on the computer screen. We have a few over-the-counter and food items in the reception area that we can enter as needed, but everything else is done in the back by a doctor or technician.
My job today is still demanding, but in a different way. Communication between teams and departments is continually challenging. I’m not only responsible for myself and my work, but the work of four others. I’m responsible for hiring, firing, performance and disciplinary actions for the client services team. As part of the hospital management team, I attend weekly meetings with the leaders from the other departments. I’m head of the marketing team. But at the end of the day, I’m a client and patient advocate who tries to provide the best service I can.
I think the one thing that my former boss demanded most of us was that we respect the clients and each other. We were expected to be polite and to use good manners. Customer service didn’t stop at the front desk, either. Every staff training included drills on greeting and addressing clients and how to properly answer the phone. It takes a certain kind of person to deal with the public every day. Pet owners can be extremely demanding and want special consideration for time, services and so on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I’ve been a client there for 30 years.” That’s great. However, there are about a dozen other people who have sick pets who need seen today too.
Working for either (or both) a demanding boss and a demanding job can be a physical, mental, and emotional struggle. It isn't for everyone. While some team members excel in a demanding environment, others may crumble under the pressure. Time management skills are a must--do I take this phone call or clean up the urine on the floor? So is dealing with conflict. Clients want an appointment, an answer to their question, to speak with the doctor, or a refill of their pet's food or medication and they usually want it now. Clients and team members will take their frustrations out on you. You've got to learn to stop, take a breath, and do what you can within your position. Know when to ask for help and when to take a break. I'm not the kind of person who could sit in a cubicle all day. After 15 years in veterinary medicine, I still want to be challenged every single day. Remember, if it were easy, it wouldn't be any fun.
Jennifer Graham Client services shift leader Bradford Hills Veterinary Hospital Wexford, Pa.