Learning a job can be hard; teaching that job to someone else can be even harder. Many veterinary team members who are skilled
and experienced in their practice have no idea where to begin when they take on the role of mentor and teacher. So how can
you excel at the task of training a new hire? These guidelines can help.
1. Remember the time ...
Think back to when you were new at your job. What questions did you have? What were your fears? Make a mental note to ask
a new hire what her biggest concerns are so you can be sure to address them. (Note: What frightened or intimidated you might
not worry someone else.) Then alleviate the new hire's fears by reassuring her that everything will be fine and no one expects
her to know the job already. Let her know that the first few days, or even weeks, might seem overwhelming and that it's OK
for her to feel that way. It'll pass with time.
2. Get down to business
There are probably a hundred things you do every day that you don't think about. But you're going to need to teach those things,
so start paying close attention to how you actually perform each part of your job. When it's time to train, perform each task
slowly and let the new hire observe you the first time. From the second time on, unless it's a complicated technical skill
or communicating with a client, ask the trainee to try it and assist only when needed.
Don't forget that everyone needs to know the lingo that goes with a job—and new hires might feel like you're speaking Greek.
So spend several training sessions talking specifically about lingo, and write down terms for the new hire to study. Incorporate
the language into your day-to-day training, and add more terms—shoot for about 20 new ones—each week.
For more advanced skills and client communication, let your trainee watch or listen several times to get a better feel for
the way you do it. After each exposure, talk about what she saw, heard, or did. If you need to make a correction, start with
a positive, such as, "I liked how you picked up on (fill in the blank). One thing we need to tweak is (fill in the blank)."
Notice the use of "we" instead of "you." Trainers and trainees are a team, and failure or success rests on your shoulders
as well as hers. Pad corrective action with a compliment so you keep your trainee from feeling like she's failing straight
out of the gate. If she misses the mark again, simply say, "It's OK. This takes practice. Let's try again."
3. Craft communication skills
Some people are naturally better at communicating. So rather than start a trainee right off with a real client, ask her to
practice. Role-play common client scenarios—let her take a crack at a phone call if she'll be answering incoming calls. Instruct
her to listen to how you communicate with other team members and doctors.
If the new employee will be working in the exam room, first ask her to join you in the room and listen to how you communicate.
When she's ready to take the lead, don't send her in alone the first time. Go in the room with her in case she freezes up
or the client overwhelms her with questions. By way of introduction, simply say, "Hi, my name is (fill in the blank) and this
is (fill in the blank). We occasionally audit each other in the room so I'm just going to stand back and let (trainee's name)
do her job." That way the client doesn't think, "Great, this person has no idea what she's doing." You can always step up
and help out if she doesn't know an answer.
When the new employee is ready to work the exam room on her own, still give her a lifeline: Let her know ahead of time what
to say if she gets stuck. A great general answer is, "I don't know but if you hold on for just a second, I'll get that answer
for you." This won't put off a client, and it gives the trainee a chance to step out of the room for a second to find the
answer. It also means that next time, the employee will know the answer herself. After her first few "on-her-own" experiences,
touch base about how she felt and how the clients reacted. Then give her feedback.
This same process works well for training receptionists. Let them listen in on your first calls. Then stick close by them
if they need help during the first client phone calls they handle on their own. And give them the same lifeline: "I don't
know the answer but may I put you on hold for a minute while I find out?"
4. Check and recheck
Regardless of the skills you're working on, you must make sure your trainee is retaining knowledge. To do this, schedule weekly
check-ins with your trainee for the first three to four months of training. After that, try for every two weeks. I usually
check in with my new team members every Friday for about five minutes. I ask how it's going, give positive and corrective
feedback, and end on a positive note. I also test constantly. By asking trainees to recall information I've taught, I get
a good feel for whether we're making progress.
Even after you've cut a trainee free to do more tasks on her own, you still need to check in occasionally to be sure everything
is going OK. Increase the length of time you give her freedom as both of you become more comfortable—but check in every now
and then. Nothing's worse than you assuming your trainee is feeling great about something and finding out she still isn't
Teaching is a whole different ballgame than being able to do your job. But with practice (remember, this is a skill you're
learning too!), it can be very rewarding to see your frightened newbie blossom into a seasoned veteran staff member.
More on this topic
• Are you training someone who just doesn't seem to be catching on? Read this article with 4 ideas for turning around the situation.
• Wishing some of your fellow team members would step up to train new hires? Click the next button below to find 4 tips for
fostering new trainers.
Caitlin Rivers is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board Member who’s worked in the veterinary field for more than 15 years.