Onboarding and retaining qualified veterinary staff

By MWI Animal Health

Hint: It isn't only about compensation
Cashier at vet office with woman with dog

Retention of veterinary staff begins before hiring. Ideally, job candidates feel attracted both to who you are and what you do. In other words, those elements of your practice's culture ideally attracts new people and helps them feel connected, right from the start through onboarding. Turnover often ensues, however, if who you say you are doesn't match what new staff experience once they're in the thick of daily practice.

Onboarding veterinary staff

“Onboarding is about ingratiating somebody into a culture within a team environment," says Josh Vaisman, lead consultant at Flourish Veterinary Consulting, who has a post-graduate diploma in applied positive psychology and coaching psychology and is a Certified Compassion Fatigue Professional. He explains that people want to feel like what they do and say matters and makes a difference. That sense of contributing to the team's efforts provides a sense of belonging and satisfaction.

Vaisman warns, however, not to confuse training with onboarding. Training shows people how to do work tasks and what's expected. Onboarding helps people feel like they're truly "part of something."

Onboarding tip:

Assign new staffers what Vaisman calls a “fan club president." Match new hires with different members of your existing team. Ask them to serve as allies for the first 30 to 90 days.

The fan club onboarding model benefits to both new and current staff. Vaisman says, “It provides some awesome benefits to the person that's your fan club president," including higher job satisfaction, enhanced engagement, and feeling a part of something bigger.

Fan club president tasks include such tasks as:

  • Introducing new hires to other team members
  • Helping them find their way around and locate needed supplies
  • Answering questions
  • Assisting with email or team tool setup, such as Slack

Retaining team members

Compensation and other tangible employee benefits play a role in staff retention, and yet people often value less tangible rewards and recognition as well.

Munir Kureshi, DVM, from Cupertino Animal Hospital, explains that compensation ties directly to respect and appreciation given to people in different veterinary roles. Clients often heap praise on veterinarians for surgery without understanding or mentioning others' roles in keeping their pets safe and comfortable.

To correct this imbalance, Kureshi includes staff members in the process of discharging pets so that he can point out the work others provided to make the day's surgery / treatment a success. And, he adds, “pay the staff what they deserve."

Kureshi pays more than double the national median salary for veterinary technicians. “How can we afford it? Invest in new technology and offer the best medicine," he says, pointing to his CT scanner and latest endoscopy equipment. “The staff enjoys their work; their mind is stimulated with implementing advanced technologies and the training that goes with it."

That's the crux of it for many. Compensation alone doesn't equal job satisfaction. “Objective measures [such as pay] are important. And they're part of the needs structure, but they're not the whole needs structure," Vaisman says. “We need to feel like we matter, like we're able to make a meaningful contribution. And that we can see that contribution—that there's some sort of tangible evidence that the work I do here makes a difference."

Retention tip:

Send fill-in-the-blank compliment cards to solicit real-world, proof from clients that your work matters. Share the praise with your team to boost morale and create a sense of purpose.
Yes, compensation matters. Yes, practice culture matters. Yet, Vaisman concludes, “I'm trying to fill in the gaps of areas we don't typically think of. In my opinion, one of the greatest gifts that we can give somebody is the gift of significance, the gift of importance."

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