Webinar Wednesday With GeniusVets - Season 2, Episode 2: Dr. Deb Stone

Dr. Deb Stone on Webinar Wednesdays With GeniusVets

 

Hello, everyone. Thanks so much for joining us here today. This is David Hall, co-founder at GeniusVets, and welcome to the Future of Independent Veterinary Practices, episode two. Today we have an amazing guest joining the program—the highly accomplished Dr. Deb Stone. Dr. Stone has been involved with the veterinary profession for more than 30 years and has experience with specialty, emergency, and general practice management. She earned an MBA with a concentration in business management and completed her Ph.D. in organizational leadership. Dr. Stone is a certified veterinary practice manager, accredited by the VHMA. She currently serves as the president of VetPartners and board of trustees for the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation. Dr. Stone is the American Veterinary Medical Association's assistant director of continuing education. She's a national and international speaker and a published author.

 

 

Dr. Stone, thank you so much for taking some time out of your incredibly busy schedule to join us here today. One thing that I forgot to mention is that you're also a musician. You're in three different bands. We've got the Laxatones, No Low Profits, and the Barking Cats. Tell me about that.

 

Oh, yeah. Thank you so much for talking about music. I tell you, it's been a big part of my soul and my heart when I was a kid until now. I'm not looking for fame and fortune. However, I found a way to bring my music into the veterinary profession and play with many veterinary professionals, and largely in the animal awareness space. So, thanks for asking about that. And I think you're a musician too, so one day we need to play together.

We're musical creatures. Great way to communicate. And both of us, you and I are both here ... well, because of COVID, we can't be together today, but we're both here in Austin, the music capital of the world.

 

I have got two questions for you that I'm starting every interview this season by asking people. What are you, Deb, most looking forward to once COVID's completely over, and we can all kind of go back to business as usual, if that even exists?

Yeah, there's so much. I speak with my friends about this and check in with them. I say one of the things I look forward to is just being able to walk around this planet and not worry so much, and not worry if people are going to get sick, or who's got COVID, and am I going to get COVID? Just kind of that relaxed feeling of we're okay again. We can connect. If I want to get in the car and come over to your house and play some music with no qualms at all. Looking forward to having that time when we're not on fumes. A lot of my friends and colleagues are just about on fumes right now, and we try every we possibly can to get through the day. And it will be so nice when we can be a little bit more relaxed about life, connect, and just again, live together, play music love together, David, without a lot of worries.

 

Throughout the past year, with all the craziness, I mean from COVID, yes, and all the impacts that have had, but there are political tensions, stresses galore. What have you done, or what do you do, to protect your mental health?

Thank you, that's a great question, and I think it's a very important question. I think again, going off of what I mentioned a little bit ago about being on fumes, how do we help ourselves when we may not be our best selves at this point in time? And something that I've been doing is, getting back to the music spiel, it's always been, as I said, since I was a kid, something that's really helped me through so many things, and it's helping me through these times of COVID, too. So, I'm writing a series of animal songs and hope to have them recorded and play for my friends. Again, I'm not looking for fame or fortune, but be able to say, here are some songs that I think, not only do we love music, but animals as well. So, music is still what's helping me through these times, as it did get me through some tougher times when I was a youngster.

 

Let's change gears a little bit and talk about the industry some. One of the thematic questions we're exploring this season with, as you know, we've got just so many amazing industry leaders that are joining us here on the program from week to week. One of the things we're talking about, in terms of trends in the industry, huge trends with data tracking, aggregation, and the sharing of data. And this is, by no means, is just in the veterinary industry, just worldwide. I mean, where data is, is kind of everything, and it's incredibly valuable. Large industry players are really looking at data. How do you see data helping practice owners and managers streamline their operations and maximize their profits?

Well, I'll tell you what, it's been an advantage, being in this profession for more than 30 years. I remember the general practice I worked with for a long time when we became computerized. In November of 1990, we were one of the first, at least in Texas, to use the computer, not just for our cash register, but also, we were looking at this data, back in 1990. The practice owner I worked with, and he's still my friend today, he was just so open-minded, and the computers, I mean, you could get in that day, a PC would cost like $10,000. A little PC you can get for $400 or whatever, in those days. So, he really saw, he had this vision and heard about this thing about computers and data. And so, back then, we went to Houston, Texas, to Dallas, because some of the larger cities had a computer, and we're using them for data collection, at least in the early days. And so we, again, November 1990, we became computerized and used the computer to its fullest. We used the practice management software, again to the fullest.

And so, we saw early on how advantageous it could be to use a tool and to collect information. And I think we're much more sophisticated now. I know, David, you and I have friends who may have actually even developed some of these tools to collect data in practice management software programs, collect data and then transform them into a nice readable tool. Because I think a big issue was, for so long, number one, it took the veterinary profession a while to, again, use computers and see how they could help with data, in addition to just being a cash register or making an appointment. So, I think we've come a long way in that, where many of the practices across the US are now using more and more their practice management software, and they can get data.

And the next stage I saw, that might even still be a bit of an issue now, but I think with companies and our friends who are developing ways to report data, is that for the longest time, you can get data, but what do you do with it, right? So, you would have these practice management software programs where they would give you a lot of information, and maybe even generate all these reports, but what does it mean, right?

So, that's what I am really hopeful nowadays that veterinarians and our veterinary profession, veterinary practice professionals, are actually seeing, not only can they capture information in their own practice management software, but they can actually learn something from it, and see trends, and what are those top five things they're looking for to make a difference, right? Versus this plethora of information, and it gets overwhelming because you don't do anything. What is it, analysis paralysis kind of stuff, where you don't do anything?

So, I think again where we are now is, we're going to that next stage with our colleagues who are developing these really great data collection programs and reports, helping veterinarians, help them understand what this data means, and what are those things you all can be tracking to help make a better decision along the way.

 

One question I have though, you mentioned what data are you looking for, what is this data going to do for you? If you, as somebody with so much experience in the industry and practice management, consulting, all of those things that you have a long history with, what would you say if you started working with a ... how would you approach a practice owner, practice manager, just to even find out, hey, what are the things they should be looking at? What are the big data points that you think every practice owner should really be getting out of their data?

Yeah, and as you mentioned, Martin Traub-Werner and the VetSuccess team, are actually becoming much more sophisticated, and providing reportability that is friendly and understandable and all. I'll tell you what, if practices, and this is evolving as well, but if they could identify who their clients are. What's their average transaction? What is, again, with average transactions, the frequency. What's the frequency of these patients coming in? How many of the patients, of your patients, how many of the population hasn't been in in a really long time? It's so amazing that when you just kind of even learn the population of who's in your database of your clients. Because you may see somebody come in, or maybe curbside now. This may be evergreen, but again, where we are now is currently and maybe for a while curbside assistance.

But again, you may see, and we get stuck in the day-to-day of, okay, we're going to deal with these clients, and we spoke to these patients, and go home. But then, if you can take the time to identify ... You've got this computer. You've got this data. What's in there? Do you have 8,000 clients that are in your computer, and you've basically only got 300 folks that are coming in? How many of the patients are actually coming in? There's so much you can learn about that because you go, oh my gosh, and you then start asking questions.

Now, there are wonderful consultants out there also, again, David, many that you and I know as well, who actually will provide a current, up-to-date list of those critical kinds of top five things that you could be looking at and collecting. But again, something that I see too is that you've got this computer, and you've got all these people in there, and you get through a day in the life of scheduling, but again, who are those? What do you have in there? And who's not coming in to see you?

And those are opportunities. You're looking for opportunities to be able to serve clients and patients that you may not have served for a really long time. And if they're not coming in, they haven't come in, let's say, five years, maybe we should clean all that up, right? Just clean all that up, and clean your data up, and clean up your tool, and then see how you can grow and what you want to do. How do you want to grow your practice?

So, it's kind of really elementary and rudimentary, but there's so much we can get, and as I said, there are so many wonderful, even through the VetSuccess team, whatever, is providing what are those areas that we should be really tracking. But I'd say more than anything, who's coming in ... who's in your computer? Who are you serving? How come, why not? Why aren't they coming in? Did they not get some sort of reminder system? Do we have a reminder system? This kind of opens up all of these can of worms, as far as why aren't we seeing them anymore?

I remember Toto, which Toto hasn't been here. And oftentimes with clients, they'll say they're not coming because they're not happy with you. Oftentimes, clients won't call and say I'm not happy with you. They just go away and find some other place. You know why? Because there are many places. There are many places that will take care of Toto. It's about clients finding that place where they feel like they're home and they're heard.

 

We talk to most practice owners and managers, and we'll talk about the lack of qualified staff. Especially with, one of the best stories that came out of COVID was that all these pets got adopted, and the number of pet owners in America grew substantially. That led to a huge rise in the business, at the same time with all these other pressures going on about delivering curbside, and it totally disrupted all of the business processes in a practice. Some new positions were created in a lot of practices to help regain some efficiencies, but it just put so many pressures, let alone if an employee gets a positive COVID test, and now you've got people who can't come in. You've got kind of a decimated staff, and spiking business, and all of these pressures. Finding good, quality staff, and bolstering your staff, and bringing more people in is a huge need, and a lot of practice owners and managers scratch their head because they buy into the idea of there's a lack of qualified staff, there are not enough doctors, there aren't enough vet techs and these sort of things. Why don't you share with us, what are some of your thoughts about that? Is that the real issue, or is there an underlying issue that actually can be addressed?

It's loaded. I think that we can almost go back several years and say I can't find technicians, or I can't find a practice manager, or I can't find all of this. I think, again, just like you mentioned before, as far as what are those things you look for if you can measure and actually become familiar with who's in your computer, who's in the database, and see who we're serving and not serving.

I think also, too, when it comes to team members, we can look under our own hood again before we just knee jerk respond and go think we need to hire folks without really clearly understanding, are we maximizing, are we utilizing our team members appropriately already, before we go out and hire? Our veterinarians. This is something that we've discussed for a long, long time in the veterinary profession, and this is no judgment on anybody in the world, and we understand why this happens. Again, we're still looking at, veterinarians seem to still struggle often with fully delegating to their team members, and holding on to things.

It's not easy to let go. However, if a veterinarian would be able to feel comfortable through training to be able to delegate to a technician, then that technician can delegate to an assistant. In other words, we've got this ripple effect where that veterinarian may feel, the owner especially, that the whole weight of the world is on their shoulders. What could we possibly do to distribute responsibilities, and what would it take to help prepare individuals to take on those responsibilities?

You just can't go one day, you know what, I'm going to start delegating, because you know what, I've got the weight of the world on my shoulders, and I'm going to give it all away. It doesn't work that easy. There is work you've got to do. You need to train your technicians. I mean, if there's something ... in other words, instead of a veterinarian, especially a veterinarian owner, doing it all for a lot of reasons. They may not let go for a lot of reasons, a large part, I can do it faster, quicker. I don't have time to teach. I'm tired to teach. And guess what? It's my license.

I understand that. I honor that. The reality is the practices that are able to really delegate effectively, utilize their team members, technicians, management teams, assistants, receptionists, those practices seem to have better outcomes, healthier outcomes, and healthier cultures. And it also impacts our wellbeing, right? It impacts their wellbeing.

I still see nowadays that veterinarian owners are trying to hold on to it all. They may not even want to, but they don't know where to begin to start letting go, to be able to have their team take on some of the stuff that they're living with and working with that they don't need to so that they can go practice the medicine that they went to veterinary school for, and then know that they can rely on their team and have faith in their team members, that we're still working together to move the vision forward.

If the veterinarian owner does have a vision and goals ... First of all, we're assuming that there are a known vision and goals, and if not, that's a whole other conversation. Even if the veterinarian owner kept the vision and goals to themselves, the bottom line is, you do have your team members, you're able to delegate, you communicate that to them. But again, it will start with the vision, goals, and where you're going and all that, and then again, really developing a healthy, effective, positive leadership infrastructure in the practice, to where that veterinarian owner can rely on, let's say, maybe there's a practice manager. I'm really keen on practice managers. You know that. Practice managers, letting them have a responsibility in more of the business realm, while that veterinarian does the business. Is there a lead veterinary technician who actually can help take lead, and help teaching and training, the quality assurance with the technician staff and assistant staff? Is there an associate veterinarian who can come in and also help with the training? In other words, can you just imagine how much more of a healthy practice that would be if we were able to build that healthy leadership, effective, positive leadership structure, and spread the wealth of responsibility, so that veterinarian doesn't have to live with it all?

 

What do you think are a couple of the things, for a doctor who just had the light go on with them, who's listening to this, and they said, you know what, I do need to make that a priority. I'm putting that on my list. Starting next week, I'm going to find a few things to delegate. It's sort of a little bit, when I'm trying to get my kids to do a chore that they know they should do, haven't done it, and they barely start doing it and it's going slow, I just say, go 10% faster. So, it's not the whole thing, everything they should delegate. What are a couple of the first things that typically don't get delegated, that should be some of the first ones to set them on this track, do you think?

Well, again, that's loaded, too, and it really is going to vary business-by-business. Look at the technician. This will be the first of all. I mean, there's a couple of different ways we can go with this. If we look at the medical aspect, because oftentimes that's what veterinarians, it's good that they're doing medicine and not doing business, but should they be doing the intricacies all the way down to drawing blood, taking radiographs? I mean, those kinds of, there are certain things in a practice that I do believe, I've seen the way, the technicians are very qualified to be able to take blood, urine samples, take radiographs, all those kind of things.

And if there's an issue with the doctor having concern because they don't think they are going to do as good a job as that doctor, then teach them. Teach these three technicians here that you want to charge. Teach them. It's like I said, David, earlier, it may be one day the light bulb goes off, but it's not a one day when it's going to happen. And that doctor needs to also feel good. That doctor needs to feel okay that I've given this off, and I feel okay. I mean, how does that work, to basically then teach those individuals who they want to run with in this certain area? Teach them.

Invest in that training. Maybe they need to go out someplace else. Or maybe it's not out anymore. It will be out one day. Learn something in a class of some sort. Invest in that learning, so then they come back and they show that doctor that they can do X, Y, and Z, and that doctor can breathe a sigh of relief and go on to another case, instead of holding on to everything, and that veterinary technician is very, very qualified, they went to school, isn't going to get bored, and they're not just not utilizing all of their talents.

Now, when it comes to another aspect, the business aspect. Again, I don't pretty much talk about now veterinary owners at this point in time, but I'm going to start with them. I'm going to get to where it starts, and veterinarian owners, I think, too. We're more and more seeing practice managers in practices, and we're seeing, with new generations of ownership, we're seeing veterinarian owners are wanting practice managers to be like their companion in practice so that that would relieve the veterinarians from doing the business stuff, and doing that medicine, right? But then you've got the other nuances of the medicine. Does the doctor need to be doing all the other nuances? No.

So, those are a couple of examples of how you can build these teams. And it ain't easy if you've never done it. We've all got habits to break, as well. You find, you pick these individuals, you give them the tools and the skills, and you just don't say bam, you're it, you're done, and I'm never going to see you again. Doctors, stay in the loop so that you are meeting regularly, making sure your vision and your goals are going forward so that you're in the loop and don't feel like all the sudden, I've been hijacked by my team members and I don't know what's going on anymore with my practice. Now we have this subculture going on.

So, it's loaded and everything, but there's a place when you start, and again, there's a lot of nice tools that will really help reset, help veterinarian owners reset their practice culture. A lot of great tools out there. A lot of great tools that help veterinarian associates as well, because the delegation is not just a veterinarian owner issue. It's also associates. It's oftentimes even technicians. It's all of this, but how can you effectively delegate? And there are tools out there as well, resources that will help with delegation because it does pay off.

 

What should a practice manager be doing, and what should they not be doing, do you think?

Well, I will say that it's not really straightforward, all the things that a practice manager does. Now, I'll clarify that. What I see at times across the US is that when we're looking at practice managers, they may have a variety of different responsibilities and authority levels, contingent on the practice, right? What they're allowed to do and what they're not allowed to do. Or it might be, let's say a practice may have a hospital administrator, or they may have a lead receptionist or an office manager, and all of those may have different responsibilities and levels of accountability.

Some things that I believe, a few things that practice managers, do believe that they should work closely with the veterinarian. Meet regularly, to understand clearly what the goals are. Understand clearly what the goals, mission, vision is, of that veterinarian, so they can work in partnership. Meet regularly to keep each other up with what's going on. Progression of any of the items that they've been tasked with. Because sometimes I see that a practice may have a practice manager, and the owner and the practice manager may be like two ships in the night that pass each other. Just kind of pass each other in the middle of the night.

And so, it's good that there is the thought of hiring the practice manager or promoting a practice manager, or bam, you're it, you're the practice manager. But again, to really be healthy, it's good for the practice manager and the owner to meet, make sure there are a clear vision and all that kind of good stuff and communicate with each other. And then, of course, they take that information, communicate with the team, and that's when you start, again, it gets back to that effective, positive leadership infrastructure.

Some things that I see that veterinary owners may not allow practice managers to see numbers from the books, whether it be their PnLs. And I do believe that veterinarian owners should allow practice managers to see the books, to see numbers, to help the practice to work with the CPA. And again, I know it's all different across the United States. But some of the things I see is, there are limitations on practice managers having that access, and that they don't really talk to the veterinarian owner. They're kind of shooting blindly and making decisions that might be business decisions, with not the facts, right?

So, I do think that there should be a disclosure on that. Again, look at practice managers as a companion to veterinary medicine. And that veterinarian, wisely choosing a practice manager, the right qualified practice manager for the practice, whether it's going to be promoting from within, and/or the practice hiring from outside. Understanding, again, goals, visions, mission, making sure it's a good fit with them and working together in the same direction. Keeping that open communication is critical.

And then, if they can start with the health of that leadership relationship, it will have a ripple effect throughout the practice. Having transparency and communicating with the team members during team meetings. Not only just the bad things, about what are we getting wrong, but what are some good things we've done? What's the state of the health? What's the state of health of the organization?

I think that honest conversations, the practice manager and the owner knowing where they are during these times, try and make the best decisions they possibly can during these times, communicating these to the team, keeping the team up, has been so powerful, and helps reduce the angst and anxiety with team members, as far as what are we going to do during these times? Am I going to lose my job? Oh my god. What if I can't come in because I'm afraid of COVID?

So, having that conversation, having that good, healthy relationship between the practice manager and the owner, number one, is key. And making sure they're meeting regularly and staying in check with each other, versus again, it's really easy to be two ships in the night just passing because we're tired, days are full, I'll see you tomorrow, same day, same place.

 

What advice do you have to practice owners and managers for today on interviewing for skill, interviewing for culture fit, interviewing for diversity? These are some of the buzzy words and big topics because they're very important, but I think the danger is that, as something becomes a buzzword, it kind of loses its significance in meaning, and it starts to just be a buzzword that you heard, and then you hear it enough that it just kind of blends in and doesn't mean anything at all. What does it really mean to you, and how would you define that, and how would you encourage somebody to actually implement those practices as they step into this next phase of hiring?

I tell you, the hiring, that's a whole big process in that. Where do you find people? Those problems are going to be, how do we hire? So, I think it starts off as number one, having a really good, healthy hiring process that is equitable. You're looking at the buzzwords that you all mentioned, whatever, like that. I've been in this profession long enough, in Texas too, even in Texas, where there was a time when practices weren't as open to different. Hiring for homogeny was safe. I understand it.

And Austin, specifically, David, you've been here long enough to know, Austin's a little bit different kind of place than a lot of pockets in Texas and around the United States, where we're a bit more open and all, where you might have tattoos and piercings, and you talk about gender expression and identity, and all those kind of things. We seem to be, keep Austin weird, as they say, which means that all that difference and diversity really helps Austin survive. There was a time, though, that we weren't quite as open, and again, different, and hiring others because they didn't look like us. Maybe they were very qualified, they had the skills, but we didn't even entertain and weren't open enough, or didn't feel safe or comfortable enough to hire folks that we couldn't relate to.

We're in a different time. I think that practices across the United States, first of all, having a good, healthy, equitable hiring process, knowing what you're hiring for, I mean, what are those skills, responsibilities? What are you looking for? Number one. And then, when you have folks come in and do the interview, or whatever your interview process is, whether it's a talk over the phone. Maybe it's going to be now with Skype, because you're not going to come in, or whatever it's going to be, or do you come in with a mask? I'm not sure.

But again, just making sure that we've got those processes that are equitable processes. Again, knowing what we're looking for, and being open to folks who may apply in your practice that you may not be familiar with, however, they are qualified. They've got the skills. They've got the experience. They would be fantastic assets to bring value to the practice. It's just a matter of being open, and knowing that this world, diversity, equity and inclusion, I know that's the buzz, but having that diverse group is ever so more important nowadays, because having diversity of even thought is really important, because somebody, the owner or the practice manager, doesn't have to have all the answers to everything.

How about having the courage to reach out to the team members for that diversity perspective? Diversity is everything, right? By having the courage and openness to listen to some different ideas that you may never have done. And guess what? It may have made that owner's idea better. So, again, having that. Just having, again, I don't think that practices, again, many years ago, really even took the time to have conversations about seeing different perspectives or being open. It was kind of business as usual. And again, not judging, it was the context of the time, but we're at a point in time now when diversity is a gift, the gift of diversity.

And look at the clients that are coming in. If you want to translate it to the bottom line, look at the diversity of clients that we have come in. Do they feel comfortable coming in? Do they feel heard and seen and respected, and are we welcoming them? So, I think now more than ever, again, I know it's like a buzzword, we're looking for diversity and inclusion. We've got social justice issues that are happening. The reality is, being open to doing things differently may result in better outcomes for now and the future.

 

My partner, Dr. Michele Drake, who owns the Drake Center for Veterinary Care in Encinitas, specializes in talking about culture. We've flown all over the country talking to veterinary groups about the culture. We've created a killer culture class, and in fact, we'll go ahead and put up a link to people who want to see that culture class. It's a great culture class, and there are so many benefits to focusing on that culture, but a lot of the ideas of culture are about getting everyone on the same page, and to some extent, unifying and homogenizing the cultural aspects and what matters there. A lot of people bought in on what they should be doing about culture, which is making some sameness, but also that balance that with diversity. And it's totally doable and everything, but there are obvious questions for a lot, where they say, okay, “How do I do it? How do I achieve sameness and diversity at the same time?

I think what you said makes a lot of sense because, for the longest time, we were looking at build this, build this, build this. Now we're saying infuse this, infuse this, infuse this with a different perspective, and we're going, whoa, hold on, I'm just trying to do my medicine today. I think, David, with all of the issues that are happening today. I mean, many of the issues have been around for a long time, it's just this happens to be an interesting time where everything's kind of piled on together, right? We seem to be looking at these important issues now.

I think that with the issues of today, as well as the many things that I've done in this profession over 30 years, again, being a consultant, being practice manager, working in the publishing world, the common component that I see that provides, again, getting to the better outcomes and positive results in education. Learning. Understanding. Increasing our awareness, right? Education is so key. And you were talking about that earlier, professional and personal development. The cornerstone of that is education, right? Learning, right? It increases our awareness. Oh, I had no idea I didn't know that. I didn't know what I didn't know. Okay, now I know what I don't know, and how do I get to learn more?

So, education I do believe, in all these times, continuing to understand. Understand why we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Understand why we want to have a healthy culture. What are those tools? There are tools for all of these ideas that we're talking about nowadays, to better understand, to increase our awareness as individuals, and as practice decision-makers. So, again, as you have the culture program you have, and I know there are other resources that really look at culture and development, because it's so important, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion, and all those. Look at the great work the AVMC has done. It really provides a lot of resources and information, it's tremendous.

Again, if we can take the time to learn, and share that information. Let's say a veterinarian owner finds a great resource, a great video, a great recording. Share it with the team, so that we can all together, as different and the same, as similar as we are, learn together.

 

I want to talk about, which is once you have this, you've put this work into your staff, and you've built this, how do you retain great staff? There was a great quote that was said to me by Peter Weinstein, and you know Peter well, which is some practice ... In his career, he's run across many practice owners that were like, what if we put all of this training into this staff, and then they just leave? And his brilliant response is, well, what if you don't train them, and then they stay? And I think when you do put that in, and you put in the training, you've bought into that, how do you ensure that you can retain those staff? What tips do you have on staff retention?

Well, I think this is something that's been a concern for a really long time, right? I think almost in every industry in the whole world, that I'm going to train this person, invest in this person, and they're going to go away. And it does happen. Even if you have some of the best hiring practices. You hire this awesome person, right? You've gone through this stellar hiring process, and the person is hired for two weeks, and they leave for some reason, right? And you go, oh my god, I did all my hiring right. I can't believe they're leaving.

Sometimes that does happen, however, I think again if you have some really great hiring processes in place, and you hire an individual, you do this onboarding thing. It helps them understand what our standards are of medicine, and all those core values and everything in the practice, it gets them on board. And then what do you do? I mean, I think that there's an opportunity ...

I liked, when I was a practice manager, regularly a practice manager, I found great pleasure in walking around, touching base, and maybe a few moments. Learning a bit about my team members, caring for them, checking in with them. Letting them know I hear them, I see them, I kind of remember something about them. In other words, are they taking a class? I check in maybe two weeks later, say, "Hey, how's that class going?"

In other words, number one, letting them know that this isn't just a transaction, where they're going to hire the person, they're going to check, and you've heard this for a long time, check your personal life at the door. That ain't going to be welcome. You hire the full person, right? You have that full person. That kind of gets back to the whole diversity, equity, and inclusion, no matter what the diversity looks like. But it's, again, it's like letting them feel like they're part of a process.

Have flexible benefits. What does somebody want? Maybe we ask them. When we have our times when we sit together, and we have our, I'm not really sure what we call them anymore, our performance reviews, goal-planning sessions, learning what is important to them. Maybe it's going to be somebody being able to come into work, and they are an artist, and they have an idea to paint a cat mural in the cat lounge. Would that give them some sort of satisfaction, and feel like they're heard, and they can put in their tell. In other words, we can be really creative.

We can be creative nowadays. We don't have to do the same old, same old like we used to. I know there's flexible kind of benefits. Maybe it's going to be job share going on, especially in these times, with COVID, we've had to be very flexible. We've had to be very flexible about the scheduling, and how can we support people during these times? Maybe it's not three strikes, you've been late five minutes, you're out of here. Maybe that's not really what we're going to do this time.

But again, helping those team members to feel like they're heard, they're part of a process, where we have team meetings, have them feel, provide an environment through the culture to feel comfortable enough, safe enough to be able to share an idea. Again, as I said, some of those ideas could actually be better than any veterinarian owner or manager came up with.

So, again, having that environment, number one, they feel comfortable. They feel heard. And they feel like they've got a career. And it doesn't just have to be a job. Could we make these positions be perceived as more than a job, but a career, to where they don't go off and go out of our profession? They go find someplace where they may actually make more money and have a career track that they weren't able to have in a practice. I think those are things, too, that we all need to think about, consider and be open.

There are a lot of great ideas now. Consultants, some of our friends, have great suggestions, as far as how do you have a great culture, number one, have a safe, comfortable culture where they have a voice, number one, and then look at having flexible, kind of interesting, unique benefits along the way, as well, how they can contribute to the goals, vision and mission of the practice.

 

I want to talk a bit about, and give you some space to talk about the AVMA, because of the great stuff you're doing over there as the assistant director of continuing education. So, I know the AVMA spends a lot of time in education, moving more towards an emphasis on job training, leadership, organizational discipline, empowering better new practice owners and managers are better business leaders. So, can you talk a little bit about what those programs look like, how do people get involved? What should they expect? What's their path of progress? Tell us about it.

I'll tell you. Again, I think I expressed that continuing education has just been what I see as so important in so many areas, and I feel like all the 30+ years I worked in the profession prepared me for this actual role at the AVMA because in large part it is about developing a variety of content for all veterinary professionals.

AVMA, we've got close to 97,000 members, most of them are veterinarians, and before we launched our digital education platform, Axon, that was in the first quarter of 2019, so we're going on a couple of years now. Before then, most of the education that was offered through AVMA really was targeted toward veterinarians. And when we developed Axon, we realized how important it is to not only educate the veterinarians but also the folks the veterinarian worked with, right? Getting back to that delegation. In other words, that's great, it's important for veterinarians to learn medicine, not only for veterinary licensure but also just to continue their education, to keep their chops up in medicine is really important. Also provide the information for them, as far as leadership and business and finance information, too.

But again, as we mentioned all throughout this conversation, about the delegation, about educating our team members, and how do you do that? AVMA really saw the importance of developing, elevating that team, so they can also help that practice owner help their practice to thrive, as well.

So, we do, we offer over 100 on-demand courses. We have certificate programs. We actually will be launching a second certificate program and a third certificate program in Q1, which we're excited about. And we still have live webinars as well that we present, and it covers everything from, again, as you mentioned, career, business, finance, diversity, equity, inclusion, and within the diversity, equity and inclusion, we actually have some free offerings for everybody to learn more, if they like, to learn some of what we're talking about here, David, and why, what's the importance.

Utilizing technicians. Again, how can we help our technicians? How can ... veterinarians can even utilize these technicians that might make them have an a-ha moment, of oh, I can do that, too? So, even though we built that with veterinary technicians, it was actually intended for veterinarians to hopefully see too, the how do you do this thing called delegation, utilize your technicians?

We also have a lot of medical content. That still remains very, very, very popular, the medical, the clinical content with Axon. But again, we're really trying to provide and create information for all veterinarian professionals.

 

In leading up to this, you also mentioned a number of courses that really, I mean, just hit right on the nose of the conversation we've been having here today. You've been adding courses on diversity education?

I was going to say that, with Axon, we've got some different categories that we actually try to populate. We try to make categories where people can easily find material, so it's easy to click in and find. And we actually do have a category that is specifically for diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, I know that people are hearing that, and it may sound buzzy because we're kind of now all saying that. But what does it mean?

So, we've got webinars in there that the folks can watch. They're about an hour each. We have rockstar, I don't know if you know Dr. Lisa Greenhill from the AAVMC. We've got three of her webinars that are in the DEI category, which are just tremendously awesome. Awesome conversations, like you and I are having, and she's just a wealth of information to help us understand why, and then what you can do, and how you can do it.

So, we have that, and we also have another category of finance, business, and economics. Getting back to what are those things you look for in a practice? Where are those areas that you want to track and look at the trending? We're going to have Martin Traub-Werner on some of our webinars going forward, working with us as well, and Dr. Matt Salois from AVMA, who's the lead economist at AVMA. We've got Dr. Jen Brandt, who actually takes the lead.

We've got a category on wellbeing, and we mentioned earlier about our mental health and all that. And so, we really understand how important that really is for all of us, whether you're a veterinarian, veterinary technician, practice manager, and just also being mindful of taking care of ourselves. Something I think that we struggle with, and have struggled with for a long time, where we're givers, givers, givers, we're doers, doers, doers, we go, go, go. And slowing down enough to be able to take care of ourselves, I think, sometimes is a struggle for us. So, how can we be intentional with that?

But yes, everything that we're talking about, that you can imagine under the sun, that we're providing developing content, and we have a full Axon calendar that we will be developing for 2021.

 

So, let's let the audience know, where can they go to sign up, to learn about the courses, to get going? Do you have anything to share with that?

Sure. I mean, Axon is free for everybody, the Axon platform. It's A-X-O-N. It's a medical term, for all of those medical folks out there. It's a part of the nerve system. It's the part of your nervous system that actually helps spread information, delivers and spreads information, so we thought that would be applicable for Axon. So, yeah, go to Axon.AVMA.org, and go there, you can set up your free account with Axon, or just peruse the catalog and see if anything really resonates with you. We have many items that are either free, or they're free for AVMA members and [inaudible 01:00:07] members, and there's a slight cost for others who might be non-members. But hey, go through our catalog. That's free. There's no charge to do that whatsoever, and if you ever have any ideas for us at AVMA to develop something, let us know. We're always open to developing what may help all veterinary professionals.

I know it's just scratching the surface about what practices may consider, as far as helping them really realize better outcomes.

But I'll tell you what, as you mentioned, you may have all the corporate practices, satellite practices, on one end of the road, and on the other road you may have a maybe low-cost spay/neuter program facility on the other part of the road. So, here you are, a general practice with maybe 20-something folks. So, we're not all over the board. You may not be able to compete with any one of those kinds of models. So, what do you do?

Healthy competition is really great, but what I see as the answer during these times, again, a diversity of practice models, is to identify what is it that your practice does? How does your practice rock? And my advice would be to do more of what you do best.

Do more of what you do best. What is it? And think, because if you look at what is if you understand your practice. Again, a lot of it has to do with education. Understand your practice. What is it? Why do people come to you? What is that thing that really rocks your practice? Do more of what you do best, and I trust the outcomes will definitely follow.

 

Do we have anything going on with VetPartners, that organization? I do know that in fact, by the time that we are, our full-day event's in March, you will already have gone through a transition. You'll be the former president, and it's so unfortunate that your year of the presidency over such a great organization marred by COVID. We were all stuck in the mud a little bit. But anything to share with what's going on with VetPartners, before we sign off?

Oh man, David, I tell you what. I tell you what. I've been with VetPartners for a number of years, and one of the things that keeps me with VetPartners is just the awesome people, right? They're my friends. The members are my friends, and I'm so honored to have been the president in 2020. And it was just an amazing year. I mean, we had to make decisions. We had to be more nimble than we normally were, right? Because we had these board meetings once a month, whatever. We had to have more frequent ones about how do we deal with this one, now? How do we deal with this now? Now, how do we deal with this?

So, it was just like it was amazing, it wasn't funny at all, but it was an amazing experience. And here we are in 2021. Yes, I will be handing off the baton in February, and I will be the immediate past president. And again, the new president who will be coming in will be dealing with still some definitely changes. There's going to be a change year. Hopefully, a little bit more, have some more light and hope throughout this year that we can look forward to, with some of the development that's coming our way.

But again, it was really, it was tremendous and unbelievable. However, I'll say that the things that came up along the way, it brought me even closer to my friends in VetPartners, and we were able to engage and work out some really kind of tough decisions, and listening to members, and what do we do? We got off track on all of our meetings and all of our planning. Everything was all off track. We had our first virtual meeting. Now we're going to have another virtual meeting in February, and we're hoping to have a hybrid sort of meeting in August. So, look forward to seeing you all there, and it was just very interesting and is a great group, and thanks for asking about it.

...

Well, everybody who has joined here today, thank you so much for taking this time out of your schedules. I hope that you got a tremendous amount out of this. We are going to be posting the webinar replay shortly here after we wrap up. We will be emailing out about that in the next few days. We have an incredible interview series that's going to be happening, Webinar Wednesdays every week. We've got a podcast. A lot of stuff great going on. Tremendous guests. So, please watch for that. Come back for the replay.

Please go check out Axon, A-X-O-N.AVMA.org. Tons of free resources there, and if you are looking for help if you're looking for consulting if you're looking for services, check out VetPartners.org. I mean, there's a lot of professionals out there that have dedicated their lives to the veterinary industry, that understand your business inside and out, that understand your clients, that are ready and willing to help. So, tremendous resources there.

And if you are the owner or the manager of a veterinary practice here in the United States, go to GeniusVets.com, because we have a full-page profile already live, right now, about your practice. Go to GeniusVets.com/start, and there's a little video there that explains it, a one-minute video that explains it, and it will help you find your practice profile. You can claim it for free. They're beautiful. Tons of benefits to that. It's all free stuff. We love to give you lots of free resources.

 

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