CVPM opens up about coping during COVID-19 plus highlights something we’re all missing here

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Just a few short weeks ago, I was spending my days working on long-term exit strategy planning for my practice owner and myself about five or six years out. I was fretting about profitability, valuations, fee schedules, and all the relevant things one would normally think of. I was even making plans for my personal long-term future after my practice owner retired. Then COVID-19 became ingrained in every fiber of my life. 

COVID-19? More like COVID-24/7

I have read so many articles and blog posts over the past few weeks about COVID-19 and its effect on the veterinary industry that I am starting to feel my eyes glaze over when I see another. It isn’t that they aren’t helpful or that I don’t appreciate the author’s carefully chosen words and advice, it’s just that there is only so much we know and there are only so many ways we can say the same thing: 

Go curbside, telemedicine, client and staff communication is key, PPE! PPE! PPE! 

Again, I truly appreciate everyone who has put those wonderful ideas and tips out there because they ARE valuable and they SHOULD be shared. However, I would really like to point out something I have not seen or heard many people speak of and that is reaching out to check on your local veterinary community. 

But why should I?

I know what some of you are going to say, “I need to focus on keeping my own business afloat right now, why should I care about my competitor?” 

Comments like these make me want to bang my head on my desk. This is the exact attitude that feeds into negative relationships between veterinary hospitals.

Yes, you need to keep your own veterinary hospital afloat, this is obviously priority number one. But veterinary medicine is a unique business that no other small business compares too. Let’s look at four scenarios that I’m guessing feel very familiar to you. 

Four familiar scenarios

1. You just get me

2 veterinary professionals discussing something with a clipboardHave you ever tried describing a work issue that you are trying to resolve to someone not in the field? They just don’t quite get it the way that other veterinary people do. It’s actually a little frustrating and is certainly not productive.

With other veterinary professionals, even if they can’t offer you a solution, there is something helpful about discussing it with someone who has similar understanding. I will clarify here that I do not mean a complaining or venting session, because while that can be an occasionally helpful tool, it should be left out of the professional world. It is not productive and it will burn people out.

2. Information overload

A group of veterinary professionals walking down a hallway in scrubsBetween all of the federal acts, HR laws, state executive orders, and daily emails from the state veterinary board, there is a LOT of information to handle. Interpreting all of it as it applies specifically to veterinary medicine is easier with the resources provided by our industry professionals and state boards, but let’s be honest here, I am willing to bet the majority of us have been working extremely long days, have not been sleeping well, and are under stress.

I’m guessing it hasn’t been a piece of cake to sit there and interpret and apply all that information without frustration or having to read a document over and over. It sure would be nice to have someone to wade through the information with.

3. Fair share

Someone putting on latex gloves to protect against Covid-19No doubt someone in your office is trying to make miracles happen when it comes to ordering drugs, supplies, and food. We are all struggling for something, thankfully at this point less than I thought we would be.

I can think of at least three people right now who would interrupt me right here and say “I only have six masks left and they are for my people! How dare you think I should give them to someone else!” If you were thinking that, calm down, that’s not what I was going to say. However, panic buying has thrown the idea of community support right out the window. By community support, I don’t mean distributing to everyone. I mean not buying all 30 packages on the shelf so that everyone else can have a fair shot at purchasing some.

4. This didn’t come with a manual

A dog waiting in the car for curbside service at a veterinary clinicWith the ever changing suggestions on how to do things, have you struggled implementing something specific? Let’s say curbside for example. You’ve switched to curbside care just like all of the periodicals and vendor emails recommended.

It seems to be going well for the most part but there are some things that you can’t quite seem to make work as smoothly as possible. What about euthanasias? Oh good grief, what about euthanasias? How can we handle this safely to protect ourselves and our staff without seeming like cold, heartless people? How are other people doing it? This isn’t really an easy or fun thing to trial and error!

Stay with me now…

Make peace with your neighbor and you both succeed

What if you said to hell with the old school competitive behavior between hospitals and built a network of friendly, positive neighbors? Are they really your competition? Sure, in a sense. We still price shop each other’s shoppable items because that is part of the game, right? But unless you are in the same strip mall and your practices are right next to each other, or you are in an extremely small town (in which case it was probably a bad move to open a practice there) chances are you both have the opportunity to make your practices thrive independently of each other. 

Here’s the thing folks, if you choose your location wisely, practice good medicine, and put huge emphasis on consistently stellar communication, there will likely be enough clients for everyone. If your practice does really well, your neighbor down the street can do just as well. If you both offer high quality medicine and client care, you have elevated the concept of veterinary care in the client’s eyes. That’s a good thing. 

Short of a competing practice blatantly sabotaging you, your local veterinary hospitals are your neighbors NOT your enemies. Click To Tweet

If you haven’t started to shift this tide, now is a pretty darn good time to start.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get feedback or clarification on one of the many confusing HR laws? Does anyone in your area maybe have a bottle of Vetsulin they might loan you for that patient that really needs it? How about a group discussion on how everyone is doing euthanasias right now to spark some new ideas for troubleshooting your issues? 

From personal experience, I know it is a really good time to have a support group full of professional, knowledgeable people who know exactly what you are facing and are in the same boat. Zoom meetings and free group chat apps make it possible to communicate even with state mandates.

If you don’t have an existing group, it’s not too late

Pick up the phone and call your neighbor. If you don’t know them, that’s ok! Introduce yourself, say that you are starting a group chat or zoom meeting of owners or managers (because of all of the reasons I just spewed at you) and you’d love it if they would join. Ask how they are holding up and remind them they aren’t alone. Encourage them to reach out for help and tell them if you can help them, you will. 

Start that community. Reach out and build the network. Everyone is just as stressed as you and this is new to us all. It’s much better to not go it alone. If you say you don’t have the time, enlist a friend. Get another manager or owner on board to help you make a few calls, schedule a zoom meeting, and send out an email invite explaining it is an open discussion. You don’t have to lead it. 

Even if someone decides not to join or not to join right now, the fact that you as another practice owner/manager reached out to them to check on them and remind them they aren’t alone in this can be the boost they need. You may even start to change the ugly perceptions we have of other hospitals. 

Be the change

These are stressful, uncertain, and confusing times. 

When we can control nothing else, we can be the force of positivity. This event will change our industry; let us start to change how we perceive each other. Don’t wait for someone else to do it, make the step and reach out. 


 

Meg Oliver, the author

 

Meg Oliver, CVPM is the practice manager at a three-doctor, small animal and exotics practice in Syracuse, New York. She can be reached at meg@ciceroanimalclinic.com.