10 Ways to Become a Great Associate Veterinarian

Building a rapport with your team is key.

Perhaps you just graduated from veterinary school … congrats!  You now have DVM (or VMD) behind your name, and you are ready to jump right in and help a practice take care of their clients and patients. Or perhaps you graduated a while ago, and while you have no interest in owning a practice at this time, you do want to have a pleasant working environment, which you may or may not have at this time.  Here are some ways to become a great associate veterinarian, for everyone’s benefit.

  1. School of Hard Knocks: If you did just graduate veterinary school, you are likely anxious to share what you have learned with the boss, and the team. Slow down, and realize that you are now just a freshman in the School of Hard Knocks, the ultimate reality of working in a practice, and in this particular practice. You have learned a lot, but you still have a lot to learn, and often it isn’t about the medicine. Keep reading…
  2. Technicians Can Teach: There is absolutely no doubt about it: When it comes to the duties of patient care, there will be technicians that know more than you do, especially if they have been working in the practice a while. Your position is not to teach, at least not at first.  Your position is to learn, ask questions, find out why they are doing what they are doing in the way they are doing it. It often is the way the boss, YOUR boss, told them to do it!  You have a lot of ideas, but learn their ways before offering those ideas.
  3. Must Earn Respect: The DVM or VMD you earned behind your name gives you the right to treat patients, but it does not necessarily win you the respect of the team.  In fact, you will have to work to earn their respect, and this all has to do with putting on your listening ears and hearing what they have to say.  Your capital letters also do not give you the right to disrespect the team in any way.  You are part of the team, and you need these people to respect you, so behave in a way that will earn that respect.
  4. Nice Words: It may seem simple, but the “magic words” your mother taught you are not just for when you visit home.  In fact, the words “please” and “thank you” can be the most powerful words you use with the team on a day-to-day basis.  When we get busy we forget the most common gestures of courtesy, and that is when they are the most important to say and hear.  Use your magic words liberally.
  5. Ask, Do Not Tell: You cannot do your work alone — that is why there is a team to back you up.  But they do not deserve to be ordered around either. When you need help, ask, do not tell one of your teammates what to do.  Again, it’s common courtesy, which is often too uncommon.  Also know that if you ask as you should, there may be times when they cannot say yes. Respect that they are also often juggling a number of tasks at the same time, and they will do what they can to help you.
  6. Part of the Team: As an associate, and by not being a practice owner, you are considered one of the team.  This requires you to behave as one of the team, in such ways as attending staff meetings and off-site activities.  You are not exempt from team activities just because you are a veterinarian, and this also helps to build trust and mutual respect with the team.
  7. Don’t Cross the Line: While you are one of the team, you must also realize that there is a fine line to be drawn when it comes to friendships with other team members.  As a veterinarian, you do serve as a role model to the team, and that includes how you handle interpersonal relationships with others.  It could be considered a conflict of interest if you become too close to certain team members, so at the very least while at work, keep the relationships strictly professional.
  8. Best Referral Source: Team members invariably have pets of their own — sometimes too many pets.  When you help them take care of their own pets, you are creating a referral source in several ways.  Veterinary team members have friends, and if you have done a good job taking care of their pets, they will send their friends to you. Plus, the team members can make a client feel more comfortable with you if they have first-hand experience of how you have taken care of their own pets.
  9. Scope of Management Authority: As an associate, you likely do not have any or much management authority, but that might not be the case if you have been in the practice a long while, or if the practice owner is beginning to slow down and work fewer hours.  For everyone involved, it is important to know what your scope of management authority really is, and communicate that to the team. 
  10. Admit When You Are Wrong: We all make mistakes, and it will help your team to admit their mistakes if you admit yours. Some mistakes involve the life and death of these animals, your patients, and you need the team to feel comfortable enough to speak up when they have made a mistake.  You will also get carried away at times and not treat your team as nicely as you would like.  Just apologize.  An apology will go so far toward creating a team that can have integrity and move past mistakes together.

You may not always be an associate veterinarian; perhaps purchasing a practice is in your dreams for the future. But while you are an associate, it is just as important to work in a friendly environment filled with mutual respect and positive relationships – perhaps even more so — as you settle into the profession with a team beside you.

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