Veterinary clinics are busy places full of hardworking people. We represent a compassionate industry; unfortunately, burnout and fatigue are common problems amongst veterinarians and hospital staff. Maintaining a healthy culture begins with the leadership. It is important to remember that the leader creates the culture — he or she is not in the culture. That said, all team members play a role in maintaining the culture.
One way to create and maintain a healthy culture is to establish a set of standards for behavior, also known as a "Code of Conduct."
What is a Code of Conduct?
This set of rules and obligations help shape the way each person thinks and feels about their job performance each day. If your veterinary practice does not already have an obvious code of conduct in place, begin by reviewing the hospital manual. In theory, these already exist somewhere in the manual and just need to be extracted and outlined.
All new employees should be introduced to this code of conduct before being hired. In fact, it is a great idea to include it in the employment ad. Let potential prospects know from the very beginning what will be expected of them. They will know if they can comply and they will also have a better idea about your hospital standards.
If this code of conduct is not clearly outlined and readily available to your staff, then you’ve got a new project! If it is clearly outlined, it is a great idea to review it on occasion. Take a few minutes during a staff meeting to go over it and have discussions about it. Keep it posted in the break room.
Not sure what belongs in a code of conduct? Well, what things need to happen for you to consider a day successful? The answer to that question will lead you to some ideas. Now you just need to develop them. Here are some examples:
Think About Accountability
Donna Recupido, CVPM, and Hospital Administrator at Veterinary Specialty Care in Mount Pleasant, S.C., said that accountability is one of the top behavior traits to be conscious of. Each person must be accountable to themselves and to their supervisors. One’s sense of personal responsibility is engrained in them as a part of who they are. It impacts their ability to satisfy all the other levels of behavior discussed in this article.
- Dedicate yourself to having a stellar work ethic and never stop improving it. This means being prepared, being on time, being prideful in all you do and always giving a quality performance.
- Know and abide by the policies of the hospital. The code of conduct is a starting point for general performance but the hospital manual, staff meeting notes, etc. all serve as resources to guide your performance and responsibilities.
- Be conscious of resources. Use hospital supplies and equipment appropriately to reduce waste. Damaged equipment decreases efficiency and increases costs.
The Power of Teamwork
Recupido also believes that “a person who is truly dedicated to the team and has a full understanding of what it means to be a functioning team can lead to all of the other characteristics being met.”
- It is important that everyone help each other. This starts from the very top, with the owners and doctors. They are the leaders and must always acknowledge that they create the culture. Team members represent various roles in the practice and come from a variety of training backgrounds. Lift each other up, help each other and always remember that everyone is critical to the success of the practice.
- When there are differences of opinion, keep it fixed in your mind that professionalism and respect must stay intact. Attempt to work out differences with compassion and civility. Keep the channels of communication open; listen and try to understand — doing so allows you to respond intelligently rather than react emotionally.
- Promote development for everyone. Learn from those around you — this includes clients. Their perspective is vitally important as veterinary medicine is a service industry. Also, share your knowledge and talents with your teammates. Collectively you can advance yourselves and the culture of the practice.
Commit to Compassion
Every animal hospital has a commitment to compassion. Veterinary medicine is a wonderful industry full of people that are sensitive to the needs of others so this should come easy. Still, we can strengthen our commitment to compassion for each other, for our clients and our patients.
- Remember to be conscious of and attentive to others needs. Just sharing a smile and some kind words can help ease the stress that someone else is feeling. A hospital can be a stressful place — you can set an intention to be a source of compassion.
- Body language is a huge part of how we communicate. Consider this when you are around others. If you are “closed,” your colleagues, clients and even patients will have a much harder time accepting you as a compassionate person. Do not cross your arms in conversation, do maintain eye contact and let your posture indicate that you are open and available.
Work Toward Great Customer Service
Veterinary hospitals are service-oriented businesses. Today’s consumer demands perfection in service more than ever before and those demands are only going to grower stronger. Every member of the team is responsible for assuring that every client has a perfect experience.
- Strive to build relationships with clients. Always maintain behavior that fosters trust.
- Use professional manners and etiquette at all times. Acts of service such as helping the client to and from their car really lets them know that you care about them.
- Remember that clients often arrive at the hospital stressed, fearful and worried. They have come to you for help so show them kindness, compassion and patience. Be understanding.
- Respect the identity of others. Again, this is your teammates and your clients. Following the golden rule goes a long way in making everyone feel comfortable.
- Your patients are also unique in their personalities and needs. Honor their dignity and show them patience. Understand the instinctive behavior of the species you work with.
- Bring forward new ideas for improvement. Your daily experiences are valuable tools to help improve hospital protocols, the culture and the client experience.
- Take the initiative to learn new things every day and share what you learn with others.
- A veterinary hospital can be a dangerous environment — protect yourself and others by knowing and abiding by hospital protocols and other regulations as appropriate.
- Report violations to the manager or owner so they may be corrected.
Veterinary hospitals are complex places. Regulations abound and stress can be abundant (emotional and otherwise). Having a code of conduct can do wonders for practice morale and reputation. Recupido reminded us that the way leadership acts and feels sets the tone for the entire team. This substantiates the need for a written code of conduct in every hospital and the importance of having everyone review it regularly. Go ahead and put this topic on the agenda now for your next staff meeting!