How to avoid these 10 common management pitfalls

Want to change something in your veterinary practice but you don’t have the resources to do it? Why not go part way?

Are you a victim of the “all or nothing” mentality? Besides a few exceptions—being pregnant or not—few things in life are an all-or-nothing proposition. Let’s go over a few veterinary examples.

1. As we are told, feline medicine is the next frontier. Some clinic owners are fortunate to have separate cat and dog entrances, different dog and cat waiting rooms or specific cat and dog exam rooms.

But what if you cannot remodel your clinic, or if it’s just too small? Does it mean that you have to give up on catering to cat owners and making them feel special?

Hardly. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing decision. All you need is an open mind and a little bit of creativity.

You could partition your waiting room and create a small cat corner with a room divider. How about dedicating one exam room to cats? Pick the quietest room. Plug in a feline pheromone-dispensing device. Hang a few appropriate pictures on the wall, make the room cozy, dim the lights and—voila!—you have a cat room. Oh, and don’t forget that nice poster showing the world’s cat breeds.

Another option is to dedicate a block of time to cats. For example, you could dedicate every Tuesday afternoon or every Thursday evening to kitties only.

In any setting, you can almost always invite cat owners to wait in an exam room, rather than the waiting room, for added peace and comfort.

Then market the idea to your clients via all the traditional and new-wave channels.

2. Are you losing sleep over the idea of opening your clinic on Saturdays? Or Sundays? Or until 8 p.m.?

Again, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. How about opening half a day on Sunday? Or every other week? Or the first and third Saturday or Sunday of each month? Or stay open late two or three nights each week?

Test the idea for three to six months, see if it makes sense for your clients, team members and clinic, and then take it from there.

Keep in mind that if you don’t have a regular, easy- to-understand schedule, client communication will be critical to avoid disappointments.

3. Come Jan. 1, should you increase your consultation fee from $50 to $60?

That would certainly be a big jump. How about compromising and picking a fee somewhere in between? How about raising your fee a bit in January and again in June?

4. I regularly talk to referring vets that are faced with a client who cannot afford surgery—for example, a fracture repair. More often than not, the only alternative offered is euthanasia. Why, I wonder? Why does it have to be all black and white?

Dr. Alice Villalobos, our oncology colleague and former “The Bond and Beyond” columnist, called this mentality “pay or kill medicine,” or “my way or the highway medicine.”

Assuming splinting is not possible or not indicated, I tend to believe that amputation is a reasonable treatment option. Maybe not a happy option, but it certainly beats being turned into flower food. At the very least, the option should be offered to the client and correctly explained: “Three-legged patients can lead a perfectly normal, happy, comfortable life.”

In more extreme cases than fractures, hospice care is a viable alternative to immediate euthanasia. As long as the act is humane and reasonable, sending the patient home on pain medications—and other necessary drugs and nursing care suggestions—will allow the entire family to say goodbye, instead of being rushed into euthanasia, a fairly irreversible decision.

In many extreme or terminal situations, hospice care—or Pawspice care, as Villalobos calls it—is the antidote for the all-or-nothing approach.

5. Can’t commit to hiring a new full-time associate, vet technician or bookkeeper?

Why not start with a part-timer? If the recruit works out, and if your bottom line improves, then it might be time to offer a full-time position.

6. Do you have a hard time exercising?

Instead of training for a marathon, why not start with a more reasonable goal? How about committing to a five- or 15-minute daily session? Or every other day?

7. Can you adhere to Norman Vincent Peale’s philosophy (positive thinking) and believe in Murphy’s Law (whatever can go wrong, will) at the same time?

You can. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Take flying. When I fly, I expect to arrive at my destination. I don’t expect the plane to fall into pieces. I am a positive thinker.

But at the same time, I fully expect the plane to take off late, the pilot to lie to me about the reason why, the food to be disgusting or nonexistent and the staff to be rude. So I expect that Murphy will ride on the same plane.

Because I expect to land—but with every small problem conceivable—I take precautions, such as bringing food to eat, articles to read, and work to do at the gate and onboard.

8. Can’t save the often-recommended 10 percent of your gross income so you can retire one day?

How about saving 2, 4 or 6 percent? Or just $10 or $25 from your paycheck? Then slowly increase the amount over time.

9. How about setting your alarm clock to sound an hour earlier than usual?

If you would like to work on a new project or exercise before heading to the clinic, a whole hour might be too big of an adjustment. So what about setting the alarm just five minutes earlier every day? After 12 days you will reach your goal in a gentler manner.

10. Should an obese dog with a torn ACL lose weight first or have surgery first?

Yes. Both can happen at the same time. I recommend it all the time.

The list goes on; you get the idea.

We may fall into the all-or-nothing mentality because of our search for perfection. We want perfect clients, perfect treatments and perfect HR solutions. Yet few things in life are black and white. In fact, most things worth debating have at least 50 shades of grey.

By rejecting the two extremes and using a little bit of creativity, you can make much better decisions. Ultimately, you can reach greater success in your professional and personal lives.

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at

Originally published in the May 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

Post a Comment