New Vet Keeps Going Over My Head to the Practice Owner

Are you a practice manager with a new employee that goes over your head to question policies? Here’s what to do.

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A veterinary practice manager writes:

We have a new veterinarian who joined the team almost a month ago. As the practice manager, I am responsible for a large portion of his induction. This involves administrative things like employment documentation, training him in our PMS, employment policies, customer service procedures and standards of care. We’ve also spoken about work schedules, annual leave, standard medications we use, etc. Most of these policies are documented and all our staff follows them.

He asks questions, and I always refer to the relevant policy and explain why we do things in a certain way. He has never strongly disagreed with anything or given me the impression that he won’t follow a policy. However, on numerous occasions I have discovered that he has gone to the practice owner and questioned certain policies that I had already explained to him, hoping to get a different response.

How do I explain to him that, as the practice manager, this is my responsibility and these policies and procedures have come out of lengthy discussions between the practice owner, myself and other veterinarians? He is undermining my authority every time he goes over my head, and even though I am not a vet, the practice owner and I are in agreement on all these things, so he won’t get a different response from him?

I think that many practice managers would empathize with you on this one. I have certainly experienced this a number of times, and it has always been from older, male veterinarians who ‘went over my head’ as a younger, female non­ veterinarian.

The only way to handle this is to speak to the practice owner and ensure that every time he is approached with something like this, he refers the new vet back to you. All he has to say is, “I’ve asked the PM to go over those policies with you, and explain the reasoning behind them, so you should speak to her rather than to me.”

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If the practice owner doesn’t see the need for this, try explaining it like this, “Tom has started circumventing me and coming directly to you when he doesn’t agree with certain employee policies or standards of care. This makes my job very difficult and diminishes the value of our written policies and procedures, which as a team we have spent a long time developing. It’s also wasting your time, and teaching him that it’s OK to ignore my guidance and decisions. When he comes to you, can you please politely redirect him back to me? He has some good ideas, but until he has been with us for at least the duration of his probationary period, I think it’s important he learns how we do things.”

Standards of Care are a slightly different story because they should be questioned, reviewed and improved. Often, new veterinarians coming in to the practice can bring fresh ideas and new ways of doing things. But there needs to be an appropriate forum for this. For example, quarterly vet meetings where everyone has the opportunity to make suggestions and review cases.

If the practice owner does not back you up and is pandering to the new vet’s requests (this isn’t uncommon, and to avoid confrontation and being “the bad guy,” sometimes people will just take the easy route), you are fighting an up­hill battle. So the first and most important conversation you need to have is not with the new vet, but with the owner. Once you are confident the owner has your back, you can say this to the vet: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been taking issues like the annual leave policy [as an example] to ‘Jeff,’ but he has asked me to handle those things on his behalf. I really need you to come to me with any concerns. Can you do that going forward?”

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Remember that trust and respect are earned. As long as you and the practice owner show a united front and send a consistent message, I have no doubt that the new vet will come around.

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