Practices Should Honor The Technician-Animal Bond

Practices Should Honor the Technician-Animal BondPractices Should Honor the Technician-Animal Bond12-29-2008By Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPMweb exclusives, practicemgmt

A lot is said and written about the human-animal bond these days. Typically the focus is on the ways in which the veterinary staff can and should both support and respect clients’ bonds to their pet.

There is no question that this is necessary for the improved compliance of the owner and the overall profitability of the practice; great client service should equal big profits.

But what about other the high turnover rate among technicians, the attrition rate of veterinary professionals in general and the pervasive compassion fatigue that is affecting our teams? Can this human-animal bond, or technician-animal bond as it were, provide answers?

Typically the people who go into veterinary medicine have a powerfully strong attachment to their own pets, from childhood on up. Their desire to help both their own pets and other animals is so strong they decide to pursue a career helping animals.

This is particularly true of technicians, who tend to gravitate toward the nursing care of animals rather than the diagnosing and treatment challenges of veterinary doctors.

Then they obtain the necessary medical knowledge and skills for the professional level they want to achieve. They are asked to, and comply with, the difficult reality that in order to cure disease, we must subject animals to procedures and medications that often do short-term harm such as the poke of a needle, the painful positioning on a radiology table, or an uncomfortable catheter placement.

The most difficult reality they face is that in order to ease suffering, they must be willing to participate in euthanasia. Even humane euthanasia, while ending the suffering of the animal, can create emotional suffering in the human companions who have provided nursing care for the pet.

In essence, we are asking these compassionate individuals to subject their love for animals to the sometimes overwhelming reality that is veterinary medicine. Is a paycheck really enough compensation for this distancing of their emotions and objectification of their actions that they must endure daily while on duty?

Let’s look at this from the practice management standpoint. This is not a discussion of what is right or what is wrong, or what is morally or ethically the correct path for any practice. But they are issues that we need to face if we want our teams to maintain compassion toward our clients and each other.

Too often we have teams who are being devoured by the reality of the work they do, without receiving enough emotional support from the practice asking them to perform these duties. How can we help offer that support?

Most practices have some sort of employee pet policy to help their employees care for their beloved family members. With the recent understanding of the IRS involvement in these discounts, practices are scrambling to provide benefits that don’t become a burden on the practice, while trying to maintain the morale of their team.

One solution has become the purchase of pet insurance policies for the staff. There are so many good things about this option, but the negatives must be examined by each entire team with the employees’ input. Most practices need to limit these policies, to only pay for one or two pets per employee. How many veterinary employees have only one or two pets?

So they are forced to decide which pet is either in more danger of becoming ill or injured, or which pet they care for the most above the others. This presents a moral dilemma for the employee, and it can become a morale problem for the practice when this new benefit is introduced. Perhaps if the options are explained to the entire team, and their feedback is solicited, there will be a solution that the majority can support.

Then there is the issue of employee pets in the workplace.

Nearly all employees have pets that they will want to keep with them at the practice at some point. Maybe it’s a dog with separation anxiety, or a cat with a chronic medical condition that needs to be monitored, or simply the overwhelming desire to stay close to their beloved family members.

Yet the leadership team must declare that the cages are for paying customers, and the employee pets may have to go. We tell ourselves, and often our team, “If you worked somewhere else, you wouldn’t expect to take your pets to work with you everyday.” But the fact is, they do NOT work anywhere else because they love their pets so very much!

If they didn’t have this overwhelming compassion for their own pets, they wouldn’t be able to care for the patients that walk through the door, and they wouldn’t be in this profession.

Is there a way to set up a daycare area for employee pets, with policies about who is to care for these pets and any charges involved for the supplies used?

Most practices have a bereavement policy for employees that may include time off for the loss of their significant other, mother, father, child, etc. What if their pet is their significant other?

As a management policy, why couldn’t we recognize this loss for our own staff members, and give them time off to grieve the death of their pet? Traditionally this ends up happening when the employee is too distraught to continue their shift, and is excused to go home.

But how much more powerful would it be for our practices to have a pet bereavement policy in place long before the day of loss arrives? It could be one definitive stance taken by the management team to recognize and respect the bond between their staff members and their own pets.

Beyond the time off, the practice should have a consistent policy of recognizing the loss with a sympathy card, flowers or some gesture of concern and caring.

Some practices have implemented memorial events, photo boards and remembrance gardens for patients that were loved and lost. We should be sure to include our own employees’ pets in these expressions of compassion.

It could be that this profession is stretching too thin its capacity to care, not about the human-animal bond experienced by the client, but about the technician-animal bonds of our own staff.

Too often we think of our support staff as the worker bees that are hired to do a job, paid to do that job well, and who chose this career because they want to medically care for animals. Perhaps we need to realize that in essence, this career chose each of us, and find ways to honor this sacred calling of the heart. <HOME>

Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR, is head of interFace Veterinary HR Systems LLC in Appleton, Wis. She provides customized human resources tools and mentoring for owners and managers in general practice and emergency/specialty practices.

A lot is said and written about the human-animal bond these days. Typically the focus is on the ways in which the veterinary staff can and should both support and respect clients’ bonds to their pet. A lot is said and written about the human-animal bond these days. Typically the focus is on the ways in which the veterinary staff can and should both support and respect clients’ bonds to their pet. animal bond, human-animal bond, pets, technician-animal bond, practice management, veterinary medicine

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