The team’s role in the human-animal bond

Ultimately, the human-animal bond is at the center of the veterinary profession

Ultimately, the human-animal bond is at the center of the veterinary profession.
Ultimately, the human-animal bond is at the center of the veterinary profession.

The human-animal bond is at the center of all our medical interactions with clients. The bond is built through the relationship between a pet and the people within its family. The healthier the bond, the healthier the team in the delivery of veterinary services, the better the experience for the triad (pet, client, and veterinary team). This may seem a bit far-fetched, at first, but let’s dive deeper into the health and well-being of the three.

Can veterinary team retention, based in the health and well-being of the team, directly impact the client experience? Inquiring minds want to know!

Teams prioritizing the creation and maintenance of a healthy work environment can impact the client experience in job satisfaction, team retention, and, ultimately, compliance.

Valuable formula

As mentioned in a previous article, when coaching and working with veterinary professionals, I often use the formula listed below to determine how to move forward in implementing a new system or protocol, purchase new equipment, develop job descriptions, or aligning with the organization’s values, vision, and mission:

1) How is this (system, equipment, job duty, fill in the blank_____) best for the patient?

2) How is this (system, equipment, job duty, fill in the blank _____) best for the client?

3) How is this (you get the picture) best for the veterinary team?

4) How is this best for the veterinary hospital or organization?

As you can imagine, this series of questions can be referred to when supporting the concepts in a healthy veterinary team elevating the client experience and patient outcomes in a positive fashion.

Human-animal bond center of all interactions

Why does your veterinary team exist? It’s a valid question and your team may come up with answers all over the continuum of veterinary services.

The reality is your team exists because of the human-animal bond. All interactions are created between the animal and the owner or pet parent because of the bond to include the delivery of veterinary care.

Let’s face it, most veterinary hospital mission statements (what they deliver daily) read basically the same. They commit to quality medical care, as well as respecting the pet, the client, and the team. Yet, without the human-animal bond, there would be no desire to mend or treat. Indeed, without it, we are invited to deliver the mending and treating in a respectful, mutually beneficial way.

I wish to reveal the healthier the team (in body, mind, and spirit), the healthier the team’s bond with the client and, thus, the healthier the delivery of veterinary medicine. This may be a bit of a stretch, but I am confident we will get there! 

VetMed is based in relationships

While attending a class during the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association a few years ago, Jim Humphries, DVM, asked the attendees to describe what we do each and every day with each and every person who walks into the practice or organization. A rather peculiar question, focused on the person and not the patient. What do you think?

It took the ColoVMA audience quite some time to get there and Dr. Humphries concluded, “We build relationships.” I had to nod my head in agreement. VetMed is based on relationships.

Each and every day, in each client interaction, we are building upon the relationship with the client and their bond with their pet or animal.

See where I am going with this? Our services in veterinary medicine are delivered because we have built and continue to build a relationship based in trust and mutual benefit to the pet and patient.

Why does a veterinary hospital exist?

I challenge you (I double-dog dare you!) to ask your team this precise question at an upcoming meeting or gathering. Why does our veterinary hospital exist?

How do they respond?

Consider the following answers:

  • To cultivate the relationship between the animal and the owner—the human-animal bond
  • To repair this bond by (medically) assisting the animal
  • To help the pet and the pet parent have a healthy, fulfilling life together

Health and well-being of the team to build the pet and people connections

Without the connection and relationship between the pet’s owner or parent, the patient will not walk itself through the door. Team members who are sound in body, mind, and spirit may continue to build the trust and relationship providing the opportunity to deliver patient care.

Benefits of a healthy team, office culture

According to best-selling author, Patrick Lencioni, intelligence, knowledge, and expertise are overrated as driving forces behind successful companies. In an article in Inc. magazine, he notes, “Organizational health is severely underrated. In healthy organizations, management, strategy, operations and culture all fit together in ways that make sense.”1

He goes on to say, leaders of successful companies repeatedly insist they cherish their cultures (to include a healthy work environment) more than they do any single strategy or form of intellectual property.

So, what exactly is the pay-off causing them to come to such a conclusion? Consider the following list of a few benefits you can expect to see in a healthy office culture where stress and anxiety are greatly diminished. When stress and anxiety are reduced, a healthy team will flourish and thrive.

In each client interaction, we are building upon the relationship with the client and their bond with their pet or animal. PHOTO COURTESY Vesnaandjic/ iStock / Getty Images Plus
In each client interaction, we are building upon the relationship with the client and their bond with their pet or animal.
PHOTO COURTESY Vesnaandjic/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

Benefits of a healthy workplace supporting sound mind, body, and spirit may include:

  • Improved productivity

Team members step forward energetically in creative and productive ways.

  • Superior client service

Healthy and positive attitudes naturally spill over into relationships with clients. And clients who sense a healthy atmosphere in practice team members enjoy returning for visits.

  • Stronger financial results

Positive cultures typically increase revenue by three times and generate net incomes more than 700 percent higher than average companies.

  • Absenteeism goes down

An added benefit is reduced stress on doctors and staff resulting from “covering” for absentees.

  • Higher retention rates

Most employee-oriented companies experience low turnover rates.2

Retention of healthy team impacting client experience

I especially find higher team retention fascinating! I have been tracking team retention within the veterinary community for over a decade. Even though it waxes and wanes a little, it still is twice that of other industries.

In an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) article appearing in 2016 edition of JAVMA, while serving as the president of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) I stated, “What is seen as a shortage of veterinary technicians is actually a problem involving team retention, lack of career growth within veterinary practices, and hospitals generally being undermanaged.”3

Maximizing the potential

“The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors essential to the health and well-being of both. This includes, among other things, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals, and the environment. The veterinarian’s role [and team] in the human-animal bond is to maximize the potentials of this relationship between people and animals.”4

When we apply the formula (the series of questions above) we can maximize the potentials! Fill in the blanks indicating how a healthier team in mind, body, and spirit will build healthier relationships with clients.

Bringing it all together

Now, to bring it all together. You may recall the same series of questions used in my previous article determining how a healthy veterinary team is best for the pet. Using the series of questions, always in the same order, answer the following and be sure to ask them of your team. You may refer to studies you may have read, utilize the information in this article, or simply go with your gut (it’s usually right although we tend to doubt our own intuition).

1) How is a healthy veterinary team best for the patient?

2) How is a healthy veterinary team best for the client?

3) How is a healthy veterinary team best for the veterinary team?

4) How is a healthy veterinary team best for the hospital or the organization?

Reintroduce the human-animal bond

When discussing this topic with your team, you may realize the human-animal bond has been a topic of conversation in the past. Given the recent pandemic and influx of new veterinary team members flooding the profession, chances are it is time to reintroduce the concept.

It may be time to revisit your organization’s values, vision, and mission while you are at it. Mentioned earlier, a hospital’s mission may or may not include the human-animal bond. Consider: Does yours?

Since the human-animal bond is at the center of all interactions in the delivery of veterinary medicine, doesn’t it stand to reason, within the guiding principles outlined in values, vision, and mission, the human-animal bond can be highlighted?

Within a living, breathing mission, creating and maintaining a healthy team impacts the relationships between the client and patient. A healthy triad positively impacting the delivery of patient care.

Now, make the stand and lead in supporting the bond with healthy veterinary team members interacting with clients to deliver the best pet care possible.

RESOURCES SUPPORTING THE HUMAN-ANIMAL BOND

When you begin researching and locating resources supporting the human-animal bond you may be surprised by everything available to you! Following are a few to give you a kickstart in the right direction:

1) Human Animal Bond Association

  • Advocating, educating, and celebrating the human-animal bond.

2) Human Animal Bond Research Institute

  • Committed to supporting scientific research to substantiate what many of us know to be true, that humans and pets share a special, mutually-beneficial connection.

3) AVMA Human Animal Bond

  • Recognizes:

– the existence of the human-animal bond and its importance to client and community health;

– that the human-animal bond has existed for thousands of years; and

– that the human-animal bond has major significance for veterinary medicine, because, as veterinary medicine serves society, it fulfills both human and animal needs.

Rebecca Rose, CVT, certified career coach, founder, and president at CATALYST Veterinary Professional Coaches, has a diverse background in the veterinary community. She has worked in and managed clinics, collaborates with industry partners, and facilitates engaging team workshops. Her most current role includes outreach specialist for Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice. Rose’s enthusiasm for professional development in veterinary medicine is contagious, as she encourages and supports veterinary teams in reaching their highest potential. She can be reached via Rebecca@LapofLove.com.

Resources

  1. Lencioni, Patrick. “Why you shouldn’t worry about being smart, the most successful companies focus on being healthy rather than intelligent.” Inc Magazine, https://www.aaha.org/globalassets/
    04-practice-resources/practice-culture/team_wellbeing_guide.pdf
  2. Pearson, DVM, Steve. “Is your office culture negatively effecting your wellbeing?” Veterinary Practice News, April 2015, https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/Is-Your-Office-Culture-Negatively-Affecting-Your-Well-Being/
  3. Larkin, Malinda. “Technician shortage may be a problem in turnover instead.” JAVMA Oct 2016, https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2016-10-15/technician-shortage-may-be-problem-turnover-instead
  4. AVMA Human-Animal Bond, https://www.avma.org/one-health/human-animal-bond

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