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Treat your techs right

Twenty tips to show your gratitude and appreciation for your hardworking veterinary technicians

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Your veterinary nurses contribute so much to the success of your practice. If they’ve proven they are masters of multitasking, let them do their job—micromanaging their every move can feel belittling.

Dear Doctor/Practice Manager,

What do your nurses think of you? Are you considered a close friend? A mere coworker? A constant threat? A walking liability? A hopeless disaster? A good ole’ boy or gal? A welcome ally? A dreaded boss? A paycheck signer? A trusted confidant?

Here are 20 tips you can use to show your gratitude and appreciation for your hardworking nurses.

1) Arrive on time

Or better yet, arrive early. Given the choice, your nurse would rather leave on time. Sure, there are days that are insanely busy, but if you show up 30 minutes late to start a day of booked appointments or surgery intakes, you are unlikely to turn it around. Repeatedly cutting into employees’ personal time will not earn you a spot on their list of favorite people.

2) Don’t be afraid to get dirty

If a patient is urinating all over your nurse and you can’t be bothered to place a towel between her and the flood, you aren’t going to be very popular. The same goes for when a patient defecates on the floor. Please get rid of the landmine before it claims more victims than it already has. And yes, you may wear gloves.

3) Keep them safe

Always remember to discard your sharps properly. Don’t hide a 10 blade or a bunch of needles in a pile of dirty instruments. Make nurses aware of any hazardous materials or waste with which you may be working. Everyone likes a good thrill, but likely not in the form an ER visit to get stitched up.

4) Always back up your support staff

There is nothing worse than a nurse getting the third degree for trying to uphold a policy you put in place, only to see you fold like a deck of cards as soon as you get any pushback. That sets them up for failure in the future. They will be confused whether the policy still stands or if they should just give up the next time the same situation arises.

5) Do your own client callbacks

And in a timely manner, too. Receptionists are likely tired of covering for you, and nurses can’t always answer all the questions clients may have concerning their pet. A side benefit is, the greater the bond you build with your clients, the more likely they are to be compliant with your recommendations for treating their pet.

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6) Care about your client

Even if a patient is in rough shape and should have been treated weeks or months earlier, the client is here now. They showed up. On some level, they want to help this patient. So don’t judge them or complain under your breath about them. Remember there may be something horrible going on in their life you know nothing about. So be compassionate, and do your best to work with them.

7) Care about your patient

If you’re kind only to your favorite breed or robotically care for a patient who is vocalizing in pain with no sign of empathy or emotion on your part, you may not rank among the nurses’ favorites. In this universally underpaid field, most nurses are here for their love of animals. It will help your cause if you show you are, too.

Your staff is your second family. Treat them with the respect they deserve.

8) Practice flexibility

Be okay with plan B. If a client can’t afford the gold standard of care, don’t just throw up your hands and walk away. The patient deserves help, even if it isn’t in the way you’d like to provide it. Be willing to work with the client’s finances. Having your team watch a pet walk out with no care will not win you any awards.

9) Accept change

What you learn today might be obsolete tomorrow. When a nurse learns something new and is excited to implement it, help them to do so. Maybe they learned tramadol should be a drug of the past in dogs, so research it if, somehow, you haven’t heard that yet. Maybe they heard there is a better way to perform CPR, so learn about the RECOVER CPR initiative if you haven’t yet.

10) Share your wisdom

If you ask a team member to do something and they don’t know how, don’t just do it yourself—teach them. It will increase your future efficiency and instill a sense of accomplishment in your staff.

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11) Don’t micromanage

Let nurses do their job. If they’ve proven to you they are detail oriented and have an internal double-check system, micromanaging can feel belittling. This is not to be confused with confirming. You have every right to know the treatments you ask for are done properly.

12) Treat all team members equally

It’s hard not to develop an opinion on who you feel most comfortable in surgery with or who you hope is available when a fractious cat needs bloodwork. At least don’t publicize it. Give all team members the opportunity to help you in all areas they can safely do so. It gives the team a sense of inclusion, and it may even add to your “go-to” list.

13) Ask for help

If the nurses see you struggle over and over again with a catheter or endotracheal tube placement, don’t let pride get in the way of asking for assistance. Otherwise, you will quickly find yourself lower on the favorites list.

14) Share your successes

Thank your coworkers for their help when a tough case gets better after hospitalization or surgery. Let them know about biopsy results or patient outcomes. Share thank you notes and gifts you receive from clients, especially the latter.

15) Treat staff like family

Here is a little secret: Your nurses know when you can’t remember their names. Get to know them. Engage in small talk. Take an interest in who they are, their hobbies, and their dreams. Let them learn about your wonderful personality. You likely spend more time at work than with your family or friends. This is your second family. Treat them that way.

16) Promote self-care

Make sure nurses drink enough water and take bathroom breaks throughout the day. Ask if they had a chance to eat before you request they continue working. If they get hurt, allow them to tend to their wound instead of asking them to anesthetize a patient.

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17) Spend some time with your team

Recent scientific studies show that nurses can’t read your mind. Therefore, they can’t tell how wonderful, witty, and wise you truly are deep down. Consider spending time with them outside the practice. You don’t have to become BFFs, but consider breaking bread or doing fun activities together every once in a while.

18) Keep your promises

If you set a goal for your nurses and don’t reward them when they reach the target, they will be less likely to try to meet future goals. If you promise a promotion, a raise, or a bonus and don’t deliver it, they will no longer want to work hard for you. If you know you can’t deliver on something, don’t promise it in the first place.

19) Train your nurses

Know your facility’s and your nurses’ limitations and respect them. If you have three nurses on vacation, maybe it’s not the day to schedule three full-mouth extractions. If you want to start doing blood transfusions but no one has received the proper training, don’t ask your nurses to wing it. Train them before you ask them to try something new.

20) Be polite

Say “please” and “thank you.” Your mom was right. Nuff said.

Customer service and patient care take a village. Don’t take the professionals helping you for granted. Gratitude can be expressed with gifts as tokens of your eternal appreciation. A gift doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be thoughtful. It can be a great book, a box of their favorite pens (the ones everybody wants to “borrow”), or a surgery cap with a print of their favorite dog breed. Food is always welcome. Nurses will work harder and more passionately when they feel appreciated.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. Visit his websites at DrPhilZeltzman.com and VeterinariansInParadise.com. AJ Debiasse, a technician in Stroudsburg, Pa., contributed to this article.

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