Veterinary Practice Managers: Should They be Homegrown or Imported?

The pros and cons of each.

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The way I see it, there are two ways that we get people into management positions in veterinary medicine: we grow our own, meaning a person “moves up” from the kennel, the front office or the medical team and becomes a manager. Or we “import” them from outside of veterinary medicine because they have some sort of management education or experience. Both ways have their advantages and disadvantages.

Homegrown managers know veterinary medicine, at least to the degree that their previous experience and job positions have required of them. They have worked in the environment, they understand the type of people who are found in this profession and typically are well respected by the team because of them being in the business, so to speak. However, they lack the management skills and knowledge to get the job done in a leadership position. This is where we need to focus their education, and teach them the business side of things.

Imported managers know their stuff when it comes to business, in whatever facet they have experienced in their education and previous job positions. So they come in with a knowledge of finance, human resources, inventory management, retail sales, marketing, whatever the case may be. But, they have never applied those skills and that knowledge base to the world of veterinary medicine. They need to be taught what the veterinary practice environment is like, and determine how to best mold their skills and education to helping in this profession. That is where we need to focus their training: having them spend time just observing and then participating in the veterinary part of the business, and getting to know the people involved. This is the best, and really only way to establish respect for this person from the team, and this still may be a challenge.

Which Should You Go With?

My preference? Glad you asked! I tend to believe that we can grow our own managers, but we have to do a better job at it then we are doing right now. Too many times I hear horror stories of managers who come in with guns blazing, and don’t slow down long enough to get to know the veterinary business and most importantly, the people involved in this unique business. However, even more often I hear of veterinary professionals who have been given the promotion into management, whether they wanted it or not, and have been given no training or tools to do the job right. This quickly causes the team’s confidence to erode, and that person is relegated to the stature of “outsider” even though they came up through the ranks! Often times, these pseudo-managers will leave that practice, and perhaps even the profession, because we have not prepared them for what to expect, allowed them to make a conscious decision to accept the challenge, and provided training, tools and resources to help them make it work. We do not do anyone any favors when this happens, including our business.

It took us a long time to convince veterinary practice owners to let managers help them. Let’s not settle for giving them unprepared, unwilling, or untrained managers. Let’s do this right!

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