Am I Cut Out to be a Vet Practice Manager?

Some things to consider.

A practice manager writes:

The hospital I have worked at for the past 4 years has been sold to a corporate group a couple of months ago, and the new manager has offered me the role of practice manager. We didn’t previously have anyone in this position, but I was in charge of a few administrative tasks like banking, rosters and ordering. The previous owner (who is still working at the hospital) said that I would make a good PM and was the logical choice, so the new managers started liaising with me when it came to changing some of the practice procedures over.

I was happy to assist, but as time went on, the role has become a lot more involved and there are many aspects of it that I have no experience in and don’t particularly enjoy.

I like being the ‘go­to’ person in the clinic, although it is stressful at times, particularly during this transition period when so many things are changing and I don’t have all the answers. I don’t necessarily want to go back to solely my nursing duties, but there are a few things about this new PM role I don’t enjoy. For example, the finances. I am learning a lot about the financial aspects of running a practice — revenue, costs, wages, profits — which is fine, but I have to talk about it in team meetings, and I’m not comfortable doing that. I don’t understand it well enough, I don’t like finance, and I can’t answer any of the questions the team have — also, I can see that they are not particularly interested in it either.

I also don’t enjoy some of the HR stuff. I have already had to have some tricky conversations with people that made me feel really uncomfortable. I will also have to do performance reviews with the team, and I’m really not looking forward to that!

I don’t know what to do. I’m beginning to think that I’m not cut out for the PM role and I’m thinking of asking the new manager to put me back into a vet tech position. What should I do?

That’s a really complicated question and no one can make that decision for you. I know what I would do, but that may be the wrong solution for you. I think you need to ask yourself some questions, and once you’ve had a chance to consider all answers, the decision will be easier:

Where do you want to be in 2 years from now? 5 years? What about in 10 years?

Veterinary nursing is a physically demanding job and I know many vet techs who have had to give it up in their mid to late 30s because their bodies just couldn’t cope any longer. Some of them moved on to completely unrelated industries, while others chose pharmaceutical rep positions, or customer service roles in veterinary hospitals or similar. Practice management is another option, so while you may find it challenging at the moment, think about what career path you may like to take in the future. Is this a short-term sacrifice that will give you long-term benefits?

It’s important to do something you love or at least something you enjoy.

OK, this isn’t a question, and it’s purposely contradictory to my previous statement. Going down the practice management career path may sound like a solid plan your parents will be proud of, but let’s be honest: If you absolutely hate doing it, it’s a BAD idea! You said that you don’t like finance and HR — is it because you’re not comfortable with these areas yet? We often like things that we are good at, and avoid doing things we are not so good at. So, do you think that once you learn more about finance and HR, you could actually begin to enjoy them?

Are you a leader?

Practice management is a leadership role. I don’t subscribe to the theory that you are either born to be a leader or you’re not, but I do think that some people have innate leadership abilities that, if nurtured and refined, make them great leaders. There is a great book by Seth Godin, called “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us” and it examines the Leader vs Follower mentality. A tribe is a group of people who are connected to one another, a leader and an idea. Every tribe needs leadership, and you can’t be a leader without a tribe. Your hospital is your tribe — do you want to be the leader? Or do you want to be a follower, a member of the tribe?

Are you prepared for the challenges ahead?

If by this point you’re thinking, “OK, this sounds like something I maaaay be able to do….” then read on. If the analogy of tribes and leaders has not inspired you at all and you’re thinking, “What the hell is she talking about?” — you can stop reading now, no hard feelings.

While there are many rewards of leadership and practice management, you need to be realistic about your expectations of the role. It sounds like you have already faced some challenges, and you can bet there will be plenty more! You will need to have many more uncomfortable conversations, terminate employees, be ‘the bad guy,’ deal with crises you can’t even begin to anticipate now… Ever heard of the phrase “the loneliness of leadership?” Yep, it’s a real thing, be prepared for it.

Will you get the support you need?

Even if you do decide to pursue a career in Practice Management, you need to decide if the hospital and corporate group you are part of now are the right place for you. When you are new to the role, a support network is essential. Will you be thrown in the deep end? Will you have mentors? Will you get a CE allowance that you can use toward management and leadership training? What other resources can the group offer?

At the beginning of my response, I said that I know what I would do … here it is: I’d take the leap. We never know where an opportunity will lead us one day. Going back to your vet tech role is the easy choice; it’s your comfort zone. You already know where that path leads. 


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