When the 2020 pandemic hit, we—like most people and businesses—were caught off guard and truly didn’t know what to expect. While we braced for a reduced client load, we (and most other veterinary practices) were surprised and then overwhelmed by the incredible increase in clients! And while we are grateful for all the people and pets who come through our door, this increased caseload has also shed light on some troubling trends in the veterinary industry.
Many vet staff experience burn out, mental health issues, and even suicide because we are people who are born to serve. We want to do what is best for pets and their owners—which has often meant sacrificing our own health well-being. And unfortunately, our efforts are often underappreciated, taken for granted, or even challenged and insulted. People called to the veterinary profession are starting to burn out at very high rates, and the pandemic has only made this worse.
A Time to Take Stock and Restart
Here at Pine Street Animal Hospital, we are blessed and fortunate to work for some of the best pet owners in the world. The majority of our interactions are positive, and we have been treated with love and kindness. However, we have not been completely insulated from the issues mentioned above, and in the summer of 2020, my longtime friend and business partner for over 20 years informed me she was ready to retire. We quickly went to work making the necessary arrangements to make that happen for her, and on September 15, 2020, I became a sole practitioner.
My concern shifted to how my staff and I would be able to handle an increased caseload, do our jobs well, and focus on excellence—all while protecting ourselves from the burnout and difficult side-effects of a high-stress job. I decided to make the health and welfare of my staff my top priority, choosing their well-being over our bottom line. How can we be expected to serve those who need us if we are not healthy physically and mentally? The answer is: We cannot.
So, starting in Fall 2020, my managers and I went to work implementing changes and policies to protect our staff to ensure they are receiving the care they deserve. After several meetings, we set our mission and vision for the clinic, including actions we executed immediately.
Our Mission and Actions for Better Health and Service
The PSAH Mission: take care of ourselves so we can serve others in their time of need.
We are accomplishing this in 10 ways:
- We make sure Staff is paid well for their skill set, experience, time with the company, and for their position.
- We immediately changed office hours and consolidated the staff to ensure we had enough people to handle a heavy caseload.
- We limit the number of cases we see in a day to ensure we are not overbooked.
- We insulate Staff from the rare, abusive client who can ruin a person’s career.
- The Nurse Manager created a schedule that ensures everyone gets at least one day off a week and a three-day weekend every four to six weeks.
- Lunch breaks are not just available, they are mandatory.
- Everyone is required to step away for at least 30 minutes, with no exceptions.
- We have implemented programs to ensure everyone has access to medical care for both physical and mental health.
- Paid time off in the form of paid vacation and paid sick days have been extended to the entire staff regardless of their time with the company.
- We have put in place policies and leadership strategies that place value on the opinions of the staff and give them ownership of those things.
- We have decided to lead with grace, kindness and understanding, so we can invest in the people who work so hard for you.
Not one person here is expendable, and I want everyone to come to work knowing they are loved and valued. I want them to leave everyday feeling accomplished. I want them to be proud of where they work and be treated in a way that extinguishes any desire to leave to work somewhere else. I want the staff’s peers in the profession to covet what employees have at PSAH.
The New (Smiling) Face of PSAH
So, how does this benefit you, our clients? When you call or come into the office, you will be greeted with a smile by people who are prepared to serve. Whether or not these changes result in a better financial outlook and expansion for the practice remains to be seen, but that is far from my focus. For us, this is not and never has been about money. For us, this is simply about caring for people and their pets. It is about serving others, investing in people, and developing relationships beyond just a job.
And I can excitedly tell you there are more changes on the way! Along with our new mission, we will be rebranding with a new logo and are making some cosmetic changes inside the facility to provide a more welcoming environment. Our hope is that when you come to see us at PSAH, these changes are evident, and you arrive knowing your pets are cared for by a great staff that is healthy and prepared to serve.
Dr. Glenn Adcock