An alien in the practice... - Veterinary Practice
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An alien in the practice…

IGNACIO MÉRIDA ISLA discusses what’s involved in integrating a new assistant into the practice team

IT is over … for now. We found that
our practice is doing better and we
are turning clients
down. We are fully
booked several days
a week and on
Friday afternoon it
is impossible to get
a slot.

We decided that
we needed to hire a
new assistant, so we
placed an advert in a
veterinary journal. For
various reasons we
thought that a new
graduate or somebody
with not so much
experience would fit
in well.

We got quite a
good response and short-listed five
candidates to meet. We have a
proactive partner who conducted the
interviews and passed the results to
the other partners.

We got the final two candidates to
come over to spend a day with us, to
see if they could fit into the team.
Finally, we chose what we thought was
the right person. She did not have
much experience but looked really
keen and she had done a load of work

Six months later, she resigned and
we had to start the process again. She
had all that we were looking for and
despite that she left: where did we go

In this article, I will try to provide
some guidelines on how to integrate
the new staff into the team. We have
to remember that you can only have a
first impression once, so we need to
help our team to give a good one. It is
also very expensive to constantly have
to train staff and the clients always
prefer a familiar face. So it is much
cheaper and more productive to retain

The whole integration process
cannot last less than two days and it
could run as long as up to five, depending on the size of the practice.
On many occasions I have found myself consulting within
20 minutes of arriving
at a new practice or told to hang around
the prep room for a
while with no
instruction or

First of all, when
we hire a new assistant, after giving
the facilities we should
consider assigning
them a mentor. A
mentor would be a
member of the team
(another vet or a nurse is ideal). The mission
of the mentor would be to answer all
those questions that are important to us, but do not appear in a manual (i.e.
where is the toilet!).

The mentor would also be in
charge of introducing the new
assistant to every member of staff and
guide him or her through the normal
procedures and duties (e.g. explain
how the blood machine works or
where do I leave the mail to be

The mentor has to train how to do
something and to ensure that it is done
properly; and would need to then ask
the new assistant to demonstrate he or
she can repeat the tasks well to ensure
they have been explained properly.
This will give confidence to the new
assistant when finally left to his or her
own devices.

Local community

The mentor can also help the new
assistant to find the way around the
local community, explaining about
things like restaurants, leisure centres
and pubs. This will help to integrate
the new person, which will improve

It would be good, where possible,
to allow the new member of staff to
“see practice” for a couple of days,
shadowing if necessary one of the
partners. In this way, the clients will be
familiarised with the new face and see
that she or he has all the trust of the
partners. There is nothing more
frustrating for somebody than listening
20 times a day to: “You are new here, I
will see Mr X, because he knows my

It is common in many practices to
have protocols with the rules for the
new assistant. These protocols include
dress code, when to have a break, etc.,
but they lack what it is important for
the new vet; things like when do I get paid, where do I eat my lunch, who do
Igotoif Ihaveanyproblems?Itisa
huge temptation to give the rules,
because it is what you care about as an
employer, but forget about the
interests of the new assistant.

Ideally, we should have a meeting
with all the members of staff to
introduce the new assistant. It is also
necessary to inform the clients that
there will be a new face in the consult
room. A newsletter would be useful
for this but also a sign in the waiting
room is important, so we reduce the
surprise element for the clients.

We should include a little personal profile as well as
a picture and, if
possible, with the
rest of the team
as it will give the
image to the
clients that the
new member is
“one of the

During the integration time, we
should provide the new members of
staff with our standard protocols.
These protocols could be divided into
procedural and administrative ones.

Among the things to be included
in the procedural protocol are
vaccination schedules, parasite control
products, euthanasia-related protocols,
consent documents (not only how to
print them, but which ones are
appropriate for different procedures),
diagnostic lab topics, referral hospitals
in the area, diseases of high prevalence
in the area, anaesthetic protocols, etc.

The administrative issues inform
the new assistant on a range of topics
such as payment terms (including out
of hours), what to do with bad
debtors, working hours and rota,
health and safety, and treatment of
own pets, for example.

Complete training

The complete training of the new
assistant should cover all the areas in
which he or she is expected to
perform, from computer system and
phone system to safety training.
Depending on the size of the practice,
it might also be a good idea to introduce the new member of
staff to all the departments.

These rules apply for small
or large animal practices. For
the latter, we should also
consider that we need to show
the new vet how to get to the
visits, either with a sat-nav
system and/or a map of the
farms or stables. In these cases, it is also very important to clarify the
policy relating to the company car as
clearly as possible, especially personal
usage and tax issues.

Finally, one key thing to bear in
mind at the end of this introduction
process is that the new employee
should be aware of how and when his
or her review will take place. This
should not be left too long and will
give the new person an opportunity to
raise any questions and work out any
problems before he or she starts
quietly considering whether this is the
practice to stay in.

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