Burnout: a loss of control... - Veterinary Practice
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Burnout: a loss of control…

KATHERINE DOBBS continues her series looking at the main causes and the prevention of ‘burnout’ in practice with a close look at what it means to feel you have no control over what happens

MOVING forward on our list of burnout factors, we continue with the third cause.

First, I want to quickly backtrack and review the first cause: conflict between individual values and organisational goals and demands. We discussed in that blog how you need to know your own personal ethics as it applies to veterinary medicine.

For example, when you work at a practice that does not, in your opinion, provide adequate pain relief, encourages aggressive restraint which makes you uncomfortable, or doesn’t deliver the care that you feel they are charging for, these are ethical issues that will bother you over time.

Pointed questions

The next time you interview for a position, you may ask pointed questions about these issues to ensure you are not about to accept a position into a practice that will disagree with your ethics.

This is a way to uncover the quality of services provided. Yet if you end up in a practice that is stretching your moral fibre, so to speak, then you are likely dealing with the third identified cause of burnout, a feeling of having no control over the quality of services provided.

What do you do now?

Cause number 3: A feeling of having no control over the quality of services provided

Allow me to take a tangent for just a moment. Being involved in practice management, I often come across discussions about raising fees, which of course are the prices we charge our clients for the products and services we offer.

The pricing of products, by the way, should be relatively easy. Although the team may not have an understanding of this, likely because it hasn’t been taught, if you double the price you paid for an item then you’re just breaking even due to hidden costs such as ordering and holding. So a very simple formula can be generated for pricing products in a fair and profitable way.

However, the pricing of services is more difficult, but still can be done. First, overhead must be calculated, which is how much money it takes to keep the building running for an hour, for example.

So you have rent, electricity, equipment, water, etc. Then you add how long and what type of staffing is involved in the procedure. Then the cost of goods used, including everything from a syringe and needle to a pack of suture and squares of gauze. By doing these calculations, you reach what are fair and profitable charges for services.

But beyond the understanding of these calculations, the members of the practice team need to feel a price is “fair”. Why is this team buy-in so important to the success of the practice?

Body language gives us away

Because it is the team that needs to relay these charges to the clients! And if an employee doesn’t feel good about a financial estimate or treatment plan they are giving a client, it will show. The client will sense that the price isn’t fair, and likely won’t pay it. (Hint: our body language gives us away every time!)

So in the scenario where a practice is looking at raising prices, they have to be sure the team understands and supports the price increases, so they will pass this “fair feeling” on to your clients. Do not raise prices without the team knowing and believing in the process, or you will pay (because the clients will not).

Why are we talking about fees when we’re looking at the quality of services? Simply because “quality” is often related to the price of something: “Many people use price as a guide. If something is expensive, then it is likely to be of higher quality than something that is cheaper.” (from ChangingMinds.org).

Determining factor

In a practice that charges low prices, it intends to serve a specific type of customer for whom money is the determining factor, and so the client may actually receive poor service or substandard products; in other words, “you get what you pay for”.

Yet if a practice charges top dollar for its services, then it intends to serve an entirely different type of customer for whom the experience is the most important factor. That customer will want to “get what they pay for” and that means higher value.

That being said, we often hear that we need to provide “value” to our clients. What this means is, we need to deliver the experience they believe they are paying for.

This is all about client service, right, and how we make that person feel as he or she moves through our clinic, meeting our team members, experiencing our services, and leaving with our products. This is one aspect of quality.

Looking back at the third cause of burnout, we may not feel we have any control over the quality of services provided, in that we have no say in how the client service is delivered in our practice.

When it comes to medicine, though, we are on even shakier ground. If we do not believe we are delivering quality medicine, as mentioned before, then our ethics are getting stretched.

Approach the management

So what about this other piece though, about not having control? Herein lies the problem. If you don’t feel you have any control, then I bet it’s likely that you have not even tried to exert control. If you feel the client service level needs to be improved, then approach the management or leadership with ideas to improve the client experience.

Come prepared to talk numbers too, though, as often the things we want to enhance the client experience cost money. Can you argue that this improved client experience will increase return visits and word-ofmouth referrals? Hopefully so, because it does usually work out that way!

However, improving client service with “free” methods is a better place to start. This is as simple as improving communication skills, and especially body language!

When it comes to medicine, are you sure you have all the information needed to make an opinion on the quality of medicine provided? If you don’t agree with the medicine quality, is there something you haven’t been told about why the veterinary surgeon or practice performs a procedure in a certain way?

Ask for an explanation

Do not assume that just because it’s not like they did it in vet school, or it’s not like you’ve seen it done before in other practices, that it is wrong. Ask for an explanation, in a respectful way, with an emphasis on wanting to increase your knowledge of the procedure.

But also, if you receive an explanation that doesn’t make sense to you, consider going further. If this is an assistant veterinarian, can you talk to the practice owner or manager? In my years of managing veterinarians, I absolutely wanted to know if there was any questionable medicine being practised!

If your only step is to approach a practice owner, is there perhaps some literature or information you can see yourself to support this explanation?

Of course you wouldn’t just say, “I don’t believe you; prove it!” unless you want to end employment at that practice. Instead you would say, “Interesting, I’ve never heard of that before. Is there somewhere I can go to read more?”

You only lack control if you have tried to exert control, and it has been denied you. So determine what “quality of services” means to you, and then explore what amount of control you really possess in your position in the practice.

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