Dr Dave Nicol answers your questions

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Dr Dave Nicol

You’ve got questions? Dr Dave Nicol has answers! The veteran veterinarian, author and podcaster answers the questions most vets regularly ask him. By Kerryn Ramsey

Born and qualified as a veterinary surgeon in Glasgow, Dr Dave Nicol spent 22 years working as a vet as well as running veterinary businesses for 15 years. He soon realised his true calling was coaching and guiding vet owners, practitioners, nurses and practice managers. Now based in the UK after a long stint working in Australia, Dr Nicol launched VetX International in 2017, a global training and mentoring community helping vets and practice leaders and teams work together and enjoy their lives in practice.

What inspired you to launch VetX International?

What’s always driven me is a curiosity and desire to help people. When I started working as a young vet, it wasn’t just about animals for me; it was about people. It’s all been a very natural progression.

What are some of the risks that veterinarians face?

The mental side of being a vet is not taught at university. Students are well taught on clinical skills and the quality of the teaching is remarkable. But what they’re not taught is how to cope with the emotional side and use their soft skills. Feeling like an imposter is not a bad thing, as it has been mislabelled—it’s simply a signal that you’re trying to be better at what you do.

What’s the number one difficulty for veterinarians?

When you speak to a room full of vets, the answer to this question is always “the client”. Veterinary medicine would be easy if it weren’t for the clients. So, vets have failed to embrace the importance of human relationships and the skill of effective client communications. Everything takes longer when there’s friction in the relationships. We’re so focused on the connection with the animal, we’ve failed to nurture the client as a friend. When people first walk into a practice, they start as customers, then move to clients. If you can keep that relationship progressing, you soon become Auntie or Uncle Vet. It takes time but that relationship can extend, so you become part of their family. 

How do you improve the client/vet relationship?

Focus on simple ways to make a client feel genuinely valued in your relationship. If you’re not on time, apologise because their time is just as valuable as yours. Listen to them, nod, smile and make eye contact so they feel you like spending time with them. Treat their animal well, be clinically professional and speak to them in plain English. Ensure they understand what’s going on with their pet and make a recommendation. If they’re a bit stuck, explain what you would do in their shoes. If you can do that, clients will feel respected. 

Any tips when recruiting the right staff member?

You have to hire for values. That means you have values in your job advert, values in your interview process, and values in your onboarding process. I call it ‘culture-fication’ and it should be an intrinsic part of the fabric of the recruitment process. It doesn’t stop with hiring and onboarding. It should be lived every day, showing up in the way we recognise and appreciate each other—and hold each other accountable. The best practices with which I’ve been involved have had very strong value sets. The worst have had poorly defined values, or toxic values at the top of the organisation.

How do you compile your values and culture?

The most important thing is to put culture front and centre, and hire based on values and culture fit. This one thing brings the greatest success. Every business owner, manager and member of the team has to be a guardian of the culture.  It’s essential your business and personal values are clearly defined. Culture then flows from the values. The culture is the sum of all behaviours and actions that play out every day in your practice, and that is accepted as the norm. Define five or six core values. You may not be able to get complete alignment with every single value the team has, but you want to achieve alignment with the values that matter to the group of people with which you’re working. Let’s say we have a value of respect. It’s fine to make an unpopular decision provided you’ve listened to everyone’s point of view. That’s showing simple respect. Those who disagree have had their opinion heard and can move on. 

How do you work smarter instead of harder?

Hire good people who can free you up to do the work you need to do. That doesn’t just mean hiring expensive people. It means hiring people who can delegate because, as a veterinarian, your essential work is diagnosing, prescribing and operating. Everything else can be delegated. The key is to hire good people, delegate tasks to those good people at all levels in your organisation, and look for ways technology can support you with automation.

Any tips for running a practice’s social media?

Many practices would be better off not doing social media than the way they attempt to currently. Where’s the value add? Where’s the storytelling, the brand enhancement? The engagement? It’s just not there. But, as part of a joined-up marketing strategy, both online and offline elements can offer massive advantages. Social media is most beneficial when engaging with the current generation. Being able to put out content that tells your story is of value to them and incredibly important.

Is it a good idea to outsource social marketing?

I’m not convinced. The clinical team may capture the odd photograph and post it but they don’t tend to capture narrative. It’s a better choice to hire somebody who’s dedicated to those tasks—even if it’s just for a day a week creating content. For a minimal cost you can engage an employee to follow a brief and generate a blog post, video or five pieces of content for your socials.

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