Finding the right person to manage and oversee your vet practice can prove the difference between its success and failure. You just have to know what kind of practice manager you’re looking for, as Tracey Porter discovers.
Practice owners need to be good at keeping a lot of balls up in the air. While maintaining excellence in their clinical standards and enjoying productive and long-lasting relationships with their clients are key priorities, so too is ensuring their staff feel fulfilled, the clinic’s corporate responsibilities are being met and there is sufficient cashflow to keep the practice afloat.
While some practice owners will attempt to juggle all these tasks themselves—to varying degrees of success—others understand the advantages to be had by adding a designated practice manager to their team.
But what traits do good practice managers share and what difference can they make to the efficiency of a practice?
Defining your needs
The Peak Performance Practice founder Yolanda Gerges says good practice management is when the practice manager can look past their own needs and be the eyes and ears for the owner; reporting back to them in an objective manner and adding value by taking away the stress in the areas that the owner has identified.
The general manager of human resources at National Veterinary Care (NVC), Gillian Porter, says good practice management allows vets to focus on the job they are best at, while the business side of the clinic is taken care of.
Porter says it is critical that PMs understand the commercial aspects of running a practice while also being able to see and maximise the link between good standards of care and responsibility.
It’s also important that the chosen individual is able to manage performance and ensure the team works cohesively, she says. “For us, we have a big focus on supporting our teams and trying to create a good working environment, so the person needs to be able to find ways to create a good culture and be able to see warning signs that one of the team might be struggling or need support. Our most successful PMs are driven by wanting to make a difference—to pets, owners and their teams,” says Porter.
Gerges says the duties required of a good PM will vary from practice to practice with some owners wanting help with administration-type tasks and others seeking assistance in human resources, marketing or business development. Porter says most tasks that fall under the PM banner can be divided into four key areas: client care and customer service; standards of care; team leadership and general clinic management.
“Our most successful practice managers are driven by wanting to make a difference—to pets, owners and their teams.”—Gillian Porter, general manager of human resources, National Veterinary Care
If no specific area has been defined by the practice owner then the range of tasks typically expected of a practice manager is likely to include:
- HR administration (wages, timesheets, rosters and super)
- Recruitment and induction
- Staff performance
- Facility management and maintenance
- Financial management (budgets, forecasts and reportage)
- Marketing and social media
- Management of patient concerns
- Updating and review of policies and procedures
- Procurement (drafting and negotiating contracts).
Porter says the biggest drain on modern practice managers is the time they must spend recruiting people in a “tight market with high attrition”. Anything industrial relations-related in terms of rostering and paying people can also be quite demanding on a PM’s time as can trying to understand all the regulations and risks as a people manager.
“Supporting mental health and wellness is now a big part of the role and certainly, social media has created opportunities for marketing but also avenues for negative feedback/PR. Also trying to help clients understand the value of their vet bills [can be a big part of the role].
“Many clients don’t realise the investment in operating a clinic vastly outstrips that of a human general practice—there is a general conception that vet bills are overpriced, and many vets and nurses are afraid of discussing billing because of this.”
Wages and qualifications
Depending on experience and the size of the clinic, Porter says the average salary band for a veterinary PM is between $50,000 and $65,000 p/a. She says the default structure in NVC—which also owns two custom-built veterinary training centres and has a management services division that interacts with 415 independent veterinary businesses across Australasia—is having a senior nurse who does one to two days per week of management tasks.
In smaller clinics, it is important that the person has a nursing background, she says. “However, in larger clinics anyone with management experience in a customer service industry who has the right attitude could be right for the job.”
Gerges says usually the salary set aside for a PM will vary depending on how many people they manage, their capacity to make autonomous decisions (hire and fire) and their success in the role. She argues the experience a person needs to be successful as a PM can be very subjective.
“There are lots of experienced people who have not had experience in the areas that are important to you and your practice. Just because you have given someone the title of PM or a prospective candidate says they have experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have the experience or repeated proven results that means they will be a good candidate for your practice.”