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You need more than just technical skills to make your business flourish.
You need more than just technical skills to make your business flourish.

Do you know what determines your income and are you comfortable in salary negotiations? Akash Arora reveals the answers from experts in the field

There’s no doubt there are certain technical skills that can make a vet highly desirable as an employee. “If you can perform dentistry, ultrasound and imaging, you’ll be considered a valuable asset to any practice,” says Dr Dave Nicol, from Love That Pet Darlinghurst, (formerly Dr Dave’s Vets & Pets). “And if you can perform surgery, then you’ll be a hugely valuable asset.”

Beyond technical skills, however, what are the personality-oriented qualities that can make you a sought-after employee?

Is it self-belief in a treatment that you’re recommending? Or is it confidence that’s required to effectively communicate with your clients? What role does emotional intelligence play in your personal development? And how can ‘growth mindset’ help other industry professionals view you?

We spoke to two industry experts to come up with four cornerstones of self-development, which—if followed to a T
—can help take your veterinary career to a whole new level.

Law of self-belief

“A lot of vets struggle with the idea of discussing treatment costs with their clients. This is because they feel the costs are too high, but that’s not the case,” says Dr Nicol, who also runs an eponymous business service in Sydney that helps vets tackle industry challenges and advance their career.

“There’s not a huge difference in skill set between performing a knee surgery on a human being as opposed to doing it on a pet. In human medicine, the procedure may range from $10,000 to $15,000, while in pets it may only cost $2000 to $5000. In the case of human medicine, however, we often don’t see those bills. It’s either paid by private health care or covered by Medicare. But you do see the bills for your pets, so there’s a perception that vets charge too much, when actually we’re astonishingly good value for money,” says Dr Nicol.

It is this false perception of over-charging that erodes vets’ confidence in the advice they’re giving to their clients, hindering their personal growth as well as prospects of scoring good jobs. Practice owners are looking for vets who are skilled, confident and believe in what they’re recommending. So, if you’re able to convince your prospective employer in a job interview that you believe in and are confident of what you preach then, says Dr Nicol, you have ticked off the first major box.

Importance of good communication

The next big challenge is, of course, being able to effectively communicate with your clients. Employers are seeking vets who are comfortable discussing pet treatments as well as associated costs with pet owners. Empathy, says Dr Nicol, is a golden rule in action here.

“One of the best ways to effectively communicate with clients is, firstly, to think like them, and then to talk like them. As a vet you need to be empathetic to your clients’ circumstances. You need to be friendly—almost be an extension of the pet owner’s extended family. In fact, sometimes it may also help to move away from sounding too professional or cold,” says Dr Nicol, who’s authored the e-book, The Yellow Pages are Dead—Marketing Your Veterinary Practice in the Digital Age.

Dr Natasha Wilks of Brisbane-based High Performance Vets, which helps veterinarians improve their communication skills and income generation, agrees. “Good communication skills not only allow you to discuss costs with clients more effectively, but also help develop great veterinary-client relationships. And if you’re a veterinarian with great communication skills and have the ability to build a solid client base, then you’ll be a very attractive candidate for your prospective employer,” she says.

The value of emotional intelligence

Dr Nicol has hired some highly qualified and experienced veterinarians over the years. He has also fired many of them simply because they were “emotional train wrecks”.

“Emotional intelligence is a massively undervalued skill set in this profession. It’s actually a rare quality to find,” explains Dr Nicol.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to build strong relationships with both your colleagues and clients. It is also the ability of staying calm and cordial when things go wrong.

“Everyone’s a great guy when things are running smoothly. It is when they’re going not so well that an individual’s true personality kicks in,” says Dr Nicol. “In a testing environment, one can easily turn into a fire-breathing dragon, bossing everyone around and being a pain in the backside. And if you let the circumstances emotionally highjack you, you can easily end up damaging long-term relationships. On the other hand, if you can keep your calm and get through the day with your relationships intact, you’ll become an extremely valuable asset to your practice.”

Dr Wilks agrees. “While emotional intelligence can be cited as a prerequisite for many professions and industries, it’s an extremely important quality for vets, and one that practice owners are constantly looking for in their staff.”

Nature of growth mindset

Mid-career vets can sometimes get a little complacent; at some stage in their career, they might begin to think that they have learnt everything there is to learn about their veterinary profession or about their industry.

“However, the reality is that the industry and the profession are constantly evolving, and there’s always something a veterinarian can do to improve their existing skills. If you’ve really mastered your existing skills, you should look at developing new ones. For instance, you can work on honing your leadership skills, or team-building skills. As your career progresses, it often calls for a new or different area of expertise,” says Wilks.

This is called growth mindset and practice owners find it to be an attractive trait in their employers. Therefore, as an employee when you’re looking to move from one practice to another seeking career and salary advancement, it’s important to display this hungry-for-self-development attitude. You could do this by subscribing to veterinary journals, for instance, and keeping abreast of the latest advancements in vet medicine.

“A vet who’s not complacent and who’s hungry to learn more and develop their already-existing skills is bound to be quite an asset to a practice,” says Dr Wilks.

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