How do I know if I need a practice manager?

How do I know if I need a practice manager?

It’s never a bad time to have an extra set of hands, but here’s some guidance on when adding a veterinary practice manager makes the most practical and financial sense.
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Jul 20, 2018

Confused about when you need to hire a practice manager? Dr. Sarah Wooten shares advice that can help get rid of the head tilt. (Shutterstock.com)You’re running around the practice like a chicken with its head cut off. First, you answer a question from the client service coordinator about your schedule. Then a technician wants to know if you can do a quick check on a laser patient in exam room 3. Meanwhile, Gloria is doing inventory and needs to know the surgical glove size for the new doctor, and there’s a drug rep at the front wanting your attention. Plus, there’s a stack of 15 resumes on your desk for the open receptionist position, and your son’s History Day project is due tomorrow (he just told you about it today, of course).

By 9:30 a.m., you’ve seen one patient and you’re already on the brink of exhaustion.

Does this sound familiar? If the answer is yes, I bet you don’t have a management team. And if that’s the case, the best advice I can offer is this: Strive to only do the things that no one else can do.

On a gut level, you probably realize that being pulled in so many directions is draining your energy and taking you away from doing the work that only you are trained to do and that makes you money. The most productive veterinarians don’t divide their days between team training, facilities issues, hiring, firing, inventory, accounting, bookkeeping and practicing medicine. Instead, they focus all of their time and attention on inspiring the team with their vision, goal setting, managing the big financial picture of the practice and treating patients. Everything else is delegated to a staff member or outsourced.

Hiring a practice manager is one step that can help you use your time and talents most efficiently, but how do you know when you really need one? Here’s a basic rule of thumb to follow that I learned from the book, The Ultimate Guide to Doubling and Tripling Your Dental Practice Production (yes, it's technically about human dentistry, but our practice models are very similar):

Three or four employees? Wait. A practice manager can be hired any time, but when a practice is this small, it might not be worth the time and money just yet.

Five to nine employees? It’s a good time to hire a practice manager, though the position doesn’t have to be full time. You could design the position to share front-desk responsibilities and start gradually delegating your management duties.

Ten or more employees? Make the practice manager position full time.

As your practice grows, you’ll need to continue to designate additional leadership roles, such as a team leader who reports to the practice manager, who then reports to you. Delegation can be difficult at first, but when done wisely and incrementally, it can give you more time to do the things you love and were trained to do, and your team and practice will be the better for it.

Fetch dvm360 educator Dr. Sarah Wooten graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. A member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists, Dr. Wooten divides her professional time between small animal practice in Greeley, Colorado, public speaking on associate issues, leadership and client communication, and writing. She enjoys camping with her family, skiing, scuba and participating in triathlons.

Sooner is better than later

While I can understand Dr. Wooten's perspective on what indicates the "right time" to hire a practice manager, I don't necessarily agree with it. While I understand that for new or young practices the financial implication of hiring a manager can be a big one, starting a business without appropriate management and leadership can be a recipe for disaster. From where I sit finding the right "partner" (aka manager) for your new business is as important as finding your real estate. Bringing this person on early in the game allows you several advantages. Taking the time to find that right person is one of them, having them with you out of the gate is another, growing with them and having a well seated, transparent relationship is the goal. With an experienced veterinary manager/administrator you get someone with strengths in customer service, social media and marketing, human resources, practice financials, new client development, client retention and business and organizational growth. These things are vital for a new practice to have long-run sustainability. For the new vet grads out there, if you want to own a practice, to have a quality of life and to be able to practice medicine, which is after all what you went to school for, find your practice manager early and grow together.