New associates: Learn to love your team

New associates: Learn to love your team

And remember that they might not love you on your first day.
Dec 01, 2007

Sonya Brouillette, DVM
As a former associate and hospital owner, I've seen firsthand the power struggles that can take place between a new associate and a clinic's support team. If you're that fresh-from-vet-school doctor, I can tell you that the staff won't see you as the Great and Wonderful Dr. New. Rather, receptionists, technicians, and assistants will be watching you from the get-go and may pounce on your every misstep. After all, it's their hospital and they don't want you mucking it up. This is where your people skills become more important than your medical skills. Here are six things you can do to get things off to a great start at your new hospital.

1. Don't shirk. If you come to work late every day, take an extended lunch, and try to leave early, the staff will resent you. They've watched Dr. Owner work extra hours for years—taking emergencies, staying late, working through lunch—to build this practice into what it is today. Be punctual, and manage your time well. Don't try to cut corners and get out early—you've graduated from those days.

2. Don't let them see you sweat. If you're not sure how to treat a patient, call another doctor for advice, either Dr. Owner or a colleague from your vet-school class. Your new team is used to dealing with Dr. Owner, who handles every situation with poise and confidence. (And remember—you'll get there eventually.)

3. Help out when there's a need. If you see that team members are swamped, don't sit at your desk reading—lend a hand. Cleaning cages is not your job, and you shouldn't make a habit of doing it, but be quick to jump in when you see that animals need care. I promise that Dr. Owner has cleaned a few cages and wiped a few counters on occasion.

4. Don't gossip. If you fought with your spouse last night, or if your mom is having another nervous breakdown, don't tell everyone at work. Workplaces are hotbeds of gossip, and the morsels you offer will be spread around to anyone who will listen. If team members try to get you into conversations about personal issues, don't bite.

5. Be a pillar. You're an elite member of the community you just joined, so you shouldn't be in the local bar with the staff every Saturday night. If you want to be respected as a professional, you should act like one. Of course, you need to have a social life, but be aware that you're being watched by your community. And look for ways to contribute. A good first step: Become active in a religious, civic, or volunteer organization.

6. Keep talking to Dr. Owner. The staff will run to tell the boss every tiny mistake you make. They don't hate you; they're just protective of the well-being of their patients and the practice. This means you need to sit down with the owner at least once a month to talk about how you're blending in. Talk about how you feel the practice is doing—plus potential solutions to any challenges you identify. Remember, the owner hired you to help relieve stress, not generate more complaints.

Treat your new job as an opportunity to put your best foot forward and make things work. Strive for harmony with the team, clear communication with your boss and other doctors, and ever-improving medical skills. Love your team and they'll love you back—eventually.

Dr. Sonya Brouillette recently sold her practice, Animal Health Services in Kentwood, La., to her associate. Dr. Brouillette now works there whenever she likes. Send questions or comments to