Shelter from the economic storm

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Shelter from the economic storm

You can't control the bad economic news, but you can lift your employees' spirits with a heartfelt focus on team morale.
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Apr 01, 2009

While the nation felt an economic chill, the veterinary community in California recently found itself under a particularly ominous cloud. A proposed veterinary service tax in the state budget threatened to add pressure on veterinarians already struggling to charge fair prices. Everyone's first reaction was pretty unanimous—eyes widened and nostrils flared. Then, a knee-jerk reaction followed: "My clients can't absorb that. I'll have to lower prices!"

Fortunately, as the consequences of the proposed tax became clearer, the impulse to duck and cover was replaced by a groundswell of determination. Drs. Amy Nagy, MRCVS, and Laura Werner, DACVS, saw the opportunity to reach out to their community. Armed with information provided by the California Veterinary Medical Association, they encouraged their team to learn about the proposed tax. Together, they e-mailed clients a Web link where they could voice their opposition. The veterinarians visited farms and stables and passed out flyers they printed at the clinic.

Their voices, and the voices of so many people like them, were heard. The proposed tax was withdrawn and the position of the local veterinarian as a reference point for horse- and pet-owning communities was further confirmed. Drs. Nagy and Werner and the entire staff of The Equine Center in San Luis Obispo, Calif., took a potential morale-killer and used it to create a powerful team-building experience.

Here's the beauty of this story: In most instances, the larger the problem, the more paralyzed or helpless we feel. But rather than freeze up, California veterinarians took an impending crisis and responded by doing what they do best: educating people about options and opportunities and helping to make a difference.

When wicked economic weather whips your practice, it's time for the leader within you to rise up. If you manage, own, or oversee any part of an equine practice, now is not the time to sit on the bench. News of the recession, layoffs, and plummeting financial numbers is bumming out your team members. Take heart, veterinarians and practice managers: You may not be able to control the country's collective anxiety, but you can start shoring up team member morale right now. Here are some tips to maintain a positive atmosphere inside even when it's a rainy day outside.

REMEMBER THAT PRACTICE HAS ALWAYS BEEN STORMY

Even during good times, you work long hours, juggle multiple responsibilities, deal with unexpected circumstances, and face the challenge of leading free-willed individuals toward a common goal. The same holds true for bad times. All practices go through tough times and growing pains.

A few years ago, The Equine Center underwent a transition from a general practice to a surgical and critical care facility. The staff was committed, but change brings turbulence. The ICU schedule combined with a new level of training was daunting.

On a day when confidence was faltering, a client called to say he was bringing in a "dummy foal." The client didn't have much hope. Most of the center's staff had never treated an NMS (neonatal maladjustment syndrome) foal, while others had never seen one survive. As they unloaded the filly from the van, the team's discouragement was hard to ignore.

Dr. Olivia Inoue, DACVS, on the other hand, was in full swing. She quickly got the team so involved in treatment that they were too busy to form conclusions about their patient's fate. To an observer, the scene looked like a high-speed blur. Medications and catheter in, fluids started, seizures controlled, extra bedding added, mare milked out, more medications, eyes taped, and so on.

Later, as the filly lay quietly and the team stood by catching its breath, Dr. Inoue called the farm with an update. The manager was surprised to hear that the foal was alive and he was curious. "So what drugs did you give her?" he asked. Caught off guard by the question, the doctor said, "What drugs did I give her?" She looked around at the windblown staff and the aftermath of the last two hours and hesitated for a moment before saying, "Well ... all of them." The staff and the client cracked up.

The real wonder unfolded over the next couple of weeks as the foal slowly woke up to the world. One of the technicians took photos of the foal's progress and created a PowerPoint presentation for the hospital's library. Toward the end of the slide show, a perfectly normal, mischievous foal musses up a technician's hair. Then there's a final picture of her following the doctor up a trailer ramp. The entire staff is there to see her off.

This patient had a unifying effect on the whole team. The team was proud of each other, proud of themselves, and more confident that regardless of what came their way, they could pull together and give it their best.


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