You'll rarely meet a more modest veterinarian than Dr. Robert Barney, medical director at Lakewood Animal Hospital and Cat
Clinic in Lakewood, Ohio. He won't tell you his practice does everything right, but his clients might. Here's part of a letter
one client wrote about the practice:
Over the past 20 years we've taken nine cats, flocks of zebra finches, and a collection of injured strays to our local veterinary
hospital. We recommend our veterinarian often, and here's why:
From receptionists to technicians to veterinarians, staff members are always accessible. They answer every question, they
return phone calls, and they stretch their workday to serve their clients. They are organized, prepared, on time, and professional,
and they take the time needed for each patient. I've never witnessed anyone's bad mood, boredom, or staff conflicts. They
treat every animal and every person with respect, humor, compassion, patience, and genuine pleasure. They take an interest
in the pet's temperament, history, and needs, as well as the owner's concerns, temperament, and needs.
They stay current with technology, treatment protocols, and scientific development, and they are prudent about what medical
trends and equipment they accept. They call with reminders and with the results of tests and surgery, but they also call to
check up on pets who have given birth or are seriously ill. They've also called after the deaths of pets. They put themselves
in the pet owner's shoes. For example, when one of my cats became anorexic after a major illness, the veterinarian ran home
on his lunch hour and returned with several cans of food that one of his cats couldn't refuse.
So how does Dr. Barney account for such a glowing referral? We asked him to describe how he puts his philosophy into practice.
Here are his answers to our questions:
What's the key to your success?
We have a stable team. That's always been my goal. Sometimes we'll go two or three years without having a new person. And
when we bring new people in, we make sure they fit into our culture.
Clients recognize and appreciate it when the staff doesn't turn over. There's a big learning curve in each of these job positions,
and once I get people trained, I don't want them to leave me.
How do you reduce turnover?
I think money makes a difference, but I don't think it's a big part of the equation. People need to feel happy in their jobs.
They need to feel challenged, and they need to feel like they're part of a team that appreciates them. That's what we try
Everyone who wants to attend CE gets to go. Every year we send some of the receptionists and the technicians to classes. They
feel like they're in on the action, and it emphasizes that learning is important.
How do you make sure your team reflects the practice philosophy?
We have an extensive employee handbook that explains our philosophy, the client service we offer, job descriptions, and benefits.
There should be no misunderstanding about what we expect.
Our team members may not remember everything they read in the manual, so when there's confusion about a situation, we view
it as an opportunity to make sure we're all on the same page. We discuss client service at every monthly staff meeting. And
for topics that crop up between staff meetings, we send around updates on all sorts of topics, from new products to work schedule
When personality issues crop up, we try to iron them out as quickly as possible. Sometimes we have to let employees go. And
I've done that. I've released veterinarians and team members who just couldn't get into the team concept. I can't sacrifice
the integrity of the team and the happiness we're trying to cultivate in the practice just to satisfy one person.
Portia Stewart is editor of Firstline, Veterinary Economics' sister magazine for team members. Send questions or comments to