Editors' note: We asked Dr. Philip VanVranken, a 33-year veteran of veterinary medicine and owner of Dickman Road Veterinary
Clinic in Battle Creek, Mich., to act as a mentor to recent graduate Dr. Andrew Rollo, an associate at Gibraltar Veterinary
Hospital, a five-doctor, small animal practice in Gibraltar, Mich. The two doctors exchanged regular e-mails over the course
of a year. This is the second of four articles this year that share portions of their conversations, which we hope will stimulate
discussion and help associates and owners understand each other better and learn to work together more effectively.
The First Year In The Game Isn't a piece of cake—but it doesn't have to be moldy bread either. In the first few seasons, rookies
learn where they fit in and decide how they'll relate to those up and down the bench.
The truth: For a rookie to succeed, he has to interact effectively with everyone from the bat boy to the pitching coach to
the veteran—knowing what he has to offer and what he has to learn.
In the middle of their conversation, Drs. Rollo and VanVranken fielded some questions about how new doctors interact with
their teams and coaches. Here are a few highlights.
The whole roster
Dr. Rollo: It became clear to me rather quickly that there were many people around me I could learn from other than the doctors. In fact,
my first morning of work, at 8:02 a.m., a Chihuahua came in with dyspnea. The dog had congestive heart failure, but the only
thing that went running through my head was, "I can't believe this is my first patient." Luckily one of the technicians standing
next to me broke me out of my trance and suggested we give the dog some oxygen and furosemide. As if I were Leonardo DiCaprio
in "Catch Me if You Can," I simply said, "I concur." However, it wasn't long before I felt like I wasn't pretending to be
a doctor and I was actually part of the medical team.
As a new graduate, there's certainly concern about how much you know. Since there's very little education in veterinary school
about actual general practice, it crossed my mind that many of the support staff members could have considerably more knowledge
on certain subjects than I do.
Clients really don't care if I can differentiate ALP from ALT; they want to know the difference between heartworm preventives.
And it's the support staff members who know the answers to the basic questions clients have everyday. A team member at the
front desk can be a client's hero by suggesting their dog be put on flea preventive to help take care of those gross white
worms the client has seen coming out of their pet's backside.
In my early years as a practitioner, I kept a lot of my thoughts in the exam room to myself. Eventually I learned the "healthcare
team" included me, and my team—but also the client. Between all of us, we figure out almost all of the answers. So make sure
you keep clients on your team; they spend a lot of time with the pet, and they know what normal is for Fluffy.
Calling the shots—and then explaining
Dr. Rollo: There's a standard at my practice that the doctors have the final say. As the new doctor, I've brought some ideas to the
practice that the staff has never seen before. Often I hear, "Dr. Rollo, what are you doing?" I like to educate. And I've
found that if I take the time to explain why I'm doing something, the staff usually responds well. The technicians want to
learn as well, so when I let them in on the trick, I usually find they're 100 percent behind me.