Dr. Russell Miller is the managing owner of VO Vets in Fort Worth, Texas. A graduate of the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, he partnered with Suveto to open his practice. He previously worked as an emergency veterinarian in Cooper City, Florida, and as an emergency veterinarian and general practitioner in Locust Grove, Georgia.Read Articles Written by Russell Miller
Ever since I was a child, my parents told me I was born with wheels on my feet and that stopping me was nearly impossible when I set my mind to something. This proved to be the case when I started veterinary school and immediately knew I wanted to own a practice. Five years later, in 2021, my dream came true when I opened VO Vets in Fort Worth, Texas.
Just like my parents forecasted, I knew exactly what I wanted VO Vets to look like and represent: something extraordinary, new and innovative. My main focus was to develop a team culture that embraced individuality, self-improvement and open communication, all while delivering an exceptional client experience.
Here are five pieces of advice.
1. Always Be Caring and Professional
Clients need to feel welcomed from the moment they walk through the doors with their pets to when they go home. But unfortunately, when it comes to veterinary visits, clients sometimes are nervous and worried because their pets are sick. That stress is no surprise because society’s relationship with pets is evolving and most people see their pets as family members.
The first thing you can do to help pet owners feel comfortable is to greet them warmly. It lets them know they matter and that we are there to ensure their beloved pet is well taken care of and will feel better. At VO Vets, we treat every pet as our own by consistently offering the gold standard of care. We want to make sure all patients have care plans designated for their specific needs and that we overdeliver every time.
2. Lean Into Team Members’ Strengths
“You are only as strong as your weakest member” is a quote I stand by. The team at VO Vets is made up of talented individuals who come with strengths and weaknesses. I take the time to get to know all my employees and learn about their goals. This helps me to assign specific tasks that will help them thrive. I also make sure employees receive the training and challenges they need to work on their weaknesses and improve their skills. That is why cross-training is key in promoting a smooth workflow.
Cross-training also encourages empathy with other team members. This prevents separation within the team, such as receptionists versus technicians, and allows everyone to become comfortable with every job in the hospital. When one team member struggles, the other can easily supplement and help.
3. Communicate Directly and Openly
When it comes to an effective team, communication is the most critical factor. It makes things go smoothly and keeps everyone on the same page. Clarity is a must. With effective communication, there is little to no room for error. One way I implemented this is through an open-door policy. Employees are welcome to share with me at any time their thoughts and concerns regarding the practice and work environment. I always attempt to deal with employee concerns with an open mind and try to address them. I encourage employees who have concerns to come up with a solution for consideration and possible implementation. I welcome input, and they know it.
Also, I recently started a suggestion box so that employees can anonymously report what they would like to see improved at the practice. The anonymity allows for more-introverted employees to voice their opinions.
Finally, when an employee makes a mistake, I aim to be very understanding and discuss what went wrong and how we, as a team, will prevent the error from happening again. I lead by example and encourage employees to hold me accountable to the same standards, meaning I must follow the same rules as everyone, with no exceptions.
4. Face Challenges With a Positive Attitude
I try to look at challenges not as problems but as learning opportunities for everyone, including myself. My goal is always to face challenges with a positive attitude and think outside the box. This is when my staff truly helps me. Under my open-door policy, I am always ready to tackle problems with the team’s help, which allows everyone to feel included in improving the practice and feel heard and validated.
The most significant challenges I have faced as a leader are:
- Effectively communicating the practice’s goals.
- Being able to hold everyone accountable.
- Being honest with myself regarding what is best for the hospital versus what is best for me.
Sometimes, what I believe will be better or easier might be harder on the team, and that is when I must step back and think of VO Vets as a whole rather than as what makes my job easier.
5. Help the Next Generation Realize Their Dreams
Each of my strategies will help veterinary clinic owners build a strong team and a successful, reputable business. And while my suggestions come from years of practice, it’s not too late for young veterinarians to seek ownership opportunities, even as early as a student in veterinary school.
In my experience, ownership is possible and worth the investment in time and sweat. The good news is that people and resources are available to help you achieve your dreams. Veterinarians starting this journey should seek mentors to help fill in the gaps, making them stronger.