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Why Practice Owners Must Take Time Off

Your clinic’s success is tied directly to your well-being and the culture you develop.

Why Practice Owners Must Take Time Off
If you do not take time away from your practice, you will become stale and irritable over time.
Running a veterinary practice is difficult because we were not taught about management in veterinary school. As a result, we tend to pick it up on the hoof. Some practice owners take to management easily, while others find it much harder. If your practice depends on you to be present for most of the hours it is open, you have both a business and a demanding and exhausting job.
I started my peripatetic dermatology practice after earning a certificate in veterinary dermatology in 1996. The practice was easy to run. I had no staff. I went to other practices, got help from their veterinary nurses and wrote reports in the evening. Within 18 months, I opened a first-opinion practice in my hometown of Liverpool, England. This one was more difficult. I had to recruit team members, and at that stage, I was the only veterinarian. I needed to be present most of the time.
Living close to the practice, I often went home for lunch. My veterinary nurse and receptionist answered simple inquiries from people on the phone or who came into the practice during those times.

Train Your Team Well

Breaking free of the practice requires a veterinarian to take team training very seriously. Thorough training will free the veterinarian to do tasks that only they can.
While such an approach helped my first-opinion practice in the early days, the training lacked structure, and not enough was written on paper. Sometimes, things I thought I had explained adequately were misunderstood, and tasks were performed inappropriately, leading to more problems.
In 2003, while perusing the internet, I came upon a review of the book “The E-Myth Revisited,” by Michael E. Gerber. I purchased it and read it avidly. The book’s premise was that you should work on your business as well as in it. Turning your business into a process-driven one is important so that it is not dependent on you or any other person. Doing this brings you freedom.
The author set up a consultancy business around that premise, so I connected with one of his consultants and began an exciting journey of discovery over the next three years. Closely mentored by this individual every week, I set up systems within my business that helped decrease my importance. Operations, finances, marketing and sales were systemized and documented. All team members had position contracts that contained all their documented tasks. If a person quit or became ill, their substitute would quickly learn the job details by reading the operations manual. My business grew over the next three years, and I took a two-month sabbatical to Africa in 2006. The business was still there when I returned!

Hire More Talent

I learned early on as a practice owner that I had to trust my team to do the jobs I gave them. “The E-Myth” taught me that when my business was having problems, I was usually at fault because I did not have clear, written processes in place and had not communicated them. Once I began to implement processes, the practice became better run and less dependent on my presence.
I learned over the years that a talented team achieves much more than a group of individuals. Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, once said that you should look to get the best staff you can afford. In the end, if you can recruit people more talented or capable than you, then your business should thrive. Sometimes, our egos stop us from recruiting gifted people because we want to be the smartest person in the room. My company, The Webinar Vet, grew much faster because I am not afraid to bring in people cleverer than myself.
It is important to invest in your team with training and mentoring and ensure that more of your prospective hires will succeed than fail. Time spent on recruitment is never wasted. Indeed, at the beginning of the pandemic, I spent much of my time as CEO recruiting members to our fast-growing business. Hiring talented people will help a veterinary practice grow faster and give the owner more time to consider its vision, values and direction.
Over the last 20 years, I have developed an efficient process to help me recruit the right people into the right positions. Ten years ago, the author John Williams introduced me to the talent dynamic test. This psychometric test helped me think in a new way and understand what I was good or not so good at. Since then, I have used the test to bring in people to help me in areas where I am weak, ultimately improving the quality of the team. I’ve also used it as a screening test during the interview.

Your Well-Being Matters

If you are so busy that you feel you are on a hamster wheel the whole time, you likely will be stressed and irritable around your team. If the practice culture is toxic, then people will not stay long enough to become valued assets. If you do not take time away from your practice, you will become stale and irritable over time. It’s so important to take time to recharge, whether to travel, develop hobbies or be with family and friends.
When the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons set up the Mind Matters Initiative several years ago, The Webinar Vet offered to do a mindfulness course to make sure the initiative delivered practical results. Several thousand people have watched the series. Many colleagues have emailed me or told me in person that the course made them realize they needed time to themselves so that they could return to their practices refreshed and as encouraging, enthusiastic team leaders.
Perhaps the question should be, “How can my practice survive if I’m always present?”
Dr. Anthony Chadwick is The Webinar Vet’s founder and chief veterinary officer. A graduate of the University of Liverpool School of Veterinary Science, he was involved in first-opinion practice and dermatology referrals until 2016. In 2010, he established The Webinar Vet as an online training platform for veterinarians and veterinary nurses. Learn more at thewebinarvet.com.