Getting the Right Fit by Cross Training Your Veterinary Team

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cross training

Another Monday morning with surgeries running behind, walk-ins crowding the waiting room, and you finally realizing that the constant ringing in your ears is the telephone. On top of all that, your lead technician is out sick. You need some pre-anesthetic blood work results before you can sedate the next dental, but no one knows how to man the machine. Looks like you’ll be reaching for the manual and crossing your fingers in order to get this done on time.

The holidays, spring break, and summertime can be as dreaded as flu season when it comes to people being absent. To a veterinary team without cross-training, when someone is missing it can feel like a dog, or a bunch of dogs, without a bone. Cross-training your team isn’t only to help cover shifts; it can be valuable from a job satisfaction point of view, and it can increase your efficiency, for happier patients and clients.

The Benefits of Cross Training

Just as cross training in the workout sense combines different exercise actions in order to achieve a specific fitness goal, cross-training among your veterinary team combines different skills in different areas to better serve the patient.  The benefits from cross-training aren’t reserved for the patient alone. Everyone can share in the rewards.

Pinching pennies:  As we hit on before, cross-training helps to ensure that absences are no big deal in the grand scheme of the clinic running smoothly.  It also helps to save you money. If one of your team members is taking an extended leave, whether for educational purposes, maternity leave, or anything at all, you will be less likely to have to hire a replacement.  Shifting your already existing team members around can cover that gap without costing an additional paycheck.

Team morale:  It’s no secret that performing the same duties day in and day out can get mundane at best.  If it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, then that hour number ten thousand and one might be excruciatingly boring for any of your team members.  Cross-training allows them to dip a toe in or dive headfirst into something new. They can increase their skill set and expand their knowledge into nearly every corner of veterinary medicine, hopefully bringing some excitement back into their work life.  We all know that feeling of being stuck in the job you’re in, like you’re not moving forward. Cross-training your employees can give them the momentum to move out of that rut and find happiness in their current job instead of looking for more fulfilling work elsewhere.

Not only will cross-training increase your team member’s overall job satisfaction and knowledge, it will help them to gain appreciation for other team member’s roles.  Maybe Sally didn’t realize that Bridgett’s main job as the grooming aid, keeping the patient’s teeth off of the groomer’s arm, was so hard and required so much attention.  Sally used to think that Bridgett just got to stand around and pet critters all day. With cross training, everyone can gain new respect for other’s duties firsthand.

Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency:  When your team members are cross trained to know how to perform other jobs besides those designated to them, your efficiency is going to sky rocket.  They will be able to help out in areas that they couldn’t have before when appointments get busy. Let’s say that before cross-training only veterinary technicians knew how to set up for radiographs.  But what happens when both techs are busy and an assistant is left standing around? Rather than waiting for the technicians, cross training will allow that assistant to step in and set up so the radiograph can be taken and the patient can be on his way to getting medication for his bronchitis.   

Unearth hidden talents:  Cross-training may also reveal hidden talents in your team members that you or maybe even they didn’t know where there.  It could turn out that your kennel cleaner has great customer service skills and can multitask better than most. Plus, with her flexible schedule she can cover the first two hours of the morning for the receptionist so that she can take her kids to school.

Where to Begin?

So you’re on the cross-training …train, but actually getting cross-training started in your clinic may seem a bit daunting.  Obviously with new hires it should be implemented as part of their training process. You can still hire for specific positions, but have new hires learn all reasonable duties as well as what they will be mainly focused on.

For those seasoned employees, cross-training can happen in a couple of different ways.  One way is to start with team and individual meetings. You will want to have members describe their duties as they see them.  You as the veterinarian or practice manager will also want to describe each team member’s duties and write up a collaborative definition to have on file.

Next, have team members tell you what they feel are their individual strengths and weaknesses as well as their goals.  Take some time of your own to look at what you view as their strength and weaknesses. You can then try to cross-train different team members in different positions that fit with these values.

Another approach is to cross train everyone in every position.  This means technicians as kennel workers and receptionists as assistants, within legal limits of course.  This method may take a bit more time in order to get everyone through all of the different positions.

Cross-training No-no’s.

Whichever cross-training method you choose, it’s important to discuss it with your team first.  Let them know what they’ll be doing and why. Cross-training isn’t meant to be a form of upheaval or a way to devaluing your team.  Most members should find it exciting and really bring them together as a cohesive unit. You may still find that some team members are perfectly happy with their role and don’t want to change it up.  That’s fine too as long as others know how to step into that position if the need arises.

Always double check with your team members on their comfort zone, especially if you’re trying cross-training method #2.  It may turn out that the receptionist has a fear of cat bites and would therefore not work out as a good assistant. You also don’t want anyone doing something that isn’t comfortable for them.  After all, most of the times that you’ll really be counting on cross-training is when things are stressful.

Don’t forget about the veterinarians!  It never hurts for vets to remember how to run a fecal or to check a client in when in a pinch.  Vets often appreciate mixing it up from time to time as well.

When it comes to cross-training your team members, take a lesson from a small veterinary clinic.  Often these clinics consist of a veterinarian and one or two other members. The veterinarian doubles or triples as the technician and receptionist while the others man the office, cleans the kennels, and restrain animals.  Everyone can pitch in when and where they are needed and absences can be covered by the other member. Clients and patients are still well cared for, efficiency is high, and everybody wins.

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