Somewhere along the way, good veterinary team members figure out that one of the most important components of our jobs is
to be a teacher. We teach clients how to take care of their pets, what signs to watch for, how to use ear ointments or trim
toenails. We teach coworkers and employees how to do their jobs, use our equipment, explain our recommendations. We mentor,
we coach, we train, we nag, we educate. In fact, we spend an immense amount of time at it. Today's successful veterinary practice
can only thrive with well-trained team members. Staff training needs to be both effective and ongoing.
Unfortunately, just because we do it a lot doesn't mean we do it well. Most of us weren't trained to be teachers, we sort
of fell into the trap without realizing it. We struggle every day with issues connected to this – how to train new employees,
how to mentor new associates, how to get our clients to comply with our recommendations. Training people and managing people
are complex, time-consuming and expensive.
There are two basic types of learning in a veterinary hospital. These are medicine, meaning the technical skills we need to
have, what we do and how we do it and also the facts, figures and information to deliver to clients and utilize in patient
care. The other type of learning includes everything else – communication, teamwork and customer service.
There are 3 ways that we can do training: individual training, small group training and general team meetings. Team meetings
are all about keeping up with new knowledge, refreshing what's old, solving problems or planning projects. This lecture focuses
on the individual training piece.
Before that new employee even starts you should have a training plan roughed out. Your plan should be based on where you need
proficiency the fastest, who has time to train the new person and when, and what the person already knows. For example, I
have had several employees come to work for me after working at our local humane society. They didn't have much training in
customer service or communication, but they already knew how to restrain an animal for an exam or treatment, how to clean
a cage and how to administer medications. I tend to start those employees in the back of the hospital where they will quickly
feel competent and successful. Then I can move them slowly up front.
I may do the opposite with someone who has a lot of customer service experience. I'll put them at the front desk with the
receptionist team, even if they are training to be an exam room assistant, and they quickly learn how to use the computer
system, check clients out and keep the front area clean. I have found that I am much more successful if I give someone a small
piece of the hospital to deal with at a time at first. That lets me focus on a few readily attainable skills, so they get
up and running faster.
I also will explore a bit to find out who their trainer should be. I try to match the new person with an experienced employee
whose personality style and rate of speed are complementary to theirs. I try not to pair my receptionist who talks fast, moves
fast and jumps from one thing to the next with a new person whose style is more laid back. Even if the fast talker is a better
match as far as skills I can always cross train later for what they miss. I want the new team member to have a buddy who she
gets along with from the start. Just because a team member knows how to perform a function doesn't mean they should be a trainer.
Your staff is your biggest asset. They deserve good teachers! If someone doesn't like training or isn't a patient communicator,
they probably shouldn't be teaching anyone.
It's important to ensure that you have a plan for not only the training but the legal logistics of hiring. We have a protocol
for the hiring process that is followed at the time of hiring. It lists each form that needs to be filled out, how to do it
and where to put it once it's done – W-4 form, work permit, legal identification verification, etc. It spells out how to start
an employee file, what goes in it and where it goes. OSHA requirements, give them an office manual, who gets keys to the building
are also in it.
Most hospitals have a small number of employees wearing many hats, and HR is one of them. This protocol makes sure nothing
slips through the cracks and you won't find yourself with a kennel caretaker who's been with you a month and you still don't
have a work permit for them or they never did their OSHA training.
So, the employee gets their office manual at the time they start or, preferably, beforehand. In it is a section entitled FIRST
WEEK ON THE JOB. To make this list you just need to walk through the clinic and make a room by room list of things that they
should know – very simple things, like where to park (not in the best spot right in front of the door), where to hang your
coat and put your purse, where to find another employee's phone number, etc. It's amazing how much we know that we take for
granted and it never occurs to us to let someone else in on the secrets.
Next, we schedule an orientation with our OSHA coordinator, and make sure the new team member gets their OSHA materials. When
we have more than one new employee we try to have a little class instead of an individual session.
Where to from there? Let's look at a new employee who has little or no veterinary experience who is coming to work at your
hospital. Where and how do you begin? I believe that before you can start training you need to have some idea of what knowledge
base and experience you have to work with and design a program specific to that employee. One size rarely fits all. Teachers
know, too, that different people have different learning styles and will do better if information is presented to them in
the way that they learn best.
Whoever we have designated the trainer/mentor for the newbie usually has a meeting with me, or me and the practice manager,
to prioritize the training from here on out. Sometimes I'll tab and label an office manual for the order of topics to cover
in individual training sessions. (Our manual has protocols for almost everything we do, some of which should be covered in
the short term and others, like how to put a food order together, she may never need to do.) We plan time for individual training
in both of their schedules, so they can sit down together and do information dumps. We also make list of tasks the new staff
member can do on their own, and update it every couple of weeks.
What does the listener have to do to take information away? In general, if all we do is listen to someone explain something
to us 48 hours later we will only remember 10% of what we heard. This is the most common form of training in most hospitals
but it is the least effective. If we read something we remember 30%. If we take notes we can increase that to 50%, which is
why I require my trainees to have a notebook and to use it. Teaching or telling someone else what you learned gets you up
to 75%, which is what makes role playing and the Socratic method so effective. If a student is asked for an answer or is asked
to repeat something back or rephrase it as if talking with a client, he or she will remember that information much better.
The best way to learn is to use the information right away. Actually doing something is possible with hands-on training such
as how to run a test on your in-house chemistry machine but it doesn't work well for theoretical or in-depth medical knowledge.
Role playing, scripts, cue cards and cheat sheets help to get people from knowing something to doing something with that information,
which is the most important step.
Visual people do best reading about a subject. Most of us learn more and faster reading than hearing information, but some
do better when told than if they read it. Kinesthetics like to learn hands on. They rarely learn well until they have done
something for themselves. This works well for skills like putting in catheters but not so well if you want that employee to
memorize exam room scripts. We try to utilize more than one type of training material – for instance, an interactive CD on
safety in the veterinary hospital and our procedures manual. We assign CE materials for each employee over the first few months,
depending on their experience level. The Brain Likes Pictures and stories, and it Dislikes Words. With any teaching that you
do, think of an image to fit your message, use visual materials, relate information to specific patients or tell a story that
illustrates the information.