As the Owner of High Street Veterinary Surgery, Jocelyn has a hands-on, day-to-day experience in today’s veterinary marketplace. She understands the complexities of running a profitable practice whilst having an excellent lifestyle for herself and every team member. Seeing the gap in the market from her years of experience. She founded Smooth Operating Vets. Which advocates positive change in veterinary workplace systems in order to keep staff happy and retain fantastic veterinarians in the clinical space. Given the majority of the workforce are now or projected to be predominantly female, this means unique or different career structures.
A predominantly female workforce in the veterinary industry
According to Labour Market Insights (Australia), 67% of the workforce is female 1 with a very similar statistic for the United Kingdom at 61%. 2 There’s an even higher percentage (around 80%) of graduates and the profession where it’s becoming increasingly feminised.
So whilst this is a good indicator of “closing” the gender gap from a recruitment point of view, realistically there is still an equality issue. The structures which have been previously male dominated, where policies, processes and working hours for example no longer cater to today’s environment and for female employees.
It is a fact that women have unique career structures. Whilst more women are not having children, whether by choice or circumstance, there’s still a majority that are primary caregivers and hence workplaces need to accommodate to this. Not to mention the liberty that all genders deserve. People should not be overworked, overburdened or stressed. New career plans must be incorporated into practice to reduce the loss of vets from our profession. This will help address the top challenges in today’s clinic’s: the global veterinary shortage and mental health crisis.
In this episode, Jocelyn and I discuss how practices can do this. With her accolades, experience and wisdom, we dive deep. She’s been able to successfully manage change well in her own high street practice with new insights and ideas.
“Where women are having children, we need to have the space and time that will cater to this. We can be pushed out of the profession and the system, where we have a deep wealth of gifts, experience and knowledge that we do indeed bring to our profession. We’re so valuable – let’s show that we value our employees.”
The link between the global veterinary shortage, female workforce and staff retention
Jocelyn reminds us that whenever we read about the global veterinary shortage, it’s always linked to stress. Also poor working conditions, unacceptable hours and inadequate financial rewards.
“If you look at the workforce surveys and graphs over time, it has been exacerbated through the compounding of these effects. Before the 1980’s, the majority of vets were male. Now that this has flipped and the majority of the workforce is female, there has been no consideration made towards the conflicting role that she has inherited due to society’s expectation of being a mother and being a vet 24/7.”
Laid out like this, Jocelyn makes a powerful statement and it helps us realise, for women this has been a major contributor to poor work/life balance. It’s not possible to be healthy with the expectations of looking after children at home and overworking at the clinic. Even for those who don’t have children, vets, as human beings deserve a quality of life where they can enjoy the pleasures of it. Including having downtime and to actually enjoy life. It’s okay to say:
“I want to travel and do sport and not work, work, work.”
Changes you can consider that can help you better manage your practice
At Jocelyn’s five-vet clinic, they’ve made it possible for all their vets to work part-time if needed. As an all-female practice, many of them have children. They make the hours suitable for them. So there are shifts covered to be able to cater to customers as well as see to the needs of the staff.
By listening to your people, it will open up a whole raft of new ideas that you can implement in your practice. It’s something continually advised in many of our episodes in Paws, Rewind and Play. In particular, our episode with Kay Ritchie, a Veterinary Recruiter. Performance development reviews can uncover new ideas, value employees and improve retention, motivation and satisfaction.
In this episode with Jocelyn, she highlights that it’s as simple as asking the vets what hours suits them and discovering the days/times best for staff.
“We work it out together so that it’s a mutual agreement, rather than a list of demands from staff. You’re not allowing them to dictate how you run your business, but you are listening to them and taking on board some ideas. This is much more productive and healthy from the business, as from the get-go, it’s set up smoothly, removes any friction or dislike and everyone is happy.”
Like any relationship, there is a compromise, not a sacrifice. It works for all parties, if your practice listens and works collaboratively together.
Jocelyn’s clinic also pays by the hour. The rationale for this:
“is because if we pay by salary, there’s this expectation that they can just work any and over hours, whereas if its per hour, it’s a true reflection of actual hours and is fair to everyone. After hours and weekends are paid really well and we have a nurse on standby, so customers call up the nurse if they need a hand with anything. The double benefit is that the client is happy because the animal is well looked after and there’s no stress amongst the staff.”
Whilst this may not work for multi-site or large clinics, it certainly may be suitable for smaller one-site clinics. Of course, it’s all down to regional and local regulation around contracts and pay. It’s worth consulting business and financial advice on this.
Four additional ideas from Jocelyn
1. Share afterhours with another clinic, so time is compacted and not long for the participating staff. When staff are on call, they’re not waiting around, they’re likely to get calls and they enjoy this experience because
“it’s challenging, yet they’re learning, they’re supported, get paid well and develop a bond/relationship building with clients.”
2. Tag-team: As no vet at Jocelyn’s clinic is full time, it’s important to work out the shifts with each other that suits everyone’s lifestyle’s. Her example is
“On a weekend, someone will do Friday, another will do Friday night, someone else Saturday and another on Sunday, then back to routine on Monday.”
This enables her as an owner, to cater to her staff’s needs and provide the work/life balance that a modern workplace should value.
3. Have contingency plans/ processes/ templates in place: Ensure you have a knowledge hub in place e.g. if a snake-bite or skin-rash comes in, there should be a process or protocol there about what tests need to happen, how to administer the serum and who the nurse or vet needs to call if an emergency. A logical sequence with synced estimates and invoices makes it easier for staff and customers to follow seamlessly. There’s no staff running around aimlessly looking for knowledge or taking up time trying to understand what to do. This setup enhances staff belonging, job performance, and maintains satisfaction and retention.
4. Listen more: Jocelyn reminds us
“When we look at supply and demand, we haven’t got a great supply of vets, so we need to listen to what they actually want. And when we do, they just come up with the most amazing answers, dare I say profitable. Young minds are so innovative and put things together really well. We should use this intelligence and abilities they have. Let them bring your gifts to you and your clinic. Value it.”
Using technology to facilitate your communication and collaboration between staff
As Jocelyn indicates in her episode, technology can facilitate this. Collaboration is important during handovers and shift work, allowing vets and nurses to leave notes for immediate understanding of what has happened. Your practice management system should be able to assist on this. In Ascend, our own cloud-based solution, check out our two-minute Quick Tour on collaboration and communication between staff members to see how this can work in action for many different scenarios.
You can also use technology to provide the seamless workflows that help’s a vet or nurse do their job better and deal with the tasks at hand in a logical way.
To learn more from Jocelyn, who is an award-winning thought-leader, dive into her episode today!
 Source: Labour Market Insights, Veterinarians Code ANZOSCO ID2347: Overview, April 2023
 Source: British Veterinary Association