This year’s Western Veterinary Conference, in my adopted home town of Las Vegas, is a great time to catch up with old friends, former colleagues, and new friends who I had only met online.

One of the conversations that I had over a very nice dinner, was with a former colleague wanting to know about my world – the world of practice management – and how to start down that path.

This was more difficult than I imagined – mostly because my own route into office management / practice management / hospital administration was so accidental. I therefore thought; “there is a good idea for a series of blog posts if ever I heard one,” and so here we are!

Because my world is the world of veterinary medicine and practice management this series will concentrate mostly there. However, it is my hope that this series, much like my blog in general, will also work for anyone in a relatively small business looking to move from the trenches into management.

A Brief Recap

Before entering the world of veterinary medicine I had a very successful career in the world of entertainment lighting (theater, television, events, etc.). Within that pretty specialized and small world I worked in London’s West End as an electrician, a Company Manager (someone who corals actors and worries about when the show is going to close), a touring production manager, a console programmer and operator, sales and technical support for lighting suppliers, marketing of lighting products, and ultimately an industry writer and commentator.

After being in the industry for almost 20 years I decided I wanted a compete change. I moved to Arizona and took a job in a tiny veterinary clinic to keep myself busy, feed my DVD habit, and allow me time to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I really enjoyed working in a veterinary hospital and it seemed I was well liked there too by both the doctor and the other staff. When the office manager announced that she was moving, on a few months after I had arrived, my name was suggested as a possible replacement. The rest, as the very overused saying goes, is history.

I knew a little about veterinary medicine, some things about people management, not near as much as I would have liked about financial matters, and almost nothing about human resources. I did know about marketing and customer service, and I knew what I hated about going to the vet with my dogs. Mine in not a path I would recommend for everyone, and I made a lot of mistakes. However, I feel I have been at this long enough that I have some insights about getting to where I am and how others can get there too. If they want to!

Terminology

One of the things that is very annoying about my job, is that I am routinely described by titles other than the one on my business card and employment agreement.

Officer Manager

The generally accepted definition of an office manger is of a reception supervisor who also may handle scheduling and other areas such as accounts receivable. More than a lead receptionist in other words, but less than a practice manager.

Practice Manager

A Practice Manager oversees all the areas of hospital in addition to reception, may also handle payroll and other human resource functions.

Hospital Administrator

The job of a hospital administrator is one of having overall finacial and management responsibility for all areas of the the whole hospital, with the direction and supervision of the owners.It may also include all the functions of an office manager and practice manager. They will be involved in the hiring process for doctors and may also have supervisory responsibilities over them. There will also be a significant strategic and planning element to their function.

In all likelihood, managers start as office managers and then progress to practice management and then hospital administration. There is not right or wrong way, however, as long as the needed skills and / or experience are there. It should also be noted that all hospitals are different. I have effectively been a hospital administrator at three different practices and my job and responsibilities has been different at each.

Education

I am a big believer in education. That might sound strange coming from someone who hates actually taking classes themselves and does not have a degree. The bottom line is that your life will be easier with a degree and more doors will open with an MBA. Trust me I know from experience. It is not impossible to be successful without those things it is just harder. If you are planning on learning a lot of new skills, whether as DVM interested in practice ownership, or a technician or receptionist looking to get into managment, you may as well get some letters after your name for the effort.

Becoming a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager (CVPM) is a qualification designed for the job at hand. Several times I have considered getting the qualification myself. If you are having problems as a new practice manager, or making the move from office management to practice management, this qualification is for you.

If formal education is not an option, or just not you, then CE, CE, CE. Continuing education wherever you can get it: online, locally or nationally. It all helps. Speaking of which…

Get Help

I would not be the Hospital Administrator I am now, and would not have the career that I have had, if it was not for my local hospital managers association whose meetings I attended every month while I was in Arizona. Being able to meet with other mangers, find common ground, and being able to talk issues out that you might be having was incredibly useful. If you don’t have a local managers group look for other business groups, including the chamber of commerce, that might be able to help support you. It is a cliche but still true – it really is lonely at the top.

Resources

Throughout this series I plan to give some reading suggestions. The two books below tackle the difficult issues of enthusing others about your ideas, and how to make things change. One of my current favorite sayings that keeps rattling around in my head is “As a manager it does not matter how good your ideas are; it is your ability to implement them that matters.”

I have reviewed both these books before and other than providing a very basic introduction I have just provided links to the reviews. As always, clicking on the pictures will take you to Amazon and where Amazon may give me a tiny percentage to help my book buying habit.

“Made to Stick – Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip & Dan Heath

The title pretty much says it all: not all ideas are created equal and how we present things can have a dramatic impact on whether ideas take hold or not. You can read more here.

“Switch – How to Change Things when Change is Hard” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

You’ll note that both these books are written by the same pair of authors and therefore they work perfectly together as the two sides to the same coin. You can read more here. These books are, at their core, about the nature of communication. If you can’t communicate as a manager then you can’t manage.

For those who are looking to get into management I’d love to hear from you, and for those who are already there I’d love to hear how you got there. Comment away!

Next Time – Part 2: Time to Focus

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