The impact of team and culture in finding meaningful work

Veterinary professionals who engage in meaningful work are more likely to stay in their current position according to AAHA’s “Stay, Please” retention study.

By Kate Boatright, VMD

To create an environment where meaningful work is prioritized, every team member must be used to their full potential and allowed to engage in the work that they find value in. This requires clinic owners and managers to be intentional about building their team and creating a positive culture. 

Be intentional about your team 

Christine Staten, DVM, MBA, is a large animal veterinarian and owner of Adobe Veterinary Center in Tucson, Arizona. She was drawn to veterinary medicine in part because she “could own a business and really provide for my community in a really tangible way by providing jobs.” Under her ownership, the hospital has grown from a two-doctor, ambulatory, large animal practice to an 11-doctor, mixed animal hospital that employs 55 team members.  

One of the essential parts of this growth was being very intentional about which individuals joined the team. She looks for people who have values in line with the clinic and will fit in with its culture. She says, “We need to figure that out in the interview. What do you want out of this job? What do you love about this career?”  

Team members should be encouraged to define what they find meaningful in their work, she says. “Helping animals is a great answer everyone has, but what does that look like on a daytoday basis?”  

This may be providing nursing care to a sick pet in the hospital, guiding a pet family through a difficult decision, making a pet’s last moments comfortable, or educating clients on preventive care. While the exact work that is most meaningful will vary for each individual, assembling a team that works well together is a critical component to improving retention. 

Give the team ownership in clinic culture 

Even the strongest team will fail unless the culture allows them to thrive. Staten encourages her team to take ownership in developing and upholding this culture.How is their job meaningful if they don’t have any say in it?” she challenges.  

Identifying practice priorities—often defined as a mission, vision, and values—is the first step.  

“Core values are a way to hold ourselves accountable,” says Staten, “They’re not just words on our wall.” Each year, every team member at Adobe is asked to score the clinic on how they are doing with meeting values and working toward goals.  

She asks the team to score each item like a report card, and if the clinic isn’t at an A level in a certain area, she encourages the team to present tangible ideas for improvement. 

Create opportunities for growth 

Finally, team members must be given opportunities for career advancement. This could be accomplished by encouraging team members to set goals for developing particular skills and providing the necessary tools and training to support this progression.  

For instance, a credentialed veterinary technician with a special interest in dentistry could be sent to a training focused on improving their dental radiology skills. A CSR who enjoys working with clients could be provided additional training on communicating about financial options to enhance these interactions 

Goals can also be set for the whole team to help improve patient care, client experiences, and team satisfaction.  

“I don’t think my team’s motivated [strictly] by financial goals, even if I can say, ‘Hey, if we hit this production goal, everyone gets a raise,” she says. It’s not motivating in a tangible way for them. If we say, How can we be more efficient to help more pets in our community?’ that’s a tangible outcome that they can really relate to. That improved efficiency translates into increased production and the opportunity for wage increases.” 

 Team members should also know how they can advance in the practice.  

“We have a path for career growth for every person in our building. They know exactly what needs to happen for them to get to the next pay tier or the next responsibility tier, she says. Additionally, team members are always made aware of any available positions and “know that they have the right to be in any of those positions.”   


This article is part of our Stay, Please series, which focuses on providing resources (as identified in our Stay, Please retention study) to retain the 30% of all veterinary professionals considering leaving their clinical practice. Here at AAHA, we believe you were made for this work, and we’re committed to making clinical practice a sustainable career choice for every member of the team. 


Photo credit: © AAHA/Mickey Thomas

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.




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