VMI: An experience unlike any other

AAHA’s Veterinary Management Institute (VMI) is a five-month virtual executive leadership program that brings finance, culture, and other relevant topics to life with superstar speakers and a supportive cohort of peers.

By Kristen Green Seymour

Is AAHA’s virtual Veterinary Management Institute the right move for your career?

“I was named technician manager but really had no one readily available to me in regard to mentorship or learning how to be an effective leader,” said Robert McCabe, a veterinary technician certified in both basic and advanced ultrasound.

Not only has he been a technician at Grady Veterinary Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, for 26 years (with three of them as technician manager), but prior to beginning his career in veterinary medicine, McCabe was in the United States Navy, completing two tours in the Persian Gulf and one deployment off the coast of Somalia.

Even that experience didn’t quite give him what he needed to be the leader he wanted to be for his team.

“I was doing what I thought was correct, but I have later learned through the VMI [AAHA’s Veterinary Management Institute] curriculum that I was not doing things as well as I thought,” he said.

What is the Veterinary Management Institute (VMI)?

McCabe joined VMI, a completely virtual five-month executive leadership program designed for experienced practice managers and owners, earlier this year because he wanted training in all aspects of management and leadership.

His only management training had been in the military and, he said, “I knew that leadership style wasn’t going to work.”

After completing VMI earlier this year, McCabe said, “I am so much better at what it means to be a leader in 2023 than I was beforehand.”

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VMI graduate Robert McCabe

But the culmination of VMI wasn’t the end of his journey. McCabe’s hospital has seen rapid growth, and his boss approached him about creating a human resources department.

“After finishing VMI, I knew that was the role for me, and I am now enrolled at Colorado Christian University to achieve the next step in my career.”

VMI sessions designed for busy veterinary professionals

McCabe’s VMI journey might be unique, but his enthusiasm for the program is shared by participants and facilitators alike.

“VMI is a learning experience unlike any other,” said Judy Rose Lanier, CVPM, CVA, DES, VEMM, AAHA’s learning programs manager. “We always want the information to be usable. We want them to go back into their practice and use what they’ve learned right away.”

“And the quality of speakers we have is unlike any other, with a combination of professors at [Colorado State University] along with subject matter experts in the veterinary field,” she said. “One of our speakers just did a project with Harvard Business Review and wrote a book!”

Because the program is a collaboration with CSU, Lanier said, they give homework, on which the cohort of peers provides feedback and support. But that doesn’t mean participants are assigned essays. “It’s more like, ‘Tell us how often you’re looking at profit and loss statements. Share that with the cohort so they can provide feedback,’” Lanier explained.

More finance talk—and a superstar speaker lineup

VMI always strives to provide content that’s fresh and up to date, this year’s lineup of speakers takes that to the next level.

“This year we brought back some favorites, and we’ve listened to our cohorts from the past who really wanted more finance.” Lanier said.

In addition to adding more finance, they’ve also added content on AI and inventory management. “It’s not about how to create an inventory management program,” she said, “but about how to have a successful inventory management program, which relates to finance.”

And, with an eye to the importance of treating both patients and people well, Lanier said they’ll be focusing a lot on culture, bringing back Josh Vaisman, MAPPCP (PgD), to talk about positive leadership. And, new for this year, VMI welcomes Temple Grandin, PhD, MS, who will talk about embracing neurodiversity in veterinary medicine.

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Josh Vaisman, MAPPCP (PgD) and Temple Grandin, PhD, MS 

Turning challenges into opportunity

The program design has evolved significantly since the pandemic, when (like so much of the world) it had to go remote.

“Originally, VMI was in-person and a 10-month program,” Lanier said. Students had to make several trips to Fort Collins, Colorado, (where CSU is located). And switching to a virtual format involved some growing pains.

But, she said, when the decision was made to take the program virtual permanently, that provided a real opportunity to craft an experience that kept the scheduling and self-care needs of those working in practice top of mind.

“What would be the most convenient and still give them a great learning experience?” Lanier said. “By doing it virtually, we’re able to have students log in one Saturday and Sunday morning a month; they’re generally done by noon or 1:00, depending on their time zones. We try not to be disruptive.”

This might not sound like a massive amount of in-person time, but it makes a big impact.

“When we do our virtual online programs on the weekends, we ask everyone to come on camera—and we’ve seen children grow up!” Lanier said. Participants build relationships with their cohort online, and Lanier can’t recall a VMI cohort ending when participants weren’t sad to say goodbye.

That was certainly McCabe’s experience.

“From the people that presented the different topics to meeting everyone once monthly, I feel I gained an incredible amount of information that I was able to apply quickly and efficiently to our practice,” he said. “I actually miss not seeing everyone!”

Register for VMI 2024

VMI 2024 classes begin February 10, 2024. Learn more about the program, see the schedule, get to know the speakers, and register today at aaha.org/vmi before prices increase on December 30, 2023.

Cover photo credit: © Magnetic-Mcc E+ via Getty Images Plus. Other photos courtesy of the individuals pictured.

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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