Inside AAHA July 2023

Adam Hechko, DVM, AAHA’s immediate past president, talks about the challenges of staffing and recruitment. The Community answers the question of how you handle a scared or skittish patient.

View from the Board

Invest in Your Team

Many practices have experienced challenges with staffing throughout the past few years. Demand for veterinary services continues to remain strong, and finding veterinarians, credentialed technicians, and support staff continues to be a high priority. While it will likely be some time before we will find a surplus of team members, there are strategies to consider when focusing on staff retention. Making changes within your practice and how your leadership team operates can help improve employee retention and morale. While multifaceted, considering these few steps can get you on the road to encouraging tenure within your team.

Create a culture that brings together the practice’s mission with each person’s reason for working. Start with scheduling a team meeting for each person in the practice to share their reason for choosing veterinary medicine. Using this, you can develop a list of goals and opinions of the team and help them connect this to their personal reason for working in veterinary medicine. Finding ways to connect their “why” with the mission and then focusing on individual strengths promotes a greater purpose for work and reduces burnout. This could be someone who loves social media and starts managing the practice Facebook and Instagram or someone who is passionate about preventive care and wants to develop a program. They can educate others and help them see how this aligns with their reason for working in the veterinary field, therefore improving both care for our patients and enjoyment while working.

Evaluate how your leadership team operates in your practice. According to some reports, as many as 50% of employees leave a job because of a bad manager or leader. A good manager or leader does not dictate every action or micromanage every part of a team member’s job. Great leaders guide by coaching employees in the right direction through support, advice, and setting goals that bring the mission of the practice and an individual’s reason for working in veterinary medicine together. This encourages both autotomy and a culture of collaboration, and improves care for pets.

Consider mentorship and opportunities for personal and professional development. A great culture starts with a strong onboarding process; however, continued opportunities for learning are key to strengthening a practice. Monthly meetings can be an opportunity to bring in experts and presenters who focus on topics such as communication, stress management, and medicine, therefore strengthening both the soft skills and technical skills. Simply providing access to continued education and training must be followed with a culture that encourages the utilization of these resources. Continued improvements and opportunities for growth with team members not only supports the practice’s mission but also helps them in their lives outside the office.

As you consider your next investment in recruiting new team members, take a retrospective look at your practice and ask yourself if you could be investing more to retain rather than recruit new team members. You may keep someone from becoming another statistic and leaving our amazing profession.

P. Adam Hechko, DVM, is AAHA’s immediate past president. He grew up in Columbia Station, Ohio, and went on to the University of Findlay to complete his undergraduate degree in preveterinary medicine. He is a proud graduate of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and an avid Buckeye fan. He owns a seven-doctor veterinary practice just south of Cleveland Ohio. His practice was named AAHA Practice of the Year among North American hospitals in 2015. Hechko has three children, Alexander, Benjamin, and Catherine. His wife, Dr. Jen, is a pediatric dentist.



This month in AAHA’s Publicity Toolbox . . .

Here are the downloadable social media images available for AAHA-accredited members at this month:Pub-tlxbox.jpg

  • National Lost Pet Prevention Month
  • July 4: Independence Day
  • July 15: Pet Fire Safety Day
  • July 22: AAHA-Accredited Hospital Day
  • July 31: National Mutt Day



Q: “How do you handle a scared
or skittish patient?”

Does anyone have any tips or advice for alleviating stress for both owner and animal during appointments? We have had a few nervous patients lately, which ultimately creates more anxiety for owners while also leaving our staff more susceptible to unpredictability and potential injury.

A: We follow many of the Fear Free tricks like snacks and warm towels. But if we have one that we know is going to have issues, we stop and send the client with a “Fear of Veterinary Visits” handout. It goes over many different things we can try. It also has a spreadsheet for our “Chill” Protocol. The spreadsheet is made so that when we go to print it out we can adjust the patient’s weight and it will calculate the doses of medications. Also having a confident Dr./tech team is great as they will know how to work together to get the job done.

A: Better living through chemistry! Number one reason for “fractious” behavior is fear (give anxiolytics) and number two reason is pain (give pain relief) and have them come back another day. If it’s an emergency, sedate for care. Make it safer for everyone, even if you have to comp the sedation. Sedating a pet is cheaper than a worker’s comp hospital bill for an injured staff member.

AAHA members, add to the conversation at For help, email [email protected].

The Shared Journey Toward Excellence

Change is inevitable. But excellence, growth, and continuous improvement? Those are choices.

Change can feel like it happens to you, without you, and even despite you. But taking a path of continuous improvement is a personal decision.

For 90 years, AAHA has been a partner and a helping hand to those who embark on the journey of continuous improvement, and it all starts with your earnest desire to provide the best care possible.

AAHA doesn’t exist because of the standards or guidelines we make.

AAHA exists because of your dedication to a journey toward excellence.

And that means we must change—so you aren’t on the path alone while the world changes around you. Yes, we’ve been a partner to veterinary practices for 90 years. The next 90 will require our own dedication to continuous improvement, just like you.

We’re making strides—some obvious, and some behind the scenes—to ensure AAHA simplifies your journey toward excellence, whenever you decide to reach out for that helping hand. A few examples include:

People: We are people-first and are building our team to support yours. Not only are we hiring new people and structuring our teams to be better for you, but we’ve designed and dedicated ourselves to a team-based culture that has improved our own employee Net Promoter Score by almost 100 points in the last three years. Our teams are the foundation of our collective journey toward excellence.

IT: We’re building a completely new IT infrastructure to improve your experience with the process of accreditation, using and applying the AAHA standards, and the online learning and content we offer you and your team.

Guidelines: AAHA’s guidelines are the most downloaded content on our website. That’s only one of several telling statistics, so we’ve invested significantly in our capacity to create new guidelines, update existing ones, and develop toolkits that help you implement them in your practice.

Certificates: We’ve launched the first AAHA Guidelines Certificate programs, with many more on the way, to empower and encourage your teams to grow and develop in areas they’re passionate about.

AAHA Benchmarking+: Our intention is to democratize access to the insights that help you continuously improve. So we’ve invested in AAHA Benchmarking+ to create a live, safe, easy to use and apply, and low-to-no-cost benchmarking service for members. We believe that when you contribute your data to any benchmark product like AAHA Benchmarking+, you should get something of significant value in return. At AAHA, our goal with benchmarking is solely to simplify your journey of continuous improvement.

Those are just a few of our improvements. We’re also creating a curriculum to support the process of accreditation, investing in a new-and-improved annual conference called AAHA Con, and delivering accreditation for groups of practices so they can learn from each other while they experience the process.

We’re here for you. We’re here because of you. On your journey toward excellence, just reach out. We’re here.

Garth Jordan, AAHA CEO




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