Inside AAHA, November 2023

AAHA president-elect Mark Thompson, DVM, CCRP, challenges you to ask yourself: “Are you thriving?” And if you own a practice, are you empowering your employees to thrive? The Community asks for some effective ways to communicate with staff.

View from the Board

Are You Thriving?

The time I have spent on the AAHA Board of Directors has been one of the best experiences of my life. I have met a lot of great individuals who are leaders in our profession. In addition, I have had the opportunity to serve on all AAHA’s committees. One of the surprising things I learned was that not all practices are thriving. Thriving at work means the person is energized to grow and develop, creating a positive work environment. Everyone may have different gauges to measure their level of thriving, but in general, vitality and learning are considered the key markers of thriving at work. The first marker, vitality, is the feeling of excitement one has for their work. The second thriving marker is learning; it is the feeling of getting better at work and acquiring new knowledge. The balance between how energized a person is and their feeling of self-improvement is key to improving the level of thriving at work.

There are many strategies to support employees to thrive at work. Practices can help people thrive at work by providing opportunities to make decisions that affect their work, by sharing information about the organization and its strategies, by decreasing inconsiderate or uncivil interactions, by offering performance feedback, and by encouraging diversity.

In my practice, I implement the first strategy of offering my employees the ability to make decisions. It gives them a powerful sense of control and ownership of their work. For example, we use our AAHA accreditation to help people know what is expected and empower them to be an active part of patient and client care. Using the AAHA accreditation standards, we are able to share information about the organization and strategize to align the goals of everyone in the practice. In addition, an environment that encourages positive relationships between people will increase the feeling of value in an organization. We regularly have performance evaluations, reducing the uncertainty and stress, as well as reinforcing goals to maintain our high standards. Finally, we openly support diversity to promote a culture of trust and respect.

Practices should want a thriving workplace because it has been shown to increase the mental and physical health of the employee. One study found that employees are 32% more committed to the organization, 46% more satisfied with their job, and 125% less burned out within a thriving workplace. Also, their physical health improved, reporting fewer doctor visits, fewer physical complaints, and 74% fewer missed workdays. Therefore, an organization can improve their productivity and profitability.

Related to the topic of thriving, a deep concern I have is when I hear that clinics use AAHA as a once every three-year evaluation that the team must endure. I choose to use our standards of accreditation as a tool to improve our practice every single day. This growth mindset for us has made our evaluation process a way for the staff to showcase what we do every day. If you truly “walk the walk” of AAHA accreditation every day, you and your staff can thrive.

AAHA President-elect Mark Thompson, DVM, CCRP, is owner of Country Hills Pet Hospital in Wisconsin.


This month in AAHA’s Publicity Toolbox . . .Teaser_Nov23_IA_Pubtbx.jpg

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

  • Pet Cancer Awareness Month
  • Pet Diabetes Month
  • November 3: Daylight Saving Time
  • November 11: Veterans Day
  • November 23: Happy Thanksgiving



What are some of the most effective ways to communicate with staff?

We currently use Slack for staff communications. Do any of you have a good way of knowing whether employees have read/received messages without everyone responding or annoying everyone with all the messages? Any help is greatly appreciated.

A: We do written or posted memos that everyone has to sign along with designating department leads that are responsible for their teams.

A: Each staff member at my practice has chosen a unique emoji to serve as their “signature.” When they have read a post, they react to it with their emoji, and I know they’ve seen it.

A: We use a text thread for all team members. If some aren’t responding on the thread, some of the other team members will poke at them on thread for them to respond.

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Collaboration with Specialists Expands Spectrum of Options in General Practice

by Kate Boatright, VMD

GettyImages-1167600002.jpgVeterinary specialists are often sought out when a client wants to pursue advanced levels of care, including diagnostics or treatments that may not be available in a general practice setting. The vast knowledge that specialists have in their respective fields can bring great value to a case and improve patient outcomes.

But this positive impact is not isolated to cases where patients are physically seen by specialists. Opportunities for collaboration between specialists and generalists are growing in the virtual world where we now live.

Collaboration Can Expand the Spectrum of Care

Often when generalists are reaching out for virtual or phone consultations from specialists, it is because the owners can’t or don’t want to pursue referral. Barriers to referral are multifactorial and may include finances, the availability of a specialist, and the ability or willingness of the client to travel to a specialty hospital.

Kate Baker, DVM, MS, DACVP (Clinical Pathology), founder of VetHive (, has spent the last several years exploring ways to collaborate with and educate general practice veterinarians about cytology. “While it would be wonderful to send all of your [cytology] to a pathologist, that’s not reality,” she said.

As a specialist herself, Baker understands that specialists may have concerns about making recommendations outside of the traditional “gold standard.”

“Sometimes you might ask yourself, am I doing [the general practitioner] a disservice by telling them to do something that’s not gold standard?” she stated, mentioning that some veterinarians may have concerns about their own liability.

“Sometimes, it’s hard to take yourself out of your norm of what you’re able to do and put yourself into another situation. “I get it,” Baker said, “But I think we have to, as a profession, move past that.”

She encourages specialists to educate their colleagues on what the ideal is, but also share recommendations of “Here’s what I would do if I were in your position.” Baker noted that “there’s nothing wrong with answering that question.”

In other cases, an owner may be willing to pursue advanced options but wants their primary veterinarian to perform a particular procedure or test. This could lead to a generalist questioning, “Is somebody going to criticize me for even trying this?” said Baker. “And that is where that support from colleagues, including specialists, is so important. Because GPs can do so much,” she continued. “We all have that ability to grow in our own knowledge and skills in any area we want. And that’s such a unique, really cool thing about vet med.”

When generalists and specialists work together, new diagnostic and treatment options may become available for patients whose owners are unable to pursue referral.

Meet VetHive

Baker has loved teaching since her residency. While working at a diagnostic laboratory, she started an online forum through Facebook—the Veterinary Cytology Coffeehouse. As she explored ways to educate in a virtual environment, she felt called to create a community that would provide multispecialty, practical resources for generalists.

“There needed to be something different,” she said. “There needed to be something where people really felt comfortable coming and saying, ‘I need help on this.’ And really establishing those relationships, not just these one-off consults.” This idea sparked the founding of VetHive, which launched early in 2023.

VetHive is a virtual community available through a website and app that offers continuing education (CE) and access to specialists in 17 disciplines. While most are specialists in small animal disciplines, there are avian, exotics, large animal, and equine specialists available.

The same specialists who respond to case questions on the message boards provide CE lectures and resources for users, allowing the opportunity for more interaction and relationship building.

The community is founded on four pillars that include creating a culture of support, rejecting the ivory tower mentality, being authentic selves, and viewing veterinary medicine as a team sport. Baker knows that these are strong statements, but, she noted, “What we’re trying to do is not say ‘just refer.’ That’s just not helpful.”

Instead, specialists might say why a referral would be ideal but go beyond that sentiment and provide recommendations within the limitations of a given case. “All our specialists that are part of [VetHive] feel that way,” said Baker, “They will help as much as they can. Sometimes all of our hands are tied, but it’s that feeling of ‘I want to help.’”

“When you create that safe space and people do feel comfortable [asking questions], then what happens is that everybody gets to benefit from learning from that case,” said Baker. “It is so powerful, the collective learning that happens when people are sharing cases. … There’s so much opportunity for knowledge sharing. Not just specialists and vets, but vets to specialists and vets to vets.”

Nonjudgmental Collaboration is Key

When general practitioners approach specialist colleagues with case questions, they may be concerned about the potential to receive judgment. “Brand new graduate to seasoned veterinarian to specialist, we all ask ourselves, ‘should I know this?’” said Baker. She stressed the importance of nonjudgmental, empathetic communication on the part of specialists who are advising generalists on a case, regardless of how the communication occurs.

Baker encourages specialists “to be mindful of your words and your tone.”

For example, instead of saying “Why didn’t you run that test before calling me?,” a specialist might say, “Did you get a chance to do this?” or “Would they allow this?” Or “Did you think about this?” suggested Baker. “There’s a way to communicate those things without sounding [judgmental],” she said.

She encourages specialists to consider how a generalist might feel when asked a question about their case management and try to present things in a nonjudgmental way. Communicating in this way “takes more mental energy. But it’s so important,” Baker said. “It creates safety in that conversation.”

Respectful communication must go both ways. This mutual safety and respect are essential to the VetHive community. Seeing the collaboration in real time through VetHive excites Baker.

“It makes me hopeful that we can have this better experience in our own professional lives,” she said, “that we can really feel comfortable doing our jobs and knowing that we’re not alone in doing those jobs. And that goes for everybody. Not one particular subset of us.”

Kate Boatright, VMD, is a small animal veterinarian, speaker, and author in western Pennsylvania. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013 and has worked in rural small animal general practice and emergency clinics ever since. She is passionate about inciting positive change in the profession through mentorship and servant leadership in organized veterinary medicine. She writes a monthly column for NEWStat on the role of the spectrum of care in improving outcomes in clinical practice.

Photo credits: Yurich84/iStock via Getty Images Plus


7 Rules for a Gossip-Free Practice

by Jenn Galvin

Gossip and rumors might seem thrilling and juicy, but they plant negativity in your practice that can take over your mood, your staff’s morale, and the vibe you create around yourself. Here are some rules to keep the gossip at bay.

  1. Lead by example. When people see others refraining from gossiping, they are more likely to follow suit. I have two phrases in my toolbelt for this one. If you want no part of the idle gossip and just want to move on with your day, I recommend, “I have no opinion about that.” It stops the conversation, it’s a refusal to get involved, and it’s over.

    If it sounds like a genuine problem is the root cause of the gossip, and you feel like you can genuinely help the person, I recommend asking, “Can I help you come up with what to say to them?”

    This redirects the conversation in the most productive direction.

  2. Enforce clear expectations in a code of conduct. Incorporate clear guidelines and policies about gossip in the workplace’s code of conduct. Ensure that employees are aware of the consequences of engaging in this kind of behavior. Setting expectations creates a sense of responsibility and accountability among your team members.

    And, if an employee has been repeatedly spoken to about their behavior and refuses to change, it’s time to vote them off the island.

  3. Foster a positive environment. A workplace that promotes positivity reduces the likelihood of gossip taking root. Celebrate the heck out of achievements and acknowledge your team’s hard work openly. Encourage employees to appreciate each other’s contributions and build a sense of camaraderie. When employees feel valued and supported, gossip is less likely to find fertile ground.
  4. Talk, talk, talk. Often, gossip arises from miscommunication or a need for more information. Encourage open communication where employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns or seeking clarification. Establish regular team meetings and one-on-one sessions to address issues promptly and transparently.
  5. Offer conflict resolution training. Providing conflict resolution training equips employees with the necessary skills to handle disagreements and disputes constructively. When employees are confident in their ability to address conflicts directly, they are less likely to resort to gossip as an outlet for their frustrations.
  6. Provide channels for anonymous reporting. While open communication is vital, some employees will never feel comfortable coming forward with issues. Accept and embrace this by implementing anonymous reporting channels for employees to share their concerns.
  7. Give them empathy training. Organize team-building activities to strengthen bonds among employees. These activities encourage collaboration, empathy, and understanding among team members, reducing the likelihood of them speaking negatively about one another.
Jenn Galvin owns and manages Advanced Animal Care, a companion animal hospital located in Arizona. She has been in the veterinary industry for over 25 years, and she is a true nerd at heart, with a passion for staff development, inventory, and veterinary financials.


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