Inside AAHA: January 2021

AAHA’s president, Pam Nichols, DVM, proposes a new model for veterinary practices to consider in order to combat burnout and improve mental wellbeing. Also in this section, the new AAHA End-of-Life Care accreditation and Dear AAHA examines advance directives.

View from the Board

Time to Change Our Model

“The true mark of a leader is the willingness to stick with a bold course of action—even as the rest of the world wonders why you’re not marching in step with the status quo. In other words, real leaders are happy to zig while others zag.”—Bill Taylor

I know I am not alone when I say that I love what I do. I love leading and developing my crazy-talented team. I love making a difference in my patients’ lives, and I love talking about AAHA and what it has done for me and for my practices. I even enjoy a bit of change now and again.

The model of veterinary medicine that most of us know and have lived with is broken. The evidence is compelling and clear. We have a high rate of burnout. We have a high rate of suicide and depression. We have practice owners (including myself) who have sold their beloved practices to a corporation because the stress of ownership was too high, the return on investment was too low, and the life satisfaction was in the negative. So we need to change it! We need to zig while everyone else is zagging. We need to lead our profession in a different direction. We must be brave and stand tall while we do things differently, even when people around us think we are crazy.

Here is an example. During the pandemic, most practices (including mine) have been bursting with 15–20% growth. Burnout is by far the biggest topic on veterinary social media. Rather than keep my 2.5-doctor practice going at breakneck speed, in July 2020, our busiest month of the year, I decided to close on the weekends. To compensate, I added one full hour daily, making hours 7:30 to 5:30, Monday through Friday. You might say that was crazy, and it might have been, but the boost in morale was worth more money than I could ever make by being open on Saturdays. Now everyone gets two days off, in a row, every week. The bonus? I was able to hire another doctor (difficult at best), two new experienced technicians, and two new experienced receptionists. The reality is that no one wants to work on the weekends! Rather than complain about the lack of work ethic, I expect that everyone will work harder during the week to keep their weekends free.

Another concept worth challenging is the way we utilize our support team. I hear lip service about “maximum utilization” of the technical and reception staff, but I have not actually seen it practiced much. My new practice (Animal Care Daybreak) is team centered. It is not the Dr. Pam, Dr. Kolbaba, or Dr. Cassie show. Clients are equally or more bonded to other members of the team! My team members are carefully chosen paraprofessionals and are paid as such. Shared responsibility will truly lighten everyone’s load. My favorite saying is “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I pay more (a lot more) than anyone in my area (intentionally), and I expect a lot more. Thankfully, they rarely let me down! Perhaps 2021 is the year we can raise the bar for our teams. By giving more and expecting more from our teams, we will all have a better quality of life.

I wish you all a happy and prosperous new year, full of intentional (and maybe uncomfortable) change!

Pam Nichols
Pamela Nichols, DVM, CCRP, is AAHA’s president. She received her DVM from the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University in 1996 and her bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of Utah in 1987. Her background is varied and includes work as a financial consultant, veterinary technician, veterinary receptionist, and associate veterinarian. Nichols opened Animal Care Center in West Bountiful, Utah, in 1999 and the Animal Care Center Airport in 2014. They are both AAHA-accredited facilities. The K-9 Rehabilitation Center, which opened in 2002, was one of the first in the country of its kind.

New! AAHA End-of-Life Care Accreditation

It’s no secret that pet owners increasingly view their pets as family. Forty percent of surveyed owners said they would not return to a veterinary hospital where they had an unsatisfactory pet euthanasia experience. AAHA’s new End-of-Life Care accreditation will help veterinary practices elevate these services so patients and clients receive appropriate supportive and emotional care, further strengthening the human-animal bond during this often difficult time.

A task force consisting of AAHA’s Member Experience team and subject matter experts reviewed current traditional accreditation standards, including the 2016 AAHA/IAAHPC End-of-Life Care Guidelines. Kathleen Cooney, DVM, MS, CHPV, CCFP, founder of Home to Heaven and director of education for the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy, worked on the 2016 guidelines and led the 2020 task force to create new end-of-life care standards when differences from general practice standards were noted. Additional standards were created for unique methods of support and service related to end-of-life care.

Who is eligible for End-of-Life Care accreditation?

  • AAHA-accredited practices with a dedicated department committed to providing end-of-life care services. The dedicated department can be brick-and-mortar and/or mobile.
  • Practices not accredited by AAHA that are solely dedicated to providing end-of-life care services. The practice may be brick-and-mortar and/or mobile.

3 Steps to Become End-of-Life Care Accredited

  1. Contact your Member Experience team at eolcaccreditation@aaha.org for access to the End-of-Life Care standards.
  2. Apply by completing an End-of-Life Care accreditation agreement and paying the initial evaluation fee.
  3. Once you submit your agreement, begin preparing for your initial evaluation. Your accreditation specialist will follow up to schedule an evaluation date.

For questions or more information, please contact AAHA’s Member Experience team.


AAHA Advantage Annual Event and the “State of AAHA”

In November, AAHA Advantage hosted a virtual event for members, who received an update on the association from CEO Garth Jordan, and learned more about the rebates, discounts, and vendors participating in the AAHA Advantage program in 2021.

  • The only nonprofit veterinary purchasing organization 
  • Lower membership fees than other purchasing programs
  • Open to accredited and preaccredited members

Learn more.


Dear AAHA

Dear AAHA,

Does AAHA have any advice on how to incorporate advance directives into the surgery/drop-off process?

—Directives in Denver

Dear Directives,

AAHA doesn’t have specific templates for advance directives, but we encourage practices to develop their own forms for CPR/DNR to give clients who are dropping off patients for surgery or sedation, and in other appropriate situations, such as boarding. We know these can be tough conversations to have in the moment, so some practices incorporate these discussions into annual visit paperwork and renew once a year to have on hand for upcoming appointments. This can cut down on the stress of discussing such tough topics during a stressful event.

—AAHA’s Member Experience Team

Have a question you’d like AAHA to answer? Email us at dearaaha@aaha.org.


AAHA Forward!

In his “State of AAHA” talk, Garth Jordan, CEO, revealed that AAHA will be collecting stories from a variety of members throughout Spring 2021 to inform the association’s strategic planning. This human-centered approach is an effort to better provide value to members and contribute to the larger profession. Look for more details on AAHA’s strategic plan to emerge in the coming months!

Photo credits: Linda Raymond/iStock via Getty Images Plus, patpitchaya/iStock via Getty Images Plus

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