Many multi-doctor practices will likely face a situation where an associate or practice owner will need to take maternity leave during their employment. In a 2019 publication by the AVMA it was reported that women make up nearly 62% of practicing veterinarians in the United States. Of those veterinarians 29.3% were female practice owners in 2018. These statistics have likely increased in the last 2 years since the publication.
What does this mean for your practice? This means you will likely encounter times when your veterinary clinic will be understaffed and overworked (even more than it is now).
How can you make your hospital continue to run smoothly during this transition for the expectant mother? There are four ways to help ensure a pleasant maternity leave for all parties involved.
First of all, congratulate your employee and help them stay safe while they are still able to comfortably work. Next, have a frank discussion about expectations on how long they plan to take family leave, what happens with time off if there are any complications or bed rest requirements, and what their schedule will look like once returning to work. You should have this conversation as early as possible so that expectations can be set out. This will ensure that they are in line with employment contract terms (where applicable). Having a plan in place early will help with scheduling and getting the whole team prepared for changes.
Notify your clients of impending schedule changes if your doctor cannot see as many appointments or needs to restrict surgery times. It does not have to be an official pregnancy announcement, however just a general statement that there will be new scheduling changes that may affect appointment availability or wait times. Leading into our next tip, you should give your CSR’s tools to keep clients happy during this time.
Keep your team involved! The potential for less available appointments or longer wait times can bog down your daily practice flow. Give your veterinary technicians and assistants more responsibilities. You will do best by identifying their strengths and create roles that nurture those interests. For example: you have a client that enjoys puppy training. Give them the task of educating new puppy parents while they wait for the exam or diagnostics with each new puppy visit. Help them design standard new puppy education handout and interactions with each subsequent visit. Your clients will be impressed with the time taken to answer questions and add perceived value of the visit despite wait times.
Lastly, give your team a break! Hire a skilled and experienced relief veterinarian to keep your appointments open and available for your clients. Most veterinary hospitals will allow their clients to be seen for urgent care exams and annual exams even when there is not really time in the schedule. We are workaholics and do not want to let our patients suffer, but this makes our days long and the staff overworked.
Having a relief veterinarian to keep the continuity of care for your clients during the doctor’s maternity leave will ensure your staff is not burned out and keep your clients coming back. If you cannot financially keep a relief veterinarian on at the same hours as your associate, consider at least one day a week to give yourself (practice owner) a break. This will also prevent you from having to cut hours or close one day a week.
After setting up these four ideals for your clinic you will feel prepared to give your expectant mother the deserved break she needs. She does not need to worry about whether she will have a fulfilling, supportive job to come back to while getting to know their newborn. Your clinic can continue to thrive and grow while being without an essential associate veterinarian for the duration of their family leave.
Burns K. Census of veterinarians finds trends with shortages, practice ownership. American Veterinary Medical Association. June 26, 2019.. https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2019-07-15/census-veterinarians-finds-trends-shortages-practice-ownership