The quality of your staff goes a long way toward determining the quality of your veterinary practice. A great veterinary health care team can make your veterinary practice a success. Building such a team takes smart hiring practices and a desire to see every employee thrive.

Dr. Jim Hurrell, Director of Penn Foster's Veterinary Academy, knows what an exceptional team looks like. He spends his days developing quality veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants, and practice managers in Penn Foster's accredited program. Dr. Hurrell moved into the education space after owning his own private small animal practice, so he has seen first-hand the difference a quality veterinary health care team can make.

The essential members of a veterinary health care team are:

  • veterinarian - a doctor who leads the team and protects the health of both animals and people.
  • veterinary technician - graduate of a AVMA CVTEA-accredited veterinary technology program who has passed the credentialing exam.
  • veterinary hospital manager - a business manager who coordinates the business aspects of the veterinary business.
  • veterinary assistants - who support the Veterinarian and Veterinary Technicians.
  • receptionist - who greats clients and provides customer service.

Dr. Hurrell shares his knowledge and expertise to help veterinarians build great veterinary health care teams and successful veterinary practices.

What advice would you give to employers looking to build a great veterinary team?

If they were starting a brand new practice, or even if they weren't, I would tell them not to undervalue credentialed veterinary technicians. I would tell them immediately go for a college trained, credentialed veterinary technician. That's their right-hand person. They're going to have the academic skills, the clinical skills, and many of them will also have the soft skills. Go after college trained credentialed veterinary technicians because they're the full package.

I would also tell them to consider offering training & development programs for their entire veterinary health care team. Employer sponsored training can help upskill employees, keep the team engaged, reduce retention, and improve their skill sets.

What should employers look for when hiring a veterinary technician?

If we have somebody who's humble and hungry, they can learn what they need to learn academically and clinically to be an awesome veterinary technician. Corporate and specialty practices tend to look for college trained, credentialed veterinary technicians. Others should do the same.

The AVMA did a survey that was in their journal in 2010 and they showed that for those practices that hired a college trained, credentialed veterinary technician, their bottom line would increase by $93,000, which is significant. For doctors that are wanting to a) make a more profitable practice and b) service more animals and their owners, college trained, certified staff are a huge asset on the veterinary team.

Right now, if someone starts working for a veterinary practice after one or two days they can call themselves a veterinary technician, but that's changing. We are seeing that in the next few years the veterinary technician profession is looking to have a national credential and that way the only people that can call themselves vet techs will be those that have graduated from a nationally accredited program and passed the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE).

Those doctors that have had a college trained veterinary technician, once they've had one they never want to go back again. That's what happened to me. I had a great Veterinary Technician and when she moved on I thought, "Oh wow, I've got to have another Credentialed Veterinary Technician."

What about hiring for other positions?

Hire for attitude, train for skills. With great attitude and hard work, they're going to learn a lot just by observing. As they go through the program they're going to be able to learn more and more in the academics.

The other question is: are they going to be good workers with a team? So often today veterinarians and hiring managers will look at resumes, they'll do an initial interview, and then they'll do a working interview. They'll bring the person in to interface with the team for four hours or six hours. That becomes very important that they have those interpersonal skills and are good workers.

How important are soft skills for veterinary technicians and other team members?

Relatability to other people is so important on the veterinary health care team. Veterinary medicine is an interesting profession, we have clients, those are the people, and patients, those are the animals. Because we have both clients and patients in veterinary medicine, compassion is important.

Client education is huge, absolutely huge for technicians. The doctor's role is they'll do the physical exam but the veterinary technician will do the client education work.

How can employers help their veterinary healthcare team succeed?

We encourage doctors to think about helping their employees pay for school. There's many students that get part or full tuition from their employer. The doctors will see the difference as students journey through the program.

What would you say to employers who worry about sending employees to an online college?

Online, self-paced programs are really very important to busy people, especially in communities that might not have a Veterinary Technician program, or other veterinary healthcare programs.

Distance learning is a concept whose time has arrived, many people whether they're veterinarians or others, may not understand what distance learning is. Distance learning has a very high set of academic standards. Sometimes I think people think: it's online it must not be that good, but the AVMA actually requires more documentation of clinical skill success for us than they do for the brick and mortar programs. Our students graduate with better skills sets.

Distance learning is as good as, and in some cases better than, brick and mortar learning. They're getting a tremendous high-quality education.

You really seem to love the Penn Foster Veterinary Academy. What's so great about it?

Our Veterinary Technician Associate Degree is academically and clinically the most robust program I've seen in my 30 years working with AVMA-CVTEA accredited programs. Student enrollment numbers are up. Graduate numbers are up. Externship numbers are up. It's been a wonderful, wonderful journey in the program here. We're just so excited to serve so many students so well with a quality program.

Additionally, with our NAVTA-aligned Veterinary Assistant Career Diploma, our CVPM-aligned Veterinary Practice Management Undergraduate Certificate, and our soft skills and business courses - we really are able to meet the training needs across the most of the Vet Health Care Team.

To learn more about the benefits of offering Penn Foster's veterinary health care programs, including our Veterinary Technician Associate Degree program, to your practice's employees, contact us today.