Dr Jeannet Kessels BVSc Hons,

Owner/ Director/Senior Veterinarian

Springfield District Veterinary Clinic

How did it feel to win AVBA Manager of the Year?

“It was an honour to be nominated by my team and for Springfield District Vets to be recognized as special.”

What do you think is the most important role of a Vet Manager?

“Well, first of all, I probably need to explain a little. I would regard myself as a fairly ordinary Manager, but have the privilege of employing an exceptional Practice Manager: Dr Rachel Ball. Managers organize, coordinate, allocate resources and aspire to efficiency. Leaders, such as me, provide forward direction, encouragement and inspiration to staff and the operation as a whole.”

What are some challenges you face with co-workers? And the rewards?

“Once all the right people sit in the right positions, with clear expectations of what their roles need to be, staff can work to their strengths and accept a level of responsibility and commitment that goes beyond what you could ever imagine.

The trick is in finding what turns people’s lights on, what floats their boat, what makes them love coming to work, and to allow them to shine in these areas. And to be admired and appreciated for it.

One of the benefits of a larger practice is that there is room for people to specialize a little, but the same principle applies regardless of size. Once you have a group of people who love to come to work, who regard it as their own, and who can be honest between themselves, the challenges are minimal.

Solid systems, applied by the manager yet inspired by the leader, are required for everything to run smoothly.

An example is Performance Reviews. Ours span 25 pages, take some hours to complete for each individual, and set out exactly what is expected of the team. They are ruthless and don’t sugar-coat any behaviour or capacity.

Once staff deeply absorb the practice culture, understand how they are expected to behave, and have perfectly described role descriptions laid out, they can relax into themselves and excel.

Your people will then apply their own initiative and imagination, be diligent and happily take on responsibility, which is ultimately the core of a great workplace.

To best manage a group of motivated high achievers in a busy and, chaotic veterinary workplace, we must develop staff resilience and proactively mitigate stress.

I challenge anyone to name another business as complex and layered as a veterinary clinic; a shop with constant phone calls, the full range of emotions from birth to death swinging like a pendulum between visits every single day, dangerous drugs, dogs that bite, cats, scratch, horses kick… then perform major human-grade orthopaedic procedures and treat stenching, contagious parvo in the same building… interpret an ultrasound and conduct blood tests with a dog barking so incessantly it is in fact driving you mad. You might feel a bit wrecked from that late night calving.  Join needy non-financial clients with empathic, perfectionist staff required to charge rigorously for their services.

So, let’s acknowledge our veterinary clinics as exciting but innately stressful environments!

Our managers must put great systems in place to reduce the load, and educate ourselves on stress management.

My aim for 2014 is to elevate the mental health of our Springfield District Vets team. We recently employed an evening speaker to discuss ‘Stress, Anxiety and Cybernetics’ and this was a great start. “

Why did you take the extra step of becoming a Vet Manager instead of just being a vet?

“Life circumstances presented themselves and I found myself owning a practice with thirteen staff before I knew what hit me. Not something I dreamed of nor was prepared for! It was a relief for me to escape to theatre, operating, rather than confronting the immense learning curve of running a substantial business. I suppose I have now grown into the role and find it suits me well.”

What advice would you give to vets who want to become a Vet Manager?

“First of all look to your strengths; are you a leader or a manager? Managers can learn to lead but the reverse is not always true. Do you have the commitment to remain disciplined in both thought and in action? Do you enjoy looking after staff? Is a long term commitment what you want?

There is great personal reward in running a respected and successful business, but if it isn’t the right thing for you, it can be a millstone around your neck.”

What advice would you give Vet Managers who want to improve their skills in surgery?

“Go to a Vetprac of course!! Absolutely!”

What advice would you give to Vet Managers who want to improve their skills with co-workers and clients?

“Build your team, from the core,  to be resilient, happy and healthy and develop leadership skills amongst your staff.

I conduct regular in-depth training and mentoring in leadership and emotional intelligence with my staff after studying with Paul Ainsworth through the Lincoln Institute for 2 years.

Dr Gary Turnbull is now developing this further for vet teams through Vet Intell. Go for that.”

What VetPrac workshops have you attended? And why do you attend them?

“I had a wonderful time at the Surgery of the Head and Neck with Dr Phil Moses in Wagga Wagga. I refreshed my basic skills and learnt lots of new procedures in what was a practical, well thought-out, and positive environment. I am encouraging my veterinarians to attend Vetprac Workshops this year also. Really, really, really good (and a lot of fun)!”

What advice would you give to vets who are considering a VetPrac workshop?

“Go for it! Never say no to the chance to learn new things, to spend time with great people, eat out, visit new places and to excel in your area of expertise. It is good for the soul.”

Interview by Stephanie Buelna, via Share this with your friends via Facebook or email! And follow us on Facebook or LinkedIn. Alternatively, sign up for our monthly newsletter by emailing us at [email protected]