AAEP Wellness Coverage: Harvesting a Sustainable Workplace Culture in Equine Private Practice  

At the 2023 AAEP Convention, Dr. Becky Tees described the sustainability measures her practice instituted to improve team culture, retention, profits.
Veterinarians working together with a grey horse, creating more sustainability in equine practice.
Some of the measures Energy Equine Veterinary Services took to improve practice sustainability included providing more mentorship to interns and allowing veterinarians to see their desired case types. | Getty Images

At the 2023 AAEP Convention, Becky Tees, DVM, presented solutions for alleviating burnout and improving retention in clinical practice using real-world strategies. Currently in her fifth year of practice at Energy Equine Veterinary Services, in Alberta, Canada, she was inspired to lean into this topic by her participation in an AAEP Lead event. She opened by sharing her desire to be a well-rounded person who is successful in all aspects of her life, not just as a veterinarian. 

Early in Tee’s tenure at Energy Equine, the poor practice culture, minimal client boundaries, and long hours had resulted in a 50% veterinarian turnover rate. In fact, she said she was nearly a statistic herself, ready to leave the profession entirely. An acute turnaround in 2020 changed everything. The practice grew from three to eight veterinarians in the next three years, with 100% retention of doctors and limited loss of technical staff. As a result of the practice’s new sustainability efforts, profitability grew year over year, she said. 

Sustainability Measures in Equine Practice

A coaching company called Novis-Global kick-started the practice’s sustainability journey. Energy Equine initially hired the company to increase profitability, but its efforts quickly turned to sustainability. The coach asked employees, “What changes would make you absolutely thrilled to come to work each day?” and “What changes would alleviate your biggest stressor?”  

Compensation and Case Type

Tees relayed the changes the equine practice made to become more sustainable as a result of that exercise, beginning with a compensation plan that paid straight salaries for interns and first-year associates, a base salary with a bonus for second-year associates, and straight production in the third year. In addition, the practice instituted an eight-hour workday and offered a four-day workweek while allowing a five-day week for veterinarians wishing to work more. The interns continued to work five days per week to maximize their case exposure. Staff members worked four 10-hour days. The practice also adopted the “desired caseload” concept, where 60% of each doctor’s caseload was their desired case type. Senior doctors shared clients with newer veterinarians, and early career practitioners covered health maintenance procedures.  

Changes to the Work Week

Energy Equine also started setting aside a half day each week for development time, said Tees. Employees used this time for callbacks, medical records, continuing education, and research. They also adopted practice cellphones for use during business hours or emergency duty only, which allowed doctors to truly take time off from work after hours. Veterinarians started sharing emergency duty equitably, and they mentored interns during their first two months of emergency duty, followed by telephone support. Clients at a distance from the clinic were required to haul in to the practice facility for emergency service. 

Learning Opportunities and Resources

Finally, Tees shared, the associates were given the freedom to be somewhat creative with their invoicing for services with educational benefits. This allowed them to learn quickly and confirm diagnoses they would have otherwise been less confident in. These changes, along with regular team meetings, a focus on gratitude and positivity, ample equipment to limit the need for sharing, and in-clinic training opportunities, resulted in a more cohesive and content team, she explained.  

Final Thoughts on Creating a Sustainable Equine Practice

In closing, Tees recommended new hires share team values, have a positive attitude, and pass a probationary period to see if they are good fits for your sustainable equine practice. She said there’s no “one-size-fits-all” rubric for sustainability; changes might need to be implemented gradually to be successful, but the results are well worth the effort. 

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