Each year, you invest a considerable amount of time and expense to attend continuing education events. Not only does this improve your professional knowledge, it also complies with CE credit requirements dictated by your state regulatory agency for keeping your license current.
As a general rule, veterinarians are incredibly intrigued and fascinated by new scientific knowledge; this kind of curiosity is likely what inspired you to pursue the veterinary health profession in the first place. Attending CE events is a logical means of fulfilling that quest for knowledge.
However, there are other benefits besides sating your thirst for information—it is also possible to transform this investment into a practice builder and a platform for inspiring client loyalty.
Why Is It Important?
Three separate studies by the Stanford Research Institute, Harvard University and the Carnegie Foundation examined the ingredients for job success. They concluded that 15% of job success comes through technical skills and knowledge, whereas the other 85% of job success comes from people skills. The relationships you build may well be as least as important (if not more so) as the tasks you do for keeping clients satisfied. One of the best ways to capitalize on this principle of success is to develop yourself as an effective communicator to whom your clients turn when seeking information and guidance.
In order for people to make informed decisions about new techniques, tests or treatments you might be offering, you will want to educate them. Your role as the professional with specialized knowledge engenders their respect. Because of that respect, they feel more trusting that you can offer the best care for their horses.
One way to continually keep client interest primed is by “beating your drum” about your latest CE experience. Keep in mind that one of the top three things that horse owners want from their veterinarians, according to the AAEP horse owner survey, was for them to “keep up” with new technologies and science.
Attending a continuing education event demonstrates your ongoing quest to improve your practice knowledge and skills, as well as your ability to offer your clients choices in the management of their horses. But they don’t know what you learned unless you tell them! Taking a little time to inform them about updated information from CE courses lends credibility to you as a state-of-the-art practitioner. It also motivates your clients to stay with your practice and perhaps use those state-of-the-art technologies. In addition, the act of educating your clients not only locks down the information in your brain, it improves your skills as a health care professional.
Demonstrating your passion for veterinary medicine can be infectious. When you are talking to your clients about what you have learned at CE seminars, you will no doubt convey your enthusiasm for the industry and for your newfound knowledge. Shared excitement leaves them with a pleasant feeling that their vet really cares, and that you continue to improve their knowledge to give the best care to their horses.
When you make your clients feel “special” by including them in your educational benefits, they are more compelled to want to use your services and refer you to others. Your breadth of knowledge makes you appear “special” to your clients.
By virtue of the fact that you are reading journals such as this one, you have proven that you are motivated to continually learn and advance your knowledge and understanding of your profession from both the health and business standpoints.
Horse owners in today’s world also seem quite motivated to learn, so they are generally eager to hear scientific updates from their veterinarians. In addition, they are entitled to know more about treatment options so they can make the best-informed decisions.
How To Share Your CE Knowledge
The effectiveness of your efforts to educate your clients depends in large part on your communication skills. The speed at which you speak can have a lot to do with how well your clients comprehend and retain your information. Facilitate your clients’ ease when they are asking questions; give them sufficient spaces between your comments to allow them to interject and participate in a discussion, rather than being subjected to a monologue. Ask questions of them to encourage their participation.
Andy Clark, DVM, MBA, a renowned management consultant for veterinary practices, reminded us, “Be available for teaching. Always invite your clients to ask questions and to contact you later if they think of something else.”
While your professional education entailed at least four to seven years of perfecting your abilities in “medical speak,” most clients are not able to follow medical language. Concepts that you might think are basic might be more technical than what many horse owners can comprehend. If your clients already knew how to do what you do, they wouldn’t need to consult with you.
So it is necessary to tone down your language in such a way that it is understandable and engaging, rather than causing your clients to simply tune out. Using too many technical terms can make people feel offended and belittled, which is counterproductive to building lasting client relationships. Clark advised, “All the way through veterinary school we are judged and rewarded for language that is incomprehensible to horse owners. Those practitioners who realize that and speak in everyday language in practice become successful communicators; this leads to good client outcomes.”
There is no harm in teaching a client the meaning of specific technical terms, as long as you explain them in conversational language.
Remember to be concise. For an example of how to convey complex topics in understandable language in less than 10-15 minutes, visit any teaching session at khanacademy.org. Including humor is also known to make information memorable.
Know your audience. Some of your horse clients might be extremely well-educated and capable of taking in large amounts of information at once, whereas others might only grasp the simplest of concepts and only in small amounts at a time. As mentioned above, keep your instructional sessions short, as longer times often result in information overload.
Don’t assume your clients know anything about their horses’ conditions. Clark offered this advice: “Unless I know that the client knows, I may preface my remarks by saying, ‘Since we are talking about this for the first time, I’d like to begin at the beginning.’ "Starting from the ground up builds a foundation for constructing their educational take-home message.
To maximize client understanding, consider relaying the information with a variety of techniques, including storytelling, facts and figures, photographs and videos, and hands-on instruction. When possible, communicating information by relating it to a client’s personal experience puts it into context so it might be easier for the client to grasp. By capitalizing on different teaching formats, you are likely to engage more types of personalities in the conversation, since many learn best through different instructional methods; some are visual learners and others rely on hearing information, while still others rely on action and hands-on experience. The effectiveness of different teaching methods has been explored and described by the Edgar Dale and the National Laboratory Institute for Applied Behavioral Science. These studies formulated a “cone of learning” (tenouk.com/ConeOfLearning.pdf) that describes how well people remember what they have been taught.
The greatest retention of learning is accomplished through doing rather than listening. It is thought that information is retained past two weeks as follows: 10% of what is read; 20% of what is heard; 30% of what is seen, such as looking at pictures; 50% of what is seen and heard, such as watching a demonstration or movie; 70% of what is said, such as giving a presentation or participating in a discussion; and 90% of what is both said and done.
This means that the best teaching advantages come from engaging people in interactive learning that is applied to a real experience. For example, giving your client a demonstration of how to bandage, then having him or her perform a hands-on effort at bandaging, achieves far greater retention than what one attains from simply reading about how to bandage. You probably can recall how it was for you in veterinary school: Reading about how to suture a wound does not provide you as much confidence in application as actually suturing a wound.
Many practitioners have a wealth of client handouts to provide basic information on a particular health care issue. Using handouts as a supplement to your explanation about a newly learned technique or an update on a medical condition helps to reinforce the information you have just conveyed to the client and can be referred to later as a memory refresher. Clark reminded us, “If a client is in a stressful situation, like dealing with a colic or serious trauma, provide him with a written summary of what you tell him.”
Additional information on your website further reinforces your educational efforts. It is important for you to provide information that is scientifically accurate so your client doesn’t solely use the Internet as his or her primary medical resource.
“Prior to the Internet, veterinarians were the most respected and sought-after sources of information. That is no longer true,” remarked Clark. It is also useful to refer clients to the AAEP website (aaep.org) as a source for supplemental reading material if they are interested in learning more. Clark suggested, “You can assign homework reading to help your clients understand further.”
As we equine practitioners often work on our patients in the barn, our clients are necessarily a part of the procedures we perform. Some are more engaged than others because they are interested; others are distracted by chatty friends or cell phones or talking about their kids’ accomplishments last weekend and thus pay no attention. For those who are interested, you are likely have a captive audience that is open and receptive to learning.
You can accomplish quite a bit by disseminating information while you are performing a menial task that doesn’t require much thought, such as scrubbing a joint in preparation for an intra-articular injection. Or, use a freeze-dried limb model to visually explain the pathology of what might be causing a horse’s lameness. With a physical limb representation in hand, the person you are instructing is both seeing and hearing, which leads to greater information retention than just telling that person the information you are trying to convey.
Clark noted that storytelling with pictures, electronic or otherwise, deepens understanding of a veterinary topic. What clients hear without a visual aid is more of an abstract concept and might not be understood or retained.
When you are speaking to a client, watch for signs that the person might be bored, tuning out or distracted—body language and eye contact are important clues as to whether a person is really paying attention or is even interested in paying attention.
Channels for Disseminating Information
Because your time might be limited during routine scheduled appointments, it could be more expedient to find other means of communicating your newly acquired scientific information. This can be achieved through brochures, emails, newsletters, websites, podcasts and seminars.
“Clients love veterinarians who invite them to ask questions and offer them opportunities to learn,” stressed Clark. “Educational opportunities for horse owners support excellent client outcome, especially because it demonstrates ‘caring’ by the practitioner.
“Everyone learns differently,” Clark continued. “Good electronic content, well presented, is available 24/7. Some people don’t want to deal with electronic content; those are harder to reach. Like any communication, you need to reach people where they go for information.”
You might already offer educational seminars to your clients at an evening or weekend venue. That gives you a chance to interact in a more relaxed, social atmosphere rather than during time-constrained appointments in the barn or at your clinic. Your client is likely to see you as being more approachable in those situations. You might feel more congenial and probably will appreciate that you have the time to adequately answer questions and educate.
“Client education events are almost universally well received by horse owners,” noted Clark. “Some equine practices include trade shows at client education events; this helps to subsidize the event.”
An educational seminar can provide the perfect platform from which to speak about your latest CE educational experience. It is a great way to demonstrate your expertise and dedication to learning about cutting-edge equine medicine and surgery techniques.
As Clark explained, “Including updated information at educational venues demonstrates that you are aware of and knowledgeable about information the horse owners read in the lay periodicals.”
In addition, you are usually speaking to an audience of many, and that allows you to maximize the educational experience in one telling for a larger cross-section of clients.
You might provide these seminars at your practice or at an event staged by your local horse club. It is also useful to seek out larger horse club or expo events in your area and offer yourself as a speaker. This puts you in front of an even larger audience and might help you attract new clients.
Your current clients will be impressed that you are speaking at a highly regarded event, and they will take the opportunity to brag that you are their personal veterinarian. You as the “expert” speaking to a large crowd lets your clients revel in the fact that their veterinarian is in a prominent educational position, which then makes the clients seem like the smart ones for hiring you for their horses’ care.
As a role model for young equestrians who might be inspired to pursue higher education and a professional career in the equine industry, your efforts at furthering your own professional knowledge can go a long way toward reinforcing their excitement at pursuing educational opportunities.
Brochures, Newsletters, Blogs and Websites
Even though memory retention of the written word is far down the scale of the cone of learning, you can reach your audience very effectively by including snipWhen describing treatment choices to a client, cite information sources. pets about your continuing educational information in client newsletters, on your website and in blogs. “Learning happens by repetition,” Clark said.
Make use of all opportunities to put the information in front of your clients.
The written format provides a great platform to show your enthusiasm and to advise clients that you plan on implementing some newfound information into your practice approach. When informing clients through your website, it might be valuable for you to include a video on a new technique or a link to a scientific publication about a new medical finding.
When describing to a client the treatment choice options relevant to his or her horse’s situation, it improves the legitimacy of your information to cite the information source—CE venue, a colleague, or a scientific article/journal—while also graciously giving credit to that source.
Be cautious in ramping up expectations of what a new procedure or technique can do, as that has the potential to lead to disappointment and a dissatisfied client.
There are ways to demonstrate your qualifications and expertise to your clients without seeming arrogant or over-reaching. Showing them what you know with grace and humility only serves to improve their respect for you.
The motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said: “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.”
This is why your attempt at sharing your clinical knowledge with your clients is an active marketing technique that helps secure clients’ loyalty to you and your practice. That emotional connection forms a bond that makes it harder for clients to walk away; it also engenders trust in your expertise and dedication to their horses.