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Issue: 68 - Aug 15, 2014
Creating A Learning Environment in Your Practice
By: Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA
Veterinary Success Services

“It totally is in a learning culture that you create an atmosphere where everyone is looking all the time to do things better.“  Jack Welch

Dr. Weinstein, I have a dumb question for you.

Kathy, “There is no such thing as a dumb question!”


Kathy, “What else would you ask me? I’m used to them.”

Your practice’s success and ultimately your success are dependent upon surrounding yourself with smart people. They can be smart when you hire them but they should be smarter because you make them smarter. 

On Boarding

The education process should start on Day One. For all new hires, you should have a formal, day-by-day, training program that includes what needs to be done to be successful in the job. You want to set up your new hires for success; not condemn them to failure. No training will be like throwing someone into a pool and asking them to swim to the edge…while continuing to move the edge. 

Training can come from many resources during this time. There should be both a people and a technology component. Experienced and approved trainers should take new hires under their wing. I like trainers to use something I learned in veterinary school. See one. Do one.Teach one.

New hires can observe a procedure. They can do one under observation. And then to prove that they are adept at it, they need to teach someone what they are doing. 

Typically, during a training process, you demonstrate how you do something. To take training to the next level and create real learning environment, you need to also teach the WHY. As you teach what you are doing, explain why you do things the way you do them. It could be simply because it works. It could also be that there is a logical or clinical explanation.

For the remainder of this article and for the remainder of your practice life, remember:

Teach the what but also teach the why!!


You have staff meetings, don’t you? When else do you beat up your staff and tell them how crumby a job they are doing? SARCASM!! I hope.

Your staff meetings are perfect venues to teach your staff about veterinary medicine - the clinical as well as the business aspects. You have a captive audience eating lunch that, believe it or not, really wants to learn. 

Each staff meeting should have 15 minutes dedicated to teaching about a clinical issue and 15 minutes dedicated to teaching about a business issue. Examples might include:

  • What is hypothyroidism and why are we concerned about this condition
  • How to answer the telephone and why we need to do it this way
  • What is dental disease and why are we concerned about this condition
  • What to tell a client about spaying and neutering and why we discuss it in this fashion
  • What is a physical examination and why are they important
  • How to admit a drop off patient and why we need to collect all of the information that we ask

If you noticed, for each of the above-mentioned discussions, you will present not only the what or how of a question but WHY is it so important. 

The more information and more importantly the more knowledge your staff has the more valuable they are to your practice. A well spoken, confident, educated staff will exude trust to your clients. And trust is the foundation for success in business. And by the way, the more you trust your staff (because you have educated them), the more the staff will trust you!!


This is a topic relevant not just to doctors and licensed technicians, who in many states have required CEUs, but also to client service specialists and animal caretakers. Your front office staff should always be learning about service, communication, time management, organization, and other areas that make them stronger resources for you and your clients. 

Think about this for a second, well before a client ever sees a licensed technician or a doctor, they will be speaking with a receptionist. Whether it is on the phone or in person, your 'people’ people need to be able to communicate and relate to your clients. They need to be confident about what they do, why they do it, and empowered to make decisions. To reach this level, the above-mentioned programs must be supplemented by other education.

There are a number of staff education programs available online or live. Whenever a staff member attends an educational program, they should be on the agenda for the next staff meeting to do a 15 minute educational review of what they learned and how it fits into the practice and why. These programs should be paid for, time in attendance may be paid as well (confirm with an human resource specialist about paying for staff time for state mandated CE), and meals and travel reimbursed. By investing in these programs, you are sending a message to your team that you feel education is important and integral to the success of the individual, and subsequently the practice. In fact, this should be a budgeted line item. 

The logic for training animal caretakers and unlicensed assistants is simple---they are future receptionists and technicians. Take care of them and they will take care of you.

Don't tell me you can’t afford to send your team.

You can’t afford NOT to send your team. 


Taking time to attend staff meetings or taking time to leave families and go to CE programs should not be considered a hassle by your staff. Those staff members who go out of their way to seek to learn more should be compensated based upon what they now can contribute to both their success and yours. 

An investment in learning for your team will repay itself many times over in efficiency, effectiveness, trust and profits. A learning culture is a successful culture and one that should be in your vision, your mission, and your values. Remember, your success depends upon their success. 

NOTE: what I can hear you all asking right now is: But why should I spend any additional time or money on my staff, they are just going to leave in six months anyhow? Did you hear yourself? Why do you think that they are going to leave in six months? It is because you have set that expectation right from the beginning. If you want people to stay invest in them as if they are assets NOT liabilities.