Have you ever hired an employee who you were excited about but who turned out to be a disappointment? You thought this person would be an amazing addition to your healthcare team only to find out they were the worst hire ever. Maybe you should ask yourself if this person was really the worst hire ever or if your practice is the worst place to be hired. Many times, we hire good people, but we do not adequately train them or provide them with an environment where they can be successful.

Let’s face it, working in a veterinary hospital is not an easy job. There are many, many tasks that need to be done. It doesn’t matter if you are a veterinary assistant, technician or receptionist. It may be even more difficult in larger hospitals since different doctors often have their own way of doing things. In this case, new employees not only have to learn the tasks to be performed, but also, the individual idiosyncrasies of each doctor. This is not an easy process, especially when you are hired one day and thrown into the fray the next day. Let’s be fair to our new employees and provide them with an environment in which they can succeed and thrive.

New Employee Orientation

When you hire new employees, instead of throwing them into the job with current employees who may already be overwhelmed (because you are short-staffed), why not gently expose them to the new position by introducing them to your practice with an orientation program? This orientation program would provide them with knowledge of the hospital and your policies and procedures. An effective orientation program might look something like this:



Name _______________________ Orientation Date ______________

◊ Provide employee with personal storage space. Discuss protection of personal property at work.

◊ Tour the hospital. Provide a detailed hospital tour which points out emergency exits, eye wash stations, employee restrooms, employee break room, bulletin board and work schedule. Identify the exam rooms, kennel, surgery/treatment area, pharmacy, radiology, etc. and what each area is used for.

◊ Show employee designated parking area.

◊ Introduce employee to doctors and other team members. Identify trainee’s immediate supervisor.

◊ Complete personnel paperwork:

  • Verify Completion of Application
  • W-2
  • I-9 or E-Verify (Complete in entirety within 3 days of employment)
  • Verify Social Security card & driver’s license as required by I-9
  • Complete all required new hire forms for your state: http://www.sba.gov/content/new-hire-reporting-your-state
  • Direct Deposit Approval Form
  • Proof of current vehicle insurance (if driving personal auto for hospital)
  • Give employee an empty notebook for training notes

◊ Receive your personal copy of the Employee Policy and Procedures Handbook

  • Present employee with employee handbook.
  • Review the hospital’s hierarchy chart (management structure).
  • Present At-Will Employment acknowledgement and have employee sign; place in their personnel file.
  • Review benefits and effective dates.
  • Discuss practice dress code and present employee with uniform.
  • Review hospital schedule for meals and breaks.
  • Review payday procedures and overtime policy.
  • Employee to sign Review and Understanding of Employee Manual Form; place in their personnel file.

◊ Job Description & Evaluation

  • Present employee with job description.
  • Review general expectations for the position, as well as protocol for annual review.
  • Present employee with a blank performance evaluation form.
  • Review duties to be completed daily.

◊ Learn the location and operation of time clock software

  • Discuss timeliness and attendance expectations.
  • Show employee the proper protocol for submitting a Request for Days Off Form and how work schedules are presented and posted.

◊ Phased Training Program

  • Explain protocol (trainee to sign off on each phase, if trainee has questions – ask, etc.).
  • The phase training document should be carried on their person until training is completed in its entirety.


Employee Signature _____________________________

The orientation program is always conducted on the first day of employment and should be done by the practice manger or practice owner. Even if the new employee has already been exposed to some things on the list, such as the hospital tour, these will need to be revisited. The new employee may have been nervous during the interview process and, possibly, didn’t absorb all the information presented to them at the time. Besides, this a great opportunity to not only introduce your new employee to your healthcare team, but also to motivate and reinforce your current employees. When you introduce your new employee to a current team member, don’t limit the introduction to names and titles, but instead, elaborate on that person’s strengths and virtues. As an example, you might say, “Cindy, let me introduce you to Kelly. Kelly is an amazing technician and has been with us for four years. She takes x-rays better than any of our doctors and can find a vein like she has x-ray vision. I know you are going to learn a lot from Kelly; she is one of our super techs!” How do you think you would feel if you were Kelly? This is a great opportunity to not only introduce new employees to everyone else in your practice, but also to reinforce your current team members as well.

Phase Training Programs

Now that the new employee has completed the orientation program, can you just throw that employee to the wolves and see if they survive? NO! Now, it is time to begin the training process. Even if the new employee is a licensed veterinary technician who has experience working in several other practices, you will still need to train this person to YOUR way of doing things in YOUR practice. I believe that all new employees, including associate doctors, should go through a three- to four- week phased training program. Phased training programs outline every task the new employee will be expected to perform. Most of our phase training programs are four weeks long. It begins with basic information such as where the employee should park their car and how to use the time clock and continues all the way through to the most complicated of procedures. You should also include OSHA safety training and basic animal handling. For each procedure, the employee is first taught how to do the procedure and then must demonstrate it to their trainer. Once learned, the employee must perform the new procedure. Each task is checked off the phased training program and, at the end of the week, the practice manager or practice owner will review what was learned with the new employee to make sure training is successful. Many times, we will even videotape training sessions so new employees can first watch the procedure they need to learn and then actually perform it with their trainer. After successful completion of the training program, the new employee can be placed on regular status and scheduled to work.

Prepare in Advance

By now, you would probably agree, phased training is a great idea – but you may not have the time or resources to do it. For instance, an employee just gave you two weeks’ notice or, worse yet, no notice at all and you must replace that person now!

Well, if you allow yourself to get into that position, you indeed will have problems adequately training new employees and will probably have high turnover as well. It is estimated that the cost of replacing an employee is approximately one year’s salary. Inadequately training new employees can be a pretty expensive proposition for you and your practice.

To allow yourself the ability to train any new employee, there are several things you must do. First, be prepared. If you are coming to the end of summer and you know that you will lose some employees when school starts, begin the interview process in time. If you plan to use a four-week training program and it might take two to three weeks to hire a new employee, you need to start the process six to eight weeks before someone is going to leave. Don’t wait until the last minute. I also suggest you maintain a team that consists of 50% full-time and 50% part-time employees. Then, if someone leaves your practice without giving adequate notice, you should have part-time employees who can work additional hours to cover the practice while you are interviewing and training your new employee.

Good Job

If you have done everything I have recommended up to this point, good job! But there is one more thing to do. In almost every study done on employee retention, employees say the number one thing they would like and that would encourage them to stay at your practice is performance reviews. Believe it or not, most employees want to know how well they are doing and what they can do to improve and be of greater value to your practice. I feel strongly that employees should be reviewed at the end of their three-month introductory period and at least yearly after that. The evaluation should not be a surprise. It should be a review of how well the employee is doing and what they need to accomplish in the year ahead. In fact, in most practices that we consult with, employees are provided with their evaluation form at the beginning of the year so they know exactly what criteria they will be evaluated on later. As employees master the tasks on the evaluation form, new tasks are rotated in to further challenge and develop the skills of the employee.

Continuing Education

Speaking of developing the skills of your new and existing employees, don’t forget continuing education.

Think about how you feel when you come back from a continuing education meeting. You are excited and invigorated from the experience. Even if you didn’t learn anything new (which is unlikely), you recharge your batteries and come back to the practice excited and with a new perspective. The same holds true for your team members. There are many excellent continuing education opportunities for your entire team. Some are veterinary-specific and others more general, but continuing education is always a practice builder and a motivator for your healthcare team.

It really isn’t fair to hire a new employee and expect them to “learn on the job.” Even if that approach is successful, training the employee will take a long time and be costly for your practice. I remember one practice that hired a new receptionist and, about a week after she started, the new receptionist discharged a patient after having a TPLO. The total invoice was $325, and the receptionist commented to the client, “That seems like a lot of money.” The invoice was for the original exam, laboratory and x-rays and, of course, it did not have the surgery or hospital costs yet entered. Was this unfortunate comment the new employee’s fault or the fault of the practice who had not trained her? Before you complain about how bad the job market is and how difficult it is to get highly rated or “10” employees, look at your practice and how you are managing your employees. Are you providing them with an environment in which they can succeed or one that makes failure more likely? Is it possible that your practice is more the problem than the new employees you hire?

Mark Opperman, CVPM
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