As one of my former employers once told me, “Veterinary medicine isn’t a 9-5 job.” That’s certainly true, and there will always be late-afternoon emergencies that occasionally force us to work late. However, staying at work past closing time should be the exception, not the rule.
In fact, there’s no reason to accept late nights as the norm in veterinary medicine.
Whether you’re heading home to a family or heading home to your couch and Netflix, most days you deserve to leave work on time. Unpredictable hours make it impossible to schedule evening events, negatively impacting your work-life balance and making you more prone to burnout.
How can you maximize your chances of leaving work on time? Follow these tips to take control of your work hours.
1. Schedule time for client communication.
Busy veterinarians receive several phone calls per day, each of which requires doctor attention. You also probably need to review laboratory results, contacting clients to discuss results and make treatment recommendations. Client phone calls are a predictable aspect of veterinary medicine, so you need to set aside time to handle this aspect of the job.
Block off ten to twenty minutes in your schedule for “client communication” every two hours. This allows you to spread client communications throughout the day, so you aren’t tackling them just before walking out the door. Having multiple times set aside for client communication will also improve your client service and patient care, increasing the likelihood that urgent concerns are addressed quickly.
2. Leave appointments open for same-day urgent visits.
If your practice is fully booked, as many practices are right now, receiving a call from a client with an urgent concern creates an uncomfortable dilemma. Do you schedule the client for your next available appointment slot, which may be days or even weeks in the future? Do you refer the client to the emergency clinic, which may already be overwhelmed? Or do you invite the client to bring their pet in, double-booking an appointment slot and shortchanging both your existing appointment and the urgent visit? None of these options are fair to your clients, your patients, or your team.
Your practice probably receives several requests for urgent visits every day. Take these into account when creating your appointment schedule, and leave at least three urgent care slots in each doctor’s schedule every day. Reserve these appointments for sick pets that really need urgent treatment, in order to reduce the temptation to double-book your appointment schedule.
3. Leave the final appointment(s) of the day empty.
When you walk out of the exam room after your final appointment, are you immediately able to pick up your keys, walk out of the clinic door, and head home? Probably not. After finishing your final appointment, you probably have a few more phone calls to make, a few more emails needing a response, a few boarders and hospitalized patients in need of brief exams, and a few treatment plans to create or update before you leave work for the day.
If your practice closes at 6:00, don’t take your last appointment at 5:40 p.m. Allow yourself one or two empty appointment blocks at the very end of the day, so you can finish your patient care responsibilities by the time the practice closes.
4. Improve your medical record-keeping efficiency.
Using templates for computerized medical records can reduce the amount of time that you spend typing records after each patient. Try to complete each patient’s medical record immediately after their visit (as your technician is prepping your next room), to avoid ending the day with a tower of 20 medical records that all require your attention.
With cloud-based software, you can also enter medical records from home. This can be a valuable option for especially hectic days, or you may even choose to make it part of your daily routine. Leave work, enjoy your evening, and then tackle those few remaining medical records before bed (or early the next morning). Medical records entry often goes more smoothly when you’re calm at home, instead of in a hectic veterinary clinic where there are always distractions.
5. Streamline your client education.
Most veterinarians spend a significant portion of their day educating clients. While client education is certainly an important part of the job, could you provide quality client education in a more efficient way that minimizes redundancy?
Veterinary technicians and assistants can be trained to deliver most of the client education involved in new puppy and new kitten visits. Written handouts can supplement these verbal explanations, providing clients with material that they can review at home.
Explaining a complex new medical condition can also be easier if you utilize your support staff and written handouts. Allow your veterinary technician to provide a general overview of the condition and basic treatment recommendations, then give the client time to review hospital-provided written educational materials. Once the client has received this general overview, you can focus on providing patient-specific recommendations and answering client questions.
6. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
In many practices, veterinarians handle tasks that could be performed by a veterinary technician or a well-trained veterinary assistant. Look for opportunities to delegate during the course of your day.
Tasks that you may consider delegating include:
- Calling clients with laboratory test results, especially in the case of normal or slightly abnormal results
- Answering simple medical questions that do not require a veterinarian
- Making follow-up calls on sick pets, only involving the veterinarian if necessary
- Entering medical records in the exam room, as you dictate your exam findings.
Using your support staff to the full extent of their abilities will not only make your life easier, it will also increase veterinary technicians’ job satisfaction. Many veterinarian technicians feel underutilized in their role, and you can remedy this frustration by delegating tasks effectively.
Make the commitment
Leaving work on time requires conscious planning and effort. You will likely need to make changes in your practice’s scheduling and organization, while also making changes in how you approach your workday. In order to leave on time, you will need to keep that goal in mind from the moment you walk in the door, focusing on efficiency all day long. While these changes may seem challenging at first, they will soon become second nature, and you will reap the rewards of improved work-life balance and decreased risk of burnout.
Cathy Barnette, DVM
Cathy Barnette, DVM is a veterinarian and freelance writer based in Florida. After 14 years as a small animal general practitioner, Dr. Barnette now focuses on creating educational content for veterinary teams and their clients. She shares her home with her husband, daughter, one dog, two cats, and a rescued white dove.