Do You Provide Continuing Education for Your Team?
Veterinary medicine is constantly changing as new medications are discovered, tools are created, protocols are proven, and recommendations are published. As part of the medical support staff, veterinary technicians need to keep up with the current medicine of the day.
This typically involves continuing education of some sort, whether it’s attending a big conference or reading a text book from the practice’s shelves. This continuous devouring of information helps us stay ready for our practices to deliver the highest quality medical care, for the benefit of the patient and the family who loves him or her.
Yet there is another important reason to provide continuing education for the team; to increase their job satisfaction and create a healthy workplace. Patricia Smith, founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project (www.compassionfatigue.org) created Eight Laws Governing a Healthy Workplace. Last week we looked at the first of those laws, provide a respite for the team. Today we explore how the pursuit of knowledge helps us to create a healthier workplace, whether we are the technician on the floor or the supervisor managing the technicians. Let’s look at the second law governing a healthy workplace, which is provide continuing education for your team.
For those technicians with credentials—whether it be RVT, CVT, or LVT—it is not typically difficult to motivate them to pursue continuing education because most states require CE hours to maintain the credentials. As it happens, these are typically technicians with motivation, so learning is a challenge and a thrill to them personally. That’s not to say every credentialed technician will be thrilled to learn, however, and the support staff is comprised of more than just credentialed techs. Some of the staff will relish the chance to learn, while others may see it as even more work to cram into an already busy day.
So we need to appeal to every member of the medical support team. There are two types of CE to propose, and these should be used in tandem—the education the practice NEEDS the technician to learn, and the topics that the technician WANTS to learn. Often these are two different things, so both bases need to be covered.
If you need for your team to understand the mechanism behind a new heartworm preventive your doctors want to recommend, then make it mandatory for everyone to attend. But then also be sure to consider what the team members want to learn and find a way to make this happen too.
The only way to know what CE topics would excite the team members is to ask each one of them, individually and as a team. Circulate a survey quarterly to find out what the team members want to learn. They all have their own personal interests. In their group meetings, have the team brainstorm more topics they want to learn that will either help them, their patients, or the clients. It’s important to note that CE for technicians does not and SHOULD not focus completely on medical topics. They also need to learn how to deliver excellent client service, how to maintain efficient inventory systems, how products and services are priced to the client, and even how to communicate with others on the team. Keep in mind that some of the topics they need to learn won’t necessarily be requested. For example, if you have a team that is experiencing some internal strife, then the group may need information on conflict resolution. If the team members seem to be struggling emotionally or overall with morale, then a talk on burnout and compassion fatigue may be in order. They may not point blank ask to learn more about these topics, but with guidance from management, they’ll get educated on the topics they need the most. The important thing is to be cultivating topics for future CE all the time, as the practice continues to operate.
CE doesn’t take just one shape. There are so many ways to deliver information today. Plus it’s been shown that people learn in different ways, whether it be audible (hearing a lecture), visual (seeing illustrations), or tactile (actually hands-on demonstration). Even with someone who prefers to absorb information by hearing the words, there are many ways to deliver an audible message including in-person lecture, online videos, detailed description given during a demonstration, podcasts or short recorded messages. A lot of people learn best when they write down information as they are learning. This could be note-taking during a lecture, but could also be methods that are more stimulating such as completing crossword puzzles or drawing a diagram.
As for sources of good information, there are many! There are terrific websites in the veterinary profession, with much of the information geared toward the medical support staff. There are online courses that team members can take either with “live” sessions or classes that allow them to pace themselves. There are local and regional meetings, professional journals and publications, and of course larger national meetings and conferences.
When an employee is sent to a larger meeting, typically the practice is paying at least part of the way with a CE allowance or stipend. If you are a part of the management team in the practice, be sure to hold that employee accountable for attending appropriate lectures and coming back to share that information with the team. Prior to the conference, you each sit down with the agenda and circle lectures of interest. Then compare notes, to come up with a schedule that includes both lectures the practice needs the employee to attend, and lectures that interest the employee. These decisions can be documented in a “contract” of sorts, with a description of how that employee will come back and teach the team. Perhaps they pick two lecture topics and present a 30-minute synopsis on each at two team meetings. If they are terrified of public speaking of any sort, let them write a 2-3 page paper on each of 2 topics, along with 10 CE questions to show the other team members read and absorbed the proper information. When the practice is spending money on someone to attend CE, there needs to be a benefit for both the employee, AND the practice.
As mentioned, team members can certainly teach each other. In fact, you can ask an employee what he or she wants to learn next, and then assign him or her to develop a presentation or paper on that topic. There is no better way to learn, than to teach!
Every employee should be required to teach the team on a regular basis. This gets everyone involved. But there will still be a few motivated technicians who want to teach more often or really shine as an instructor. There are also employees who pursue CE opportunities on their own, whether credentialed or not, and love to learn. These employees with initiative should be rewarded. For example, I once met a manager and technician at NAVC in Orlando who had a nice incentive plan in place; if an employee reached a certain number of accumulated CE hours on their own, they earned a paid trip to the NAVC conference. Seems everyone wins in that kind of deal!
The important thing to remember about continuing education is that while it will certainly keep the medical standards raised and contribute to a profitable practice, it will also give the individual employee a source of job satisfaction that should not be underestimated. When employees are experiencing more job satisfaction, morale improves and the team works better together. In short, you help create a healthier workplace, besides a smarter one as well.
Resource: Healthy Caregiving: A Guide to Recognizing & Managing Compassion Fatigue, Patricia Smith, 2008