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Blog entry by Janusz Siurek

Time management in the veterinary practice

Time management in the veterinary practice

Everyone who owns a pet comes into contact with a veterinary surgery or clinic sooner or later. How satisfied the client is with the service and the way the pet is treated depends on whether client will return for another visit. As shown by a number of studies that we cite below, the quality of service and well-being of the doctor depends on a number of factors related to skilful time management.

Time has become the greatest obsession of modern life. Could anyone have predicted this? Even when technology was developing in the middle of the last century, it was predicted that humans would not have to work, but that we would entrust many daily, absorbing tasks to robots and machines. This part of the prediction has come true. We have more and more conveniences around us but... at the same time less and less time! How is this possible?

The narrative of lack of time has very much seeped into our culture. It is said that up to 20-40 % of pets suffer from separation anxiety because their owners do not spend enough time with them at home . When asked how they spend their free time, Poles indicated that they most often spend it surfing the Internet (75%) and watching TV (66%). But the question must be asked what is time?

The definition of time management is: "the process of using time skilfully to complete and improve a specific activity within time constraints"  , or "time management cannot be seen merely as planning more activities in the time available, although this may be part of it; it must be about ensuring that goals are achieved". This means that time management is strongly linked to practice, especially to goal achievement and prioritisation.

Time cannot be multiplied or stored for stock. It cannot be stopped - it flows, escapes constantly and inexorably, making each moment unique. It is the only resource over which we have no control.

Time cannot be managed or controlled. So we can only manage ourselves in time.

For the sake of simplicity, because this is how it has become accepted in our language, we will use the phrase "time management:, bearing in mind that it is really about managing oneself in time.

Most studies on the relationship between time management skills, achievement and psychological well-being leave no doubt about the positive impact of time management skills on the above-mentioned variables. The literature points to the importance of the stress factor in the work of veterinarians, but few studies seem to be available on this topic in this professional group - veterinarians.  This professional group is particularly vulnerable to high levels of stress and burnout. A study conducted in Belgium on veterinarians showed that they experience more negative distractions in their professional lives than other groups of veterinary clinic workers. It has also been shown that there are strong links between time control and time management and individuals' stress levels. The number of working hours, the occurrence of professional errors and the possibility of complaints or objections from clients were the main factors causing stress. Findings indicate a link between work stress and physical problems, in particular depression. In the work of veterinarians, there are often unforeseen situations related to receiving emergency cases (especially in the care of large animals, e.g. on farms), while in a veterinary outpatient clinic it is difficult to predict the influx of clients, the number of visits and the complexity of cases. Of the 243 veterinarians surveyed in Belgium, 14% reported high levels of stress at work and another 14% had symptoms of burnout. Among 175 cattle farmers, 289 small animal practitioners and 11 mixed practice practitioners, the main problem area was identified in the area of client relationships. The main stress triggers were related to late or non-payment, time management, unforeseen situations, difficult working conditions or difficulties in diagnosing animals.

In a UK study  of veterinary surgeons, long working hours, the potential for errors, client expectations and elements outside clinical work such as after-hours on-call, responsibility for patients' lives and unexpected clinical outcomes were cited as the main stressors associated. These results were independent of different types of practice - cattle care, small animal treatment or mixed practice. Similar results and indications of sources of stress were found in the Comvet study  - many aspects of time management in veterinary practice are closely related to communication skills, overwork, stress and professional burnout.

It is therefore important for veterinarians to develop competencies in time management, goal setting and prioritisation of activities. These skills help to maintain control over their daily schedule and goal achievement, help to minimise stress levels and prevent burnout, and increase job satisfaction and work-life balance.

Time management is also an essential part of leadership. Leaders need to develop strategies to maximise the use of time to achieve personal and organisational goals. Leaders, especially veterinary practice owners, should have control over the quality of work and the relationship with animals and their owners. The leader should help others to achieve goals, set priorities and delegate tasks and responsibilities  . This is especially true for veterinarians who run their own clinics. 

The need to improve time management skills has several aspects. One is the need for veterinarians to manage their own time. Working time must be sufficient to handle all patients and other operational activities of the clinic. In many situations, the doctor is also the manager in their own practice. Doctors not only work with pets and their owners, but also have to perform many administrative tasks, order medical supplies, liaise with laboratories, and make financial decisions.  Doctors not only work with pets and their owners, but also have to perform many administrative tasks, order medical supplies, liaise with laboratories and simply manage their practice.  An important factor affecting the way they communicate with clients is work overload, which is closely related to time management.

The second aspect is client communication, which is closely related to appointment management. Even an experienced practitioner can find it difficult to accurately predict what disease and condition a patient will come in with. The data in the report shows that 59% in Greece and 45% in Cyprus raise topics that are not closely related to the animal's problem and/or give misleading or insufficient information.

Another big challenge relates to time management in communication with the owner, e.g. how to close the appointment while being empathetic and listening to a chatty client, how to communicate the cost of treatment quickly and effectively without triggering unnecessary discussions, or how to finalise payment and make another appointment in a timely manner. All these elements are based on the doctor's awareness that their time is valuable. 

Author: Joanna Abramowicz

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