Ten years ago, I began serving on the VHMA Board. This experience has provided me with fond memories, career-building experiences, and an opportunity to know many of you on a deeper level. A highlight has been serving as president during the association’s 40th anniversary. Reaching this milestone has prompted VHMA to examine its past, peer into the future, knit together a history of the organization, and highlight landmark developments and personal anecdotes provided by past presidents who were intimately involved in the growth of VHMA.
As we close our year of celebration and reflections, I will join the ranks of past presidents. Therefore, I am adding my insights and memories to those generously shared by Mark Opperman, Owen McCafferty, Sandra Brown Wiltshire, Susan Pfeiff, Tim Banker, Peter Ainslie, Gerard Gervasi, and Brian Conrad.
What path did you take to becoming a practice manager?
I began as a kennel attendant, put myself through veterinary technician school, and have since worked in every department of an animal hospital. I earned the CVPM designation in 2010 while serving as Hospital Manager at University Animal Hospital in Tempe, AZ. In 2016, I became a Regional Operations Director and was recently promoted to Senior Regional Operations Director for VCA.
How can members help newer members excel as practice managers?
Sue Pfeiff---an exemplary practice manager and VHMA officer---mentored me when I was new to the profession. She is wise, committed to excellence, and generous about sharing information. She did a terrific job increasing my confidence and providing me with the knowledge to grow in the field. I encourage all members to think about how important it is to groom the next generation of managers and consider mentoring new members and providing them with the guidance, training, and support that is essential to their success.
What has been the most significant challenge during your presidency?
COVID, COVID and COVID!
When the world came to a screeching halt, we had to abandon the “normal” way of doing business. Our members turned to the association for advice on staying safe while tending to patients and clients. This was a scary and anxious time and continues to be for most.
VHMA quickly responded with information, education, and resources managers needed to protect their businesses and team members.
What kind of materials did VHMA offer?
Best-practices information for dealing with the impact of COVID was critical. I applaud the efforts of staff who worked to synthesize this information in real-time. VHMA also prioritized developing materials to help members quickly communicate with and reassure clients about ever-changing circumstances.
How will the association's response to the pandemic affect future VHMA efforts?
I believe VHMA’s response will provide a blueprint for dealing with future large-scale emergencies. We listened to our members and responded quickly to their concerns and the issues they raised.
What accomplishment during your term would you like to highlight?
At a time when veterinarians and their staffs are experiencing enormous stress, the VHMA collaborated with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and other associations to create and release a new resource: After A Suicide: A Guide for Veterinary Workplaces. The free guide is designed to support veterinary workplaces in the aftermath of an employee’s death by suicide.
The upheaval that characterized the summer of 2020 brought discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to the forefront. VHMA is actively involved in this conversation and the quest for solutions and has joined the Commission for a Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Veterinary Profession formed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). The Commission will drive change within the veterinary profession, expand the pipeline to include more incoming people from diverse backgrounds, and encourage welcoming workplaces. VHMA is one of the key organizations represented on the Commission.
What is the next big issue for VHMA?
Veterinary managers are passionate about what they do, but this passion for their work sometimes interferes with maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The overwhelming stress of the past two years has exacerbated the imbalance. More and more, VHMA surveys show that managers need support to function effectively in the practice and their personal lives. If we do not provide it, there will likely be a significant increase in managers leaving the industry.
In recent years, the alarming turnover in DVMs and techs have captured the industry's attention. VHMA must continue highlighting managers’ needs and providing resources to ensure that practice managers remain healthy and engaged.
I do regret that VHMA could not hold the 2020 Annual Meeting and Conference in person. The connections participants make at these events, and the informal conversations that ensue help build camaraderie among members, but hosting an onsite meeting during the pandemic would have compromised the health and safety of our members. Responding to the new restrictions, VHMA did a stellar job of taking the meeting online, creating a valuable and meaningful member experience. I thank everyone who contributed to the success of our very first online conference.
Please share a fond or humorous memory.
I have so many fond and humorous memories. One of my incredibly fond memories is going to dinner with everyone after our meetings. During these dinners, we shared personal stories about our families, pets, and hospitals. It was comforting to share and listen to new ideas of handling something that I may have been struggling with. There is so much value in building these relationships with members that become like family.
Any parting thoughts?
For 40 years, VHMA has been a trusted resource for practice managers. It has grown and thrived because of committed leaders, dedicated staff, and enthusiastic members.
Salute/Cheers and best wishes to VHMA for much success!
With deep appreciation and thanks to all for the opportunity to serve as VHMA president!
Best to all! Stay safe and healthy!
Michelle Gonzales-Bryant, VHMA President