This month we caught up with Susan Pfeiff, CVPM, two weeks into her retirement. Sue held a number of positions on the VHMA Board of Directors and served as president from 2005-2007. At the time of her retirement, she was corporate Regional Operations Director for VCA, managing 10 hospitals in Southern California.
Question: What positions did you hold with VHMA?
SP: I held every board position except treasurer and assumed the presidency in 2005. I also was an area director.
What do you recall about the first VHMA conference you attended?
SP: It was Our Personal Best with Mark Opperman in the late 80s or early 90s. I was like a sponge...absorbing everything I heard, writing it down, and implementing what I learned when I returned to the practice.
How have conferences changed from the early days?
SP: Attendance has increased, and specialty and ER tracks have been added to respond to the needs of a more diverse membership. The specialized programs have become more common in the past six years. This shift was inevitable as the position of practice manager evolved. Human Resources issues are relevant to all managers, but the marketing and financials are very different for an ER or Specialty practice. I believe these new tracks that are now part of the VHMA conferences are enabling the organization to better serve its members.
What were the big issues during your term as president?
SP: The board was committed to increasing membership and making sure the association was financially solvent. We tried to be innovative and developed tools that would help managers and made them available for sale. Jon Cunnington, Jim Nash, and I collaborated to produce the Self-Assessment Workbook. It was well-received at the time and continues to be a sought-after resource (it’s been updated over the years). Programs like Emerging Leaders were introduced and helped to attract members. We also improved the website and worked on CVPM accreditation, NCCA - National Commission for Certifying Agencies, offered through the Institute for Credentialing Excellence.
Every past president has a humorous story; what’s yours?
SP: While attending a board dinner in St. Augustine, FL, several members decided to walk to the beach after dinner. It was a dark and woodsy climb down a stairway to reach the water. As one director stood on the stairs, something grabbed her ankle. She screamed, and we all ran down the stairs as fast as we could. Still reeling, we tried to figure out what had happened. Then we saw a board member strolling up to us with a big smile. We knew that he was the prankster.
You’ve been described as a VHMA icon; who do you think is a VHMA icon and why?
SP: Definitely Gerard Gervasi and Peter Ainslie. The two of them worked hard to get vendors to sponsor VHMA programs and partner with the VHMA. Without their hard work and the financial support of vendors, VHMA would not have had the money to put on the meetings and grow the membership.
During a previous interview, a past president highlighted your relationship with VHMA’s current president, Michelle Gonzales-Bryant to illustrate the cycle of mentoring. What do you believe is key to being a successful mentor?
SP: The key to mentoring successfully is the willingness to share knowledge and to mentor without fear. By that, I mean that a mentor cannot be afraid that the mentee may surpass the mentor. Mentors must be okay with allowing their mentees to grow. That requires that mentors generously share knowledge, experience, and advice. Patience is also an important component. When mentees excel, it reflects favorably on the mentor.
That being said, a mentor can only do so much. They can provide the technical skills that will foster success in the mentee. Still, if the mentee doesn’t show a generous spirit and willingness to share, and self-confidence, they will not be able to fully give of themselves when they take on the role of mentor.
Finally, mentors should keep in mind that even if they are great mentors, the mentee needs to be committed to the process for the relationship to come full circle.
What do you consider to be VHMA’s best resource?
SP: The members! I always advise new members to connect with the people in the association. They are there to help, offer advice, and direct members to resources. Also, post in the online community if you have a question. You will be surprised at the number and depth of responses.
Agree or disagree...it is difficult to be a successful practice manager without being a member of VHMA?
SP: VHMA is an excellent resource. I personally would not have gone as far as I have without VHMA. But everyone has their own style and comfort level. There are many resources available to practice managers, and I think VHMA is the best. However, joining VHMA to achieve success may not be the only approach for some managers.
What is an emerging issue in veterinary practice management?
SP: The next big issue in the industry is the availability of veterinary technicians. As a manager in a hospital, it was difficult to hire techs. We need to be able to pay them higher wages. However, it’s always a balancing act...practices are balancing what they can pay staff with how much they can charge clients.
Some people maintain that it’s also important to show technicians a path to career growth. This works for some staff, but others are content to remain where they are. Also, jobs in practice management can be few and far between. A technician aspiring to become a manager may have to leave the practice to find their dream job.
What role can VHMA play in addressing this issue?
SP: VHMA is an association committed to managers. I’m not sure how VHMA acting independently can increase the pool of veterinary technicians. Still, I do think that VHMA could mentor a technician association to raise awareness of these positions.
What does VHMA mean to you?
SP: VHMA has been a part of my whole career. I’ve learned so much being a member of the board. Being on the board allowed me to better understand the importance of goals and objectives for an organization. I became more familiar with how to help a business/organization grow, and I was able to expand my knowledge in ways I never imagined.
What should every member know about the association?
SP: VHMA has adopted a strategic plan that is reviewed and revised at regular intervals. This is a critical document that guides the development and growth of the association. The board works hard to ensure that the plan is seen through to fruition.
Best piece of advice you can share with members.
SP: Do not sit on the sidelines! Just going to meetings is okay, but you need to become involved and be active with the association to realize the full benefits. Take the time and join a committee.
Thank you, Susan, for finding the time to share your memories. Enjoy retirement!