This month we spoke with Brian Conrad, CVPM, who served as VHMA President from 2015-2017. Brian was the driving force behind the spirited pep rally, a highlight of the 2017 VHMA Business Meeting in New Orleans.
Question: How did you enter the veterinary industry?
Brian: I got my start in the industry as a 17-year-old volunteer. My first day was one for the books! I arrived at noon and stayed 13 hours. At 1 a.m., I finally headed home and was offered a job as I made my way to the parking lot. As a vet assistant/technician, I took advantage of all learning opportunities and quickly grew into a proficient team member. When I enrolled in college, I attended classes and studied during the day, and worked at the pet emergency service in the evening.
In 2000 I saw an opportunity to create a management position at the practice that subleased space to the ER service where I worked. I wasn’t aware of the role of practice manager. Still, I researched and presented a proposal to the owners for a position that was essentially a practice manager---a job I believed was necessary to grow the practice. The owners agreed and hired me to fill it. Although I lacked formal training, I flourished as the business evolved, and the owners supported me in the newly created position. They sent me to Mark Opperman’s course and suggested I join VHMA and pursue CVPM certification. I sat for the exam at age 27, and I was the youngest candidate---at the time---to be awarded the CVPM. Several years later, Jessica Speas earned that distinction.
How would you characterize the VHMA when you assumed the presidency?
Brian: During my tenure, VHMA transitioned from a teenager to a young adult in its association life cycle. As any parent knows, it is a period marked by increasing independence and change. It was time for VHMA to assert its role and highlight the value the association and our members offer the industry. To accomplish this, we updated our messaging to communicate VHMA’s professionalism, education, and certification, collaborated with other organizations to tackle problems in the industry, hired a professional marketing team, and leveraged our executive director’s talent, knowledge, and expertise to extend our leadership. Our goal was to lay the foundation for the next stage of VHMA’s development.
You described yourself and those who served on the board with you as disruptors. Please explain.
Brian: The people I served with were firmly committed to VHMA’s growth and development. Some wanted to shoot for the moon and back, and others were a bit more conservative. Although we weren’t always in agreement, we disagreed without emotion--or mostly without emotion! We prudently explored ideas and options and negotiated a viable path. The goal was to disrupt the status quo to facilitate growth and development. We didn’t always agree, but we worked hard to define a strategy that considered various viewpoints and was viable without being overzealous or too tentative.
What were some of the challenges the board faced?
Brian: Practice manager was becoming a buzzword. Other organizations were promoting themselves as committed to the professional development of practice managers, but they were trying to be too many things to too many people. VHMA was---and still is--- the only association that addressed the practice managers’ unique concerns and needs. It was vital to communicate this and highlight the CVPM and premiere resources.
How has the annual meeting and conference evolved?
Brian: When I joined the VHMA, the business meeting, held during the annual meeting, was a relatively quiet event that attracted a few dozen members. While serving as president, my goal was to make this an event to showcase the association’s and members’ accomplishments. In 2017 the meeting’s theme was “Team VHMA,” a fun pep rally-style event that celebrated VHMA and its members. We injected the session with energy and enthusiasm and attracted many attendees. The spirited format allowed us to recognize accomplishments and update the group on the association’s progress.
Where should VHMA direct its efforts in the future?
Brian: Ensuring the emotional well-being of managers and staff is becoming more of a challenge in the veterinary industry. We must continue evaluating and implementing additional strategies to prevent compassion fatigue, depression, and other stressors from spiraling out of control and debilitating staff. Some practices and hospitals have hired counselors to respond to employees’ and clients’ emotional and psychological needs.
Technology is another significant issue. Because it’s constantly changing and being updated, managers should understand the advances so that they can make good decisions when selecting the best technology for their practices.
Look into your crystal ball; where will VHMA be in 10 years?
Brian: VHMA’s success will continue. The association will still be the premier resource for hospital managers; I am confident that membership may grow as high as 10,000 members.
I also anticipate that in 10 years, the CVPM will be as widely recognized as the LVT.
As the VHMA evolves, the position of practice manager will be better understood and appreciated. Owners will feel comfortable placing more responsibilities in the manager’s hands; consequently, wages will rise, and DVM/practice manager ownership will grow.
What VHMA development are you particularly proud of?
Brian: The Emerging Leaders Program! This program was created for non-CVPMs. It has been fulfilling to watch the recipients grow in their careers, achieve the CVPM, play active roles in the VHMA, and advocate for the practice manager position.
I would also add that I am incredibly proud of the way VHMA responded and adapted to the changes imposed by COVID-19. The pandemic presented enormous challenges that could have decimated the association, but leadership successfully pivoted and responded with strategies, materials, information, communications, and opportunities that kept the association viable and equipped members to navigate the crisis. They move forward stronger than ever.
What should every member know?
Brian: There is nothing more rewarding than influencing change and shaping an organization. Attend a meeting, or post to Member Connect. Any time you participate, you are having an impact.