Alachua, FL---The Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA) is pleased to announce its 2022 Emerging Leaders Program scholarship recipients: Linda McCarthy, Office Manager of Cat's Corner Veterinary Hospital in Oxford, Connecticut, and Leah Parris, Practice Manager of Loving Hands Animal Clinic in Alpharetta, Georgia. This prestigious award recognizes the leadership skills and commitment to personal growth of two VHMA members who were 40 or younger at the time of application. The Emerging Leaders program will provide McCarthy and Parris with opportunities to further refine their skills and enhance their professional development.
Applicants were asked to describe a challenge they overcame in their practice. "Both Linda and Leah faced dysfunctional situations where staff had low morale and did not treat each other professionally. Linda's staff responded to having a new manager with disdain and hostility. Leah's staff was afraid of her," said VHMA Executive Director Christine Shupe, CAE. "Both women found creative ways to develop a new office culture and build better relationships with their staff, and among the staff, too. The insight and resolve both showed was remarkable."
Meet the 2022 Leaders
Linda McCarthy, Office Manager, Cat's Corner Veterinary Hospital, Connecticut
Linda McCarthy joined Cat's Corner as the office manager in 2017. She came knowing that she had several personnel issues to solve, including excessive employee absences and late arrivals, and conflicting personalities. Soon after arriving, she discovered that staff members frequently complained about each other to management, and yet they also feared management – including her.
"One staff member would literally jump every time she heard her name as if she was wondering what she was going to get in trouble for," McCarthy said. "I noticed that whenever I asked anyone a question about their policies and protocols that I tended to get statements like I don't want to get in trouble.'"
Past Experiences Come into Play
McCarthy was introduced to the veterinary profession as a child growing up in Connecticut and Florida. "My mom is a career veterinary technician, and I would hang out with her. Sometimes I would even stay overnight with her when she was working in the ER," she said.
In and just after high school, she worked in retail and restaurants until she landed a technician assistant job at an emergency veterinary hospital at age 20. McCarthy became a technician and worked as one for ten years, including six as an orthopedic surgery technician.
She earned an associate degree in business management from Florida South West State College and considered leaving the veterinary practice to use her degree. "But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I just love the veterinary industry, and there was a way to use my management skills without leaving it," she said. Upon her graduation in 2015, she was promoted to office manager.
In every industry she has worked in, McCarthy has seen managers speak to staff in a way that lowered their confidence or made them feel bad. She saw cases where managers spoke that way to customers or, at the other extreme, where managers assumed the customer was right without first listening to the employee's side of the story.
Working with and Guiding Staff to Fix Issues
She began her work at Cat's Corner by meeting with every employee individually then spent the next few weeks getting to know them.
"As an office manager, you're going to have to talk to people when a task needs to be done or when a mistake is made, but you can't use a one-size-fits-all approach to do so," she said. "There are some people who need you to be direct to get your point across clearly. There are some people with whom you need to be gentle because they are sensitive. There are some people who need an explanation, and they need to know that you're not going to be mad that they want to know why something has to be done in a certain way."
After meeting with the Cat's Corner staff and observing the office for a few weeks, McCarthy called a staff meeting to begin building trust. There was a lip sync battle, requiring team members to work together to perform a karaoke song. It started out uncomfortable, but by the end, everyone was laughing. McCarthy told them flat-out that she wanted to create a new dynamic. She promised she would never place blame without hearing their side, and she would not write performance complaints about minuscule issues. She told her staff they could come to her with anything, but if they wanted a situation with another coworker resolved, she would not be the go-between: they would all talk it out together.
McCarthy relied on the wisdom of her staff. For example, she took their fantastic suggestion that the kennel attendant receives training to do surgery set up the night before a procedure.
She made her expectations clear. For example, she launched a new tardy/attendance point system. The most chronic no-show employee was soon terminated, but everyone else changed their behavior appropriately.
"After four years, I can say that I feel I have healed the team in a way. Nobody is afraid of getting yelled at. The team knows they can come to me about anything, and I will help however I can. They know I'm fun, laid-back, and don't jump to accusation and discipline. However, they have also learned that I hold them all up to the same standards and accountability and will call them out if they need to be reminded and will discipline as necessary."
McCarthy believes winning the Emerging Leaders Award will have a significant impact on her future. "Receiving this award and achieving my CVPM certification are giant steps toward my goal of becoming a consultant," she said. "I would love to be able to help veterinarians and their staff work toward their practice goals."
The scholarship is also an honor, she said. "Being chosen for this award is very special to me because it means that VHMA believes I can positively impact others in the industry and are willing to invest in me and help me do so," she said.
McCarthy has an 11-year-old son, Jackson, and a boyfriend, Brian. They share their home with a terrier mix named Ace and an orange tabby named Adam. In her downtime, Linda enjoys cooking comfort food and listening to Bruce Springsteen.
Leah Parris, RVT, CCFP, HABc, Practice Manager, Loving Hands Animal Clinic, Georgia.
Leah Parris became Practice Manager at Loving Hands Animal Clinic in her hometown of Alpharetta, Georgia, in January 2021. She is a veterinary field veteran who began her career at a kennel in 2007. Parris has since studied animal science at Auburn University, earned her veterinary technician degree, worked as a licensed technician, receptionist, veterinary assistant, and, for the prior four years, as a manager at two different clinics. But Parris walked into something completely new at Loving Hands: A staff that feared her and didn't like her much, either.
Loving Hands is corporate-owned, and Parris said she had a lot to learn, including how financials and reporting procedures are done. "I looked up one day, and I realized my coworkers are intimidated by me and scared. None of them will even make eye contact with me," she said. "And it was understandable!"
Her new staff had been beleaguered by a year of multiple veterinarian resignations and management changes, all during the upheaval of COVID. And "I was not really spending any time getting to know them. I was not creating relationships. All they heard from me was, 'This is the protocol for this; you have to be doing this.' It was all about putting rules into place," said Parris.
Picking Up Poop and Sharing the Personal
Parris immediately prioritized spending time on the floor – and if there was poop on that floor, she picked it up. "I talked to everyone, and I made a special effort to engage the quiet ones," she said. For example, if a patient with something unusual came in, she asked her coworkers if they had ever seen that ailment before and how they handled it and shared how her previous practices had handled it. "Having worked in all departments in a hospital made it effortless to relate to everyone and share experiences," she said.
Parris also asked her staff about their lives outside of work and listened to their answers. "If I heard someone say 'my mom is in the hospital,' I would make an effort to ask, 'How is your mom doing?' One of my technician supervisors got engaged, and I was always asking about the wedding planning," she said.
Parris began creating fun team-building activities and monthly morale boosters such as scavenger hunts and meditation days.
"I think what made the biggest impact is they saw I was human," she said. "I became very relatable to them on a level other than professional," she said.
Ongoing Efforts and Proof of Success
Parris, a certified compassion fatigue professional, wanted her staff to know that she is concerned about their well-being and happiness and wants to address anything that could erode that. So, she launched a quarterly survey to assess burnout and compassion fatigue.
Recently, her corporate office distributed a survey asking all staff members to evaluate their manager – Parris – in numerous categories. The answers were anonymous and kept secret from Parris until the regional manager reviewed the outcome. She earned a 97% score. She thanked everyone at the next staff meeting. "The survey proved to me that I was part of the team and communicated to the entire staff that we had faith in each other," Parris said.
A Gateway to Further Opportunities and Achievement
Parris sees the award as a testament to how much she loves her clinic and staff and the support she has received from both staff and her corporate employer, Pet Vet Care Centers.
"I hope that achieving this award will help me advance to becoming a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager (CVPM)," she said. "I also hope that it will show employers my drive and passion for striving for excellence and displays a sense of dedication and a strong work ethic. I think it could provide a networking outlet and open up new opportunities within the veterinary profession."
In her free time, Parris enjoys strength training, playing with her dog, and studying for her CVPM test. Parris said she intends to educate other managers and upcoming CVPMs about the Emerging Leaders Program and its opportunities to winners.
About the Emerging Leaders Program
The VHMA Emerging Leader Scholarship program is intended to create an opportunity for new veterinary management professionals to become engaged in the association in meaningful ways that contribute to their professional growth, as well as energize the association with new leaders and future direction of the profession.
VHMA Emerging Leaders receive an annual $2,500 scholarship for two years, which can be used toward registration and travel costs to attend the VHMA Annual Meeting and Conference and apply to the CVPM certification process. Each candidate is expected to "give back" to VHMA through specific volunteer activities, such as serving as an ambassador to promote the program, the association, and the profession, presenting an educational webinar, or submitting an article for publication in Practice Pulse. Additional volunteer activities are detailed on VHMA's website.
The VHMA is a nationally recognized thought-leader and innovator in providing training, education, and resources to more than 4,000 members and a trusted resource that the veterinary sector relies on for industry insights, research, and advocacy to assure performance at the highest levels. VHMA's core purpose is to advance and support veterinary practice management professionals by developing professional competence, supporting and encouraging standards through the industry's highest-level certification program, the Certified Veterinary Practice Manager (CVPM), and providing individuals with a network for professional connection and support. For more information, go to www.vhma.org.