Nurturing 3 Core Elements to Create a Healthy Culture in a Veterinary Practice

Matthew McGlasson, DVM, CVPM, medical director of Noah’s Ark Animal Clinics in Ohio and Kentucky, provided tips for veterinary staff retention and growth during a session at the 2022 Fetch dvm360® Conference in San Diego.

What does it feel like when you walk through the door of a veterinary clinic? That feeling is the personification of their culture; the sum of its mission and core values, policies and attitudes, said Matthew McGlasson, DVM, CVPM, medical director of Noah’s Ark Animal Clinics in Ohio and Kentucky.

In a session at the 2022 Fetch dvm360® Conference in San Diego, California, McGlason outlined the 3 elements of a healthy culture and tips on how to build and maintain one. Those elements are people, the most valuable asset, followed by communication and growth, McGlasson said.

One tool that McGlasson recommended using on a quarterly basis to encourage employee retention, as well as communication and growth, is a 1-on-1 meeting for each employee with their direct supervisor. These meetings should not be approached as grievance sessions, but as an opportunity for an employee to talk about what is going well and what he is struggling with. They should also be encouraged to talk about a skill they’re working on during the quarter and how management can help, he said. There should be no surprises for the employee at these meetings.

For managers, the 1-on-1 meeting is a chance to be proactive and address small issues before they escalate into big ones, he said. It is also an information gathering session to help the manager assess whether the right person is in the right job.

In McGlasson’s practice, he noted, managers complete a standardized report, “the people screener,” on each direct report. The report is designed to help the manager assess whether he has the right person in the right job and whether that person has the ability to perform his job as expected.

It’s been helpful, he said, to identify valuable employees who may not be the best fit for their current role, but who might thrive in another role. He has also helped evaluate and communicate with employees about areas of growth.

McGlasson also favors daily meetings during which the entire staff comes together to discuss news and celebrate the previous day’s highlights. The content of the huddle can be designed to suit the practice. For example, at McGlasson’s clinic, the meeting might include a “Doctor’s Minute,” during which one of the doctors shares information about a new procedure or breakthrough in science and medicine.

What is the point of all this? Growth, McGlason said.

“If you’re not very interested in helping an employee grow, you’re going to lose them,” he said, because good team members are in high demand these days.

During his talk, McGlasson also identified the top 3 culture killers: gossip, customer shaming, and tolerance of toxic customers.

Gossip, he said, is the most dangerous behavior because it is divisive, creates anxiety, damages an atmosphere of trust and decreases productivity. McGlasson has instituted a “no gossip” policy in her practice and recommends it to others.

It’s important to be very intentional about squashing gossip immediately when it appears, he said. Identifying gossip is relatively easy, as it is usually something said about another employee who is not present. An exception, she said, might be when someone is praising an employee who isn’t present.

Customer shaming usually shows up as critical comments about a customer to another employee. Creates an “us vs. them” relationship between veterinary staff and pet owners, which distracts attention and education.

“Clients need to know that everyone in the practice is on the same team regarding their pet and doing everything they can to help,” McGlasson said.

When it comes to toxic customer behavior, McGlasson said it’s best to remember that the practice is often to see people on the worst day of their year, which requires patience and grace. Although not every client can be monitored, veterinary staff can monitor their reaction to that client, she noted.

McGlasson, however, said the line must be drawn when an employee’s health and safety is threatened by a customer. Allowing such behavior undermines the healthy culture of a practice and the trust the team has in its leadership, he said.


McGlason M. The major crop killers in veterinary medicine. Presented at: Fetch dvm360® Conference; San Diego, California. December 2-4, 2022.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *