In the last weeks (months, years …) we have been faced with the challenge of establishing a team mindset in our industry, where vets and veterinary therapists work together as professionals in relationships of trust, open communication and collaboration, to reach the best outcomes for each of our patients. We are getting there, but are not there yet.

You reap what you sow

It is so easy for us to see the lack of referrals coming our way, the ‘closed’ doors and lack of opportunities presented to us by vets, and to get stuck on that pathway of negativity.

We often hear that what we constantly think about and focus on will become more and more prevalent in our lives.

This means a constant focus on where the system is not working for us will really ensure that a lack of teamwork and a lack of referrals from veterinarians will continue to stump us year after year.

I think as vets and veterinary therapists, we need to have an ‘abundance’ mindset. There is work for everyone, and the more we collaborate, the more work we all get.

Work towards a bigger pie, not a bigger slice

The abundance mindset says that when the pie gets bigger, we all enjoy more pie. We should not work towards getting a bigger slice of a small pie, but instead focus on growing the pie for everyone. Collaboration is key.

When the animal healthcare ecosystem becomes more interactive, dynamic, supportive and collaborative, we will begin to see real success that reaps bigger rewards for others, and for ourselves.

How do we carry this principle into our daily lives as Vetrehabbers? If you need more referrals, refer more patients. Refer them to veterinarians and to other professionals in complementing industries. Find trainers, groomers, riders, dogwalkers – any animal professionals in your area – and start to form relationships with them that are built on referrals.

Visit these practices and learn from them. Find out how you might be able to help some of their cases. Make a note of those you think are offering a great service so that you can confidently refer clients to them. This kind of generosity results in return referrals. Gradually, you will build up a network of collaborating animal health professionals where everyone benefits – not least,  our patients and their owners.

 Ideally, a network of professionals working in the same geographic area should be able to phone any other member of the network to discuss a problem case, ask for advice or offer tips. That would be real teamwork.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood

As people and as professionals we often struggle with the feeling of not being valued. We tell ourselves that vets just don’t understand what we can do, how much difference we could make if only they referred patients to us.

How often do we turn this thought on ourselves? Do you ever seek to understand your local vet and their needs? What challenges are they facing? What are their uncertainties? What legal implications do they face? What sorts of patients do they see in their clinics, and which do they refer to specialists, feeling inadequate to treat?

 In a podcast interview, physiotherapist Ansi van der Walt spoke about how she initially won veterinary referrals and built her practice with animals, having trained in human physiotherapy. She said something that impressed me greatly; that in the beginning, her focus was on listening to the needs of the vets, and figuring out ways to meet those needs. Only then did she tell them about herself and what she could do.

 So often we try take the opposite approach. We try to be like those super-marketers who bounce into your orbit and tell you all about what they can do for you without first finding out what you want or need. We imagine ourselves having to say to a stranger:

“Here I am! I can do this, this and this for you! Call me!”

Most vetrehabbers are just not comfortable with this approach. We aren’t all about ourselves – we’re about our patients, our clients.  We’re all about serving, making a difference, healing. Our very nature is to give, to listen, to guide, nurture and grow.

This could be why most of us find it so difficult to build relationships with vets and other professionals. We just don’t feel right walking into a place, standing in front of a stranger and telling them how amazing we are!

So let’s shift the approach, and build relationship in ways that are true to who we are. There is no need to become what you are not in order to build collaborative, productive relationships. We can do it in our own way.

 Think about how you are with your patients and their owners. You always listen, striving to understand their difficulties, then finding ways to help them solve their problems. Do the same with the vets in your area.  Strive to listen first and to find ways to solve some of the daily problems they face as vets.

It’s all about the team

Having a great, friendly team of fellow professionals working together collaboratively for the good of the animals in their area is truly the end goal for any Vetrehabber. We want to part of a team we can work with, each of us filling a niche, playing our essential part. We want to be able call our vet, or send them a message, and openly and freely discuss a challenge, a blockage, and brainstorm a way forward together. 

Think about what that ideal scenario would look like for you. Think about each person in that team. Think about who you are in that team. See your patients, see your challenges, and see how you could solve challenges with the help of a team.

Put yourself into the shoes of the other professionals on that team and see what collaboration would look and feel like from their perspective.

With this picture in mind, go and find the path to reach it! Do it just like you would approach a challenging patient.

You might create a problem list, and work out the approach to tackle and solve each of those problems until you reach your goal.  Reassess often, adjust your approach, and don’t give up. If we stay focused on the end result and don’t let ourselves get bogged down by the challenges, we’ll find the solutions – either within ourselves or amongst the Vetrehabber community. 

Now, go create a dream team!

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