One person working alone can accomplish great things. But when he reaches out, exchanges ideas, and learns from and grows with other great men or women, the possibilities are truly limitless.
For this reason, practitioners recognize the value of collaboration—of sharing ideas with others, either down the road or across the country. As has been done for decades, referring their clients to specialists in the field to provide the best care possible.
Sharing ideas, offering advice and seeking or providing specialty services not only benefits the practices involved. The clients reap the benefits, as well, say practitioners Tom Latta, DVM and Ben Blankenship, DVM.
Dr. Latta spent 20 years in general practice before expanding to consulting for feedlot and stocker clients near his practice in Spearman, Texas. He is a past president of the Academy of Veterinary Consultants and has been involved in the organization since its inception 30 years ago.
Dr. Blankenship has been in practice with Ashby Herd Health Services, Inc., in Harrisonburg, VA, for ten years. Comprised of seven bovine practitioners, the practice includes one partner performing only embryo transfer work, while the remaining practitioners focus on palpations, lab work, ultrasounding and general calls.
Both men have found strength and success in working with and learning from others in the industry.
Strength in Numbers
Seeking the advice from a mentor in the industry can serve as a valuable tool throughout your career, Dr. Latta says. And it may possibly be even more important in the beginning years.
“A new graduate needs nothing more than a mentor,” he says. “Seek a mentor that you admire for their personality, their character and their approach to veterinary medicine. That mentor can also help you determine your strengths and weaknesses.”
Regardless of your years of experience, Dr. Latta says, it’s important for veterinarians to understand both their strengths and limitations.
“Quite simply, you just can’t know it all,” he says. “We all have strengths and gifts. Regardless of our position, or how we’re viewed by the world, we still need help and references. In my mind, that’s the greatest reason we reach out to other veterinarians.”
Sometimes, realizing those attributes can prove difficult. Therefore, Dr. Latta says, it can be helpful to call on the assistance of colleagues.
“Do a realistic self evaluation on an annual basis,” he says. “But also develop a relationship with a colleague and ask him or her, ‘What do you see as my strengths, and what is something I can work on?’ If you’re married, ask your spouse, who may see things you don’t see.”
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Knowing what you enjoy can also lead to discovering your strengths, Dr. Blankenship says.
“In our practice, some enjoy reproduction, and some enjoy consulting on mastitis,” he says. “Another enjoys lab work, so he’s the man to do it. If you enjoy doing something, you’re going to do it to the best of your ability.”
Collaborating with other veterinarians can often go beyond simple advice. Sometimes, a client referral is needed.
Passing it On
Referring a client to a specialist or seeking the advice from another veterinarian should not be viewed as a threat, Dr. Latta says.
“In the consulting business, most of us are busy and don’t view seeking advice from a colleague as a threat to losing a client,” he says. “If we can truly view other veterinarians as colleagues and reach out to them, there’s no end to the benefits.”
For this reason, Dr. Latta’s practice developed an alliance with five other practices about seven years ago, forming Veterinary Research Associates.
“We do some large scale research, but our main concept was a colleague concept,” he says. “We have annual and semi-annual visits and meetings to discuss our real issues. Everyone agrees not to be embarrassed about problems we may face. We bring the ideas to the table and discuss them. It’s been a great concept for us.”
When a practitioner realizes his limitations and calls on the assistance of another—either within or outside of his practice—he builds confidence within his client, Dr. Latta says.
“For example, when working with a feedlot manager, if I get stumped and say I’m calling on the help of another veterinarian, I have another set of eyes looking at the problem,” he says. “This builds great confidence in your client, because he knows you are willing to do whatever it takes to solve the problem. If you don’t know what’s going on, you are not serving your client’s best interest by not seeking advice.”
Dr. Blankenship’s practice often receives bovine referrals, often including C-sections or special procedures, from practitioners in the area.
“We are a benefit to other practitioners in the area, as they can ask us to perform procedures they are not comfortable with, as they only run into these situations a few times a year,” he says.
Referrals can benefit both practices involved, Dr. Blankenship says.
“If it’s the referring practice, the clients understand the practitioner’s limitations and know he has the cow’s best interest in mind,” he says. “Therefore, the veterinarian builds confidence in his client; and, it benefits the referral clinic because, simply, we’re getting more work than we would get otherwise.”
And, of course, resources within a clinic are also great assets.
Close to Home
Dr. Latta and Dr. Blankenship agree: working in a practice consisting of multiple practitioners can also serve as a tool in education and brainstorming.
“In our practices, we have five veterinarians—all with different roles,” Dr. Latta says. “We refer clients to each other and regularly refer surgical cases to universities and other practitioners.”
Dr. Blankenship says practitioners within his practice often collaborate on tough cases or unique situations. By doing so, he says, a practitioner can gain the advantage of combined years of experience and hands-on learning.
“If I’m a bit puzzled or wondering where to go with a certain cow, I can run it by the other guys in our practice and, most likely, they’ve seen a similar case on another farm,” he says.
Dr. Blankenship relies on mentors in Kansas and Montana, as well.
“We keep a good working relationship, and I’m the first to get on the phone to ask for recommendations on what he suggests,” he says. “It’s good to get other practitioners’ ideas.”
In order for collaboration to be successful, trust and honesty are number one.
Making it Work
Dr. Latta says trust and transparency between practitioners is critical.
“You develop trust, so you don’t fear the practitioner to which you refer is going to grab up your clients and steal them. That’s not an issue,” he says.
When making a referral, he says, you must share every detail.
“Don’t leave something out,” he says. “You may have messed something up really good. If you ask another practitioner to help and you don’t share all of your information, he’ll give advice based on the information he has, and it may be wrong. You may set him up to look bad.”
And, a simple “thank you” goes a long way, Dr. Latta says.
“Send a card or e-mail, or even take them to dinner,” he says. “A real thank you is very important.”
In order to locate a veterinarian within your area you can trust, Dr. Latta recommends contacting your local and state veterinary associations, or the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) or the Academy of Veterinary Consultants.
And, when getting the advice of someone new to you, securing more than one opinion can be an asset, Dr. Blankenship says.
“If you look up someone’s name for advice without knowing them well, be careful relying only on that one source for all of your information,” he says. “You have to somewhat build a relationship with your source of information. So, when you begin gathering advice, it may be advisable to bounce a question off of multiple specialists. Pool your answers. Weigh each one. And, do your own research, too.”
No matter how long you’ve been in practice, Dr. Latta says, a network of professionals is always an asset.
“I’ve been in practice for more than 40 years, and I still have a list of about ten veterinarians I call when I’m stumped,” he says. “I’m never embarrassed to call them.”
It could be someone within your practice, down the road or across the country. When it comes to locating another practitioner with whom to collaborate, there’s nothing to fear.
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