With the overwhelming workload and schedule demands that we all face every day, how does one find the time or the motivation to become involved in professional organizations? But rather than another drain on our time and resources, membership and active involvement in professional organizations can offer personal career development skill-building and opportunities for leadership and mentoring across all career stages.
Research in human medicine has shown that joining professional organizations and attending professional conferences can provide tremendous career development, skill-building, and professional networking opportunities.[i] Career development can be enhanced by active participation in the local chapter of a professional association.[ii] Furthermore, in one study, making a positive impact in the community and earning the respect of one's peers were most often reported as indicators of career success.[iii]
In his book The Servant as Leader, Robert K. Greenleaf states: "a servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong."[iv] As members of the veterinary profession, you already have the training and temperament to be leaders in your practice as well as your community.
You already may be a member of one or more veterinary related organizations, like the AVMA, AAHA, or your state VMA. But are you getting the most out of your memberships and are you actively involved in these organizations? Local service organizations are unusually hungry for members or volunteers. Get involved in a local animal rescue or become a board member for a local wildlife conservation group that could benefit from your veterinary expertise. You may wish to join an organization that is unrelated to the veterinary profession, for example, your school PTA, neighborhood watch or senior center in your community. Membership in such groups provides many opportunities for leadership on committees, special projects or events. You can try different activities to see what appeals to you most. The overriding message here is Become Involved!
How can you and your practice team become leaders, both in the practice and in the world outside? Certainly, you may take formal coursework to learn leadership skills. Many wonderful leadership programs are offered such as the Veterinary Management Institute (https://www.aaha.org/professional/education/vmi) or the Veterinary Leadership Institute (http://veterinaryleadershipinstitute.org/). In addition, many veterinary schools offer online leadership and professional development courses for veterinarians and veterinary technicians (e.g. http://www.online.colostate.edu/topics-of-study/vetmedonline/).
Many state VMA's now offer a Power of Ten Leadership Academy for recent graduates. This program is a fully sponsored, year-long program where a group of ten recent graduates (within seven years) are trained in a multitude of leadership, communication and interpersonal skills that allow them to become more effective practitioners, managers or team leaders and even practice owners. Find out if your local or state VMA participates in the Power of Ten program.
Everyone in your practice can benefit from association involvement! Encourage your doctors to join a state or local group and actively participate in projects. Not only will it help them grow as leaders and potential practice owners, but as people. Meeting with colleagues and networking with other veterinarians will help promote your practice and potentially offer opportunities for collaboration. By attending association meetings, doctors can learn about trends in the profession on a local, national and international level. In addition, they can learn professionalism and how to treat competitors as colleagues.
Practice managers frequently are overlooked when it comes to offering memberships to professional organizations. Often, your manager is the person in your practice who will use their membership to its fullest. Managers need information about managing a veterinary practice, a small business, from the financial side to marketing, to staff management and training to client satisfaction and facility repairs and maintenance. Your manager is a jack-of-all-trades, or needs to know how to fill in the gaps. Providing membership in a local group of hospital managers is one way for your manager to find help. Your manager is not going to give away all your secrets to your competitors! It is much more likely that she will have a chance to share ideas about solving staffing issues, managing difficult clients, and running better reports from your management software.
In addition to paying membership dues, you must commit to allowing your staff to attend meetings during the day. Managers' groups and service clubs often meet over lunch or before/after work. It does no good to pay dues but make it difficult for staff to attend meetings or events.
Few people are born to be good leaders. Most of us need to practice, and that's why leadership development is so important. As leaders, your team will be more effective in meeting job-related demands, have higher motivation levels and willingness to work hard, and have lower absenteeism. They will be better equipped and empowered to work toward a common goal-developing your practice to its fullest potential.
[i] Mata H, Latham TP, Ransome Y. Benefits of professional organization membership and participation in national conferences: considerations for students and new professionals. Health Promot Pract. 2010 Jul;11(4):450-3.
[ii] Escoffery C, Kenzig M, Hyden C. Getting the most out of professional associations. Health Promot Pract. 2015 May;16(3):309-12.
[iii] Thomas M, Innuss-Richter Z, Mata H, Cottrell PR. Career development through local chapter involvement: perspectives from chapter members. Health Promot Pract. 2013 Jul;14(4):480-4.
[iv] Greenleaf, RK. The Servant as Leader. The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership rev edition (2008).