5 Lessons from Australia that will make you happier in your vet practice.

June 4th, 2016

17336_291289973155_733178_n1. A life less formal breaks down barriers.

Aussies tend to take themselves a little bit less seriously than us Brits. ‘Mate-ship’ is a central theme of life in Australia and it certainly makes life in practice a lot of fun. There’s a real sense that we all ‘have each other’s back’.

People like to laugh and things are a little less formal. One nice touch is in how we address clients. In the UK it was always ‘Mr or Mrs client’. Whereas here we’re almost always on first name terms. It’s a layer of formality that helps us to break down barriers and appear less like scary doctors.

2. Pet insurance is great, but you don’t need it to have fun in practice (or profit).

Given the huge uptake and reliance on pet insurance in the UK market, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I began life in a market where uptake is somewhere south of 5%.

Most of my career was spent convincing pet owners in a deprived London borough to take action, so I’m used to working hard to get pet owners to take action. I was expecting more of the same. The reality however surprised me. Pet owners here in Sydney at least (I’ve never worked elsewhere in Australia) are more than happy to put their hands in there pockets to look after their pets. Our clinic is a fairly high achiever in terms of insured patients, but we’re nowhere near 20%. Yet our profitability is more than double what I was able to achieve in the UK.

The take home for me is that good communication and service are just as (if not more so) important as insurance. (And Sydneysiders are every bit as nuts for their pets as the Brits).

3. Bones don’t help keep teeth clean!

Clinical standards here in Sydney are very high (comparable to anything in the UK). With one major blind spot – dentistry. For some undetermined reason, Aussie vets seem hell bent on delegating the dental side of the profession to the local butcher. Almost without exception the advice is to offer chicken wings or bones to clean your pet’s teeth. As you might expect, I see a lot of broken carnassial teeth, yet weirdly the incidence of periodontal disease seems no better than the UK or US. (Where bone feeding is widely discouraged.) Quite why this quirk exists is anyone’s guess. Graduates are taught a scandalously (some might say negligently) small amount of dental training here, but this is true the world over. So quite why Aussie vets have adopted a “bones over brushing” mentality is anyone’s guess. Things are slowly improving, but it’s perplexing none-the-less.

4. New grads can become stars within six months.

When I was a new grad, I got a good start with Croft Vets. But it’s not like this for many new graduates who are treated poorly and burn out. Since opening my own practice I have taken on a new graduate each year and put them through a 12 month structured training and supportive coaching program. The results surpassed my ambition and within 3-6 months each graduate has begun to pay their way. By the end of the 12 months they are far better clinicians than I was at the same age and are looking forward to career built on this solid foundation. It’s great to see this young talent flourish.

5. Make space for gratitude in your life each day.

Taking a break from the travails of life in practice is important. Holidays, of course, do us the world of good. But taking a mini-timeout each day is just as important (and remedial). One of my favorite activities is to take 2-3 mindful minutes to listen to the birds sing. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a laughing kookaburra in the morning or a restful as the tuneful whistles of magpies in the evening to help maintain gratitude in your heart.

‘Til next time from Down Under. Stay safe and be happy.

Dr D.

This article was originally published in the Veterinary Business Journal and has been republished with permission.

Unlock Closed Doors With Open Questions

May 2nd, 2016

One of the great things about mindfulness training is that you start to notice the details in life. As a generally global (or big picture) thinker with a mind that revs like a Ferrari, it can be super-hard to notice the details.

So one of my recent learnings has been that stopping to settle the mind and notice the details, ponder the thoughts before furiously screaming onto the next one is that you can start to spot some patterns. In all the hubbub of normal discursive thoughts things can seem random, but the brain (well my brain anyway) clearly has a hierarchy of stuff it wants to chew down on.

So I’m starting to be able to pick out the recurring topics and then create some useful outputs from those thoughts.

The one that comes around the most is just how many situations in everyday life an open question seems to be the right way to approach a scenario.

A couple of examples. Last week I was having a coaching conversation with someone who appeared from my perspective to be struggling with some self-defeating inner self-talk. (Trash talk). My reflex response was to try to talk her out of it with fact and logic. But I’ve gotten good at suppressing the initial caveman “me fix this” response. And instead, after a second of contemplation, I was able to access the open questions bank in my brain.

A challenging, emotional and draining conversation followed. But it was a two way street, me asking open questions – my colleague talking about the issues confronting her. We weaved and bobbed our way through the conversation, without ducking the hard parts, but we did so with respect and compassion.

The conversation didn’t fix anything, one conversation rarely does. But my colleague, no doubt also drained would at the very least felt listened to. And it was the start of a shared exploration and journey that stands a far greater chance of delivering an outcome where this person can help themself in future.

Later in the week I’m in the exam room and a tough case comes in, so I’m asking a bucket load of open questions. How long has it been happening for? How would you describe the problem? When does it appear? … By the end of the question session I had a reasonable idea what was going on and the client had felt listened to.

I have also had the pleasure of 8 weeks of parents and in-laws living with us as the oppressive Aussie summer heat gives way to a very, very pleasant Autumn climate. I’m sure after 8 weeks, even the Dalai Lama himself would be a strain as a house guest. In the past this may have led to the build up of minor, but annoying, attritional conflict.

Sensing this was where things were heading, one evening I made the conscious decision to just ask open questions and get into a really deep listening exercise over dinner (and a couple of glasses of wine). The result was awesome, I learned a little more about my mother-in-law’s absolutely fascinating life journey that I had not heard before and had a great evening. This one conversation had a significant galvanising effect on the relationship and the rest of the time passed well.

The great things about open questions is that they allow you to learn deeply about the person on the other side of the couch. And in doing so you listen intently to what is being said. If you want to make someone feel special then just listen to them for a half hour.

Ironically, the way I meet a lot of new people is by standing on a stage and broadcasting a message for an hour or so. My mentor tells me I talk about 30% more than any of his other clients. I know it’s his polite way of telling me to shut the heck up and listen more.

So open questions (and a deep desire to learn more about the person opposite) have been very powerful tools to have mastered in helping me to get my stuff done. I’ve come a long way in medicine because of it, and my relationships are benefitting now too.

I’ll leave this journal entry with a call to action for the day. Find someone in your life to sit with over a coffee, beer, wine or water in your day today for 30 minutes.

Then ask them some open questions about how they are going and see where the vibe takes you. If your experiences are anything like mine, then I doubt you’ll find the time was wasted.

Have an awesome day.

Dr D.

Are these five deadly sins slaying your exam room efforts?

September 21st, 2015

Shooting-Yourself-In-The-FootOver almost two decades as a vet, manger and hospital owner I’ve witnessed a lot of bad behaviours in the exam room. Things that stop animals getting the treatments they need. It often looks like we unwittingly shooting ourself in the foot.

So here are the top five ways vets (and nurses) sabotage their good intentions leading to bad outcomes for patients and practice. And I’ve dropped in some tips on how to improve and have fantastic appointments.

#1 – We destroy trust before we open our mouths.

Leaving syringes, needles and dust bunnies lying around the exam room is bad enough. But wearing sweat soaked scrubs and a blood stained face mask takes things to a whole new level of gross. Remember, “clients don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care”. So create a clean, safe and smell-free exam room space that shows you care about their experience.

#2 – We cut to the chase too quickly.

Not stopping to say hello and shake a client’s hand or greet their pet by name/give a liver treat is a massive waste of a chance to build rapport. Sounds simple but so many vets cut straight to the chase rather than build up some rapport first.

#3 – Running behind schedule.

We’re busy, I get it. But so are your clients and they won’t forgive being late each time they come to see you. Respect their time by running on schedule.

#4 – We try to look clever, but only succeed in making them feel stupid.

Big, fancy “vet words” may make you feel and look clever, but I guarantee you they are alienating your clients. It’s a classic medic-mistake to try to look clever by showing off your profound knowledge of a topic. But bear in mind that the average reading age of your client is likely to be lower high school. Not tertiary education.

All your big words are doing is making them feel stupid. So be sure to talk in plain English if you want to get your message across clearly.

#5 – We think they won’t want to pay for our services.

If you see lots of clients where “cost is an issue” then I guarantee you than you have a problem. This is very common problem because vets generally think about 60% of clients see price as an issue. But AHAA studies show that the number of clients that actually have real price concerns is closer to 5%. If you believe your clients won’t pay, then guess what – this will be your frustrating reality. But trust me, if you take pride in and believe in your skills, plus make clear, confident recommendations then people will follow your advice willingly.

I’ve seen all of these mistakes a few more besides in the course of my research into exam room communication.

And is it any wonder? Vets are not taught very much about communication skills at all. Instead this vital element of clinical success is left to us (as students) to pick up when we are out there watching other vets in practice.

So why is it a surprise that we have a profession trained to perform a thousand subtle acts of sabotage?

It doesn’t have to be like this and it’s not really your fault that this has happened. But it is a huge issue affecting pet health outcomes and business performance. So it is our job as care givers to fix this.

This is something that I’m 100% fixated on helping s to remedy. So I’ve created a short ebook which is you implement then you’re going to see beneficial changes. No doubt about it.

To get your copy of this ebook (it’s 10 pages of solid business dynamite) just click here.

I’m not going to make this one available for free forever as it’s kinda all of my secret exam room sauce (distilled into one package. But for now it is freely available from this link.

So go ahead and have it with my compliments

The top ten ways to tell if time is kicking your butt

May 11th, 2015

Time Management“But at my back I always hear, Time’s winged chariot hurrying near” a haunting line from an old poem. But one that sums up one of the biggest problems we face in veterinary practice today. The management of our time.

So how can you tell if the time monsters are gobbling up your life? Here are my top ten ways to find out if time is kicking your butt.

1. You own an Apple Watch

Seriously, who actually believes that having email and instant messenger on your wrist is going to help improve productivity? I dropped into the Apple Store to sneak a peek at these gadgets. What I discovered was that the device though wonderfully well designed, is crammed full of distraction based time-traps. Short of having a newborn litter of puppies to feed I cannot think of a more effective way to suck up your time. 10/10 for ingenious design. 0/10 for productivity assistance.*

2. You say things like ‘I don’t have time’ several times each day.

If you are guilty of uttering these words then time absolutely has you beaten at the mindset level. Feeling like time is your enemy is a sure sign that you are not managing things well. Once you have this mindset your reflex to opportunities is to say no and ignore things that might be great fun or work out to be huge opportunities.

I’m not saying that you should suddenly say yes to everything, that’s not a good solution if you’re struggling to manage your workload. What I am saying is that if you don’t feel like you have the choice, then you need to rework your day so you can make decisions without feeling like there’s a stopwatch ticking in your ear.

3. You say yes to everyone and everything.

The exact opposite of what good time managers do. The objective is to delegate tasks away from you, not be such a control freak that you have to do everything yourself.

4. You tell people to “do this, not that”.

The catchphrase of the micro-manager, a siren call for vets and managers across the globe. In our over-worked, under-resourced practices it isn’t hard to see how this occurs. It seems far easier to ‘just do it myself’ than stand by and watch someone else goof it up. I call this behaviour the time bandit because it robs you twice.

The first way this behaviour robs you is by chewing up your time doing silly tasks that someone else could easily learn themselves. The second (and far worse way) is that it robs your team of the chance to grow and develop their own skill level. All of which means you are more likely to be a stressed boss and your team gradually lose their motivation to work because they don’t feel valued.

5. You instinctively put the kettle on to make a cup of tea when faced with an important task.

I suffer with this particular time affliction terribly. In fact, the way I know I’m working on a task of huge importance is by noticing just how loudly my procrastination demons are screaming.

6. You get to the end of the day having achieved no output of your own, but have helped everyone else with their day.

I think back to my first job in management and this was almost everyday some weeks. I had strategic stuff I should have been working on, but there was always someone else who seemingly needed my help. Tactical work is important, but once you reach a certain job level, strategic work is what you should spend most of your time on.

It took me a while to work this one out, and it feels very gratifying to get to the end of your day having helped a lot of people out. But being the grease in someone else’s wheels will only get your business so far. What it needs more than anything else is an adept leader.

7. You have thousands of unread messages in your inbox (seriously) and you leave facebook open on your browser bar.

A no brainer to avoid this right? But email and facebook are the two biggest productivity killers I’ve seen. Yes they are necessary, but if your habit is to get to work, open up email and check out the practice facebook page then someone else is setting your agenda each day.

My strongest advice is that you isolate your email and social media use to a couple of smaller 30 minute windows each day.

8. You do small things on your to do list first

Have you ever gotten into work, looked at your to do list and thought, ‘I’ll just quickly knock off these small items so I have some runs on the board’? Of course you have. We all have. Just remember, if you focus on small tasks, you’ll only ever get small results.

9. You don’t have a to do list

Need I expand? I suspect not.

10. You think being busy equates to being effective.

Ever see those people who have two phones, are bombarded by texts and can’t hold a conversation for more than two minutes without interruption. Time. Management. Trainwrecks.

For some people being busy is an end in itself, but if you want to be successful then focussing your energy on being effective is a far better objective. Focus on results out, not time put in.

So did you recognise any of your own behaviours in that list? If so, then make sure you’re signed up to my newsletter and next week we’ll talk about how to stop time kicking your butt and reclaim your life.

Until then – be safe, be well and be happy.

Dr Dave.

What will our profession look like in 30 years?

February 12th, 2015

Take the Veterinary Career Satisfaction Survey Here:

Thirty years ago the profession was a male dominated, farm animal driven industry. Things could hardly be more different these days and in another thirty years what will the market looks like?
While we can’t answer the last question, it’s undoubtedly true that a rapid evolution (possibly revolution) has occurred in our industry across the planet. Clinical standards, cultural shifts , the rise of corporate business and the feminisation of the workforce are all presenting challenges and having huge impacts. And while we have been relatively good at adapting to some of these changes (typically the bit we’ve done well is harness the clinical progress). There is little doubt that we are having a harder time dealing with the other drivers of change.
It feels much like we are at a cross roads right now, perhaps we’ve been stood here for longer than we might be willing to admit. Pondering how to react. Unsure of the direction we ought to take. But there’s more than a nagging sensation that things are not right within the profession and particularly the labour market. Employees report job dissatisfaction and employers complain that they can’t get the staff required.
So what’s going on and what can be done to fix things? To move forward?
As with all problems some reliable data is required, which is why I’m setting out to survey 500 vets and 500 practice owners about the state of the labour market in Australia.
What I’d like to ask is for you to give 3-4 minutes of your time to take a quick survey so we can gain a deeper understanding of what the issues are from both sides of the fence.
The information is completely anonymous and will be used to assess trends and provide valid information so we can build a better workplace for all. I’m looking for 500 vets in Australia to take the survey and I’d be grateful for your time. The results will be analysed and a summary published later this year for all to digest and review. So what’s in it for you? Well, in short, this is a chance to contribute your opinion and let your voice be heard.
The more voices are added, the louder the noise made and the more likely that leaders from academia and business within our profession will take note and learn what we do well, what we do badly and most importantly what needs to change.
Thanks in advance for your time and please share this with your colleagues.
The survey will close at the end of March or once we reach 500 responses from vets. So please don’t miss out. Make your voice heard and take the survey here.
Thanks for your time,
Dr Dave Nicol.

Where did all the vets go?

February 12th, 2015

To complete the survey for Vet Practice Owners or Managers please go here:


(The survey takes only 3 minutes to complete.)

Where did all the vets go?

It’s a question increasing numbers of practice owners and managers are asking themselves as they struggle to recruit great talent. Which is a bit strange, because we know that new graduates are literally pouring out from the vet schools – and many of them can’t find jobs. So what’s going on in the veterinary workforce? Where do all the vets go?

There are lots of theories and opinions, but what’s needed is some data and insight into what’s going on. Management expert Dr Dave Nicol has observed this issue and has created two surveys that together will help to shed some light on some worrying HR trends in veterinary practices for owners and vets.

You can help solve the problem by taking the survey – the more people submit their answers the more valid the results will be.

So what’s in it for you? Simple. Knowledge – the most powerful tool we can possess. All respondents will receive a copy of the results summary when it’s published. Information that will help to shape your job design and practices in the next decade.

The survey will take only three minutes to complete – and that’s if you are a slow typist! Three minutes and you get some meaningful, strategic insight in return.

The survey will close at the end of March or once we reach 500 responses from practices. So please don’t miss out. Make your voice heard and take the survey here.


Thanks for those three minutes of your time,

Dr Dave Nicol.

Find Shit. Fix Shit. Make People Happy!

November 14th, 2014

Find Shit. Fix Shit. Make People Happy! Seven massively powerful words. In fact, my entire business strategy boiled down into its very essence. My mission statement if you like.

I’m a big picture kind of guy, so this type of thinking is what I do best, but in order for any strategy to work, you need to be able to work out the steps involved and translate them into the little things that everyone needs to do each day so your business hums along.

Behind each of the three sections of this headline lies a cascade of linked activities that when put together make for an effective, profitable veterinary hospital. Let me put some flesh on the bones of this strategy for you.

Big picture activity # 1: Find shit.

Finding shit starts with getting shit to walk through your door. Aka – having a marketing system that reliably drives people and pets to your practice. Think of the client journey into and through your practice. Think Google, think Facebook, think blogging, think dog park, think word of mouth. My entire marketing mantra is to create content, connect with potential and existing clients and develop relationships. Become the local pet celebrity. And when the time comes – convert that relationship capital into billable work in your practice.  Want to know more about how to do this? No worries. I wrote a book on how to do this which you can check out here.

The next step involves having a team members with some basic functionality. Eyes, ears and hands are a great start. But hiring people on the basis of having a degree and a pulse does not correlate well with success.

Recruitment and retention of the right team members is without doubt the biggest influencer on your clinical and financial outcomes.  It is also the most horribly neglected area I have seen.

There is so much to talk about here – lot’s of it I’ve said before. But if you’re new or want a refresher then I recorded a free webinar on this subject called the top five recruitment mistakes most vets make (& how to avoid them).

Big picture activity # 2: Fix shit.

You don’t get to fix shit (not enough shit to make for a profitable practice) unless people trust you to fix shit. This is an outrageously common reason practices fail to perform at the level required.

Failure, or worse still absolute refusal, to develop some rudimentary sales skills (listening, empathising, rapport building and not being afraid to fight in the corner of your patient when required.) is the number one reason animals with clinical need leave the practice without that need being addressed.

Secondary to this is the clinical ability of your team. When I bought my first practice everything (I mean everything – even ACTH stim testing) was being referred to a specialist. I’m not joking. If you don’t have the required talent in your practice to fix problems then you’re either going to screw things up and hurt animals, make clients unhappy, do no work, or live with some serious guilt of doing things badly.

If you’re going to be successful then you’re going to have to skill up. That means putting your hand in your pocket and investing in your own education, or paying someone else to come in and do things for you.

Which leads us nicely to…

Big picture activity # 3: Make people happy.

Our industry is littered with technically competent people who get their task done, but leave a trail of emotional devastation around them. We call them doctors.

The emotional vibe of a practice is discernable the second your walk in. Is there a spring in the step and a smile on the face of the receptionist? Is there evidence of a team working well, a tidy, well maintained facility? Laughter and camaraderie amongst the staff?

Or is there tension and conflict?

If it’s the later then you can bet this is rubbing off on your clients, your team, you and your family. Toxic culture will infect your life and is sure to lead to bad business and personal outcomes.

So who do you have to keep happy and how do you do it?

Your clients

Clients pay the bills, so making them happy comes first right? This is relatively easy – fix the problems they perceive and the ones you find. Manage their expectations, communicate clearly and don’t pull any nasty surprises. Job done.

Your colleagues

OK, now things get a little more tricky. We spend more time at work with our colleagues than we do with our families at home. So it really does pay to have good relationships.

Before we go on, you need to understand something about money and happiness. I’ll explain why in a second.

Above a certain threshold more money doesn’t make people any happier. The actual amount is the subject of some debate but the accepted value sits between US$50-$75,000. The unavoidable conclusion we can draw from this is that an awful lot of employees in veterinary practices are earning a level of income that is likely to mean they have significant financial stress in their life.

So imagine the level of job satisfaction in having to come to work and put up with the often poor behaviour of colleagues (I mean doctors) who do are paid above this level.

Us doctors and owners are frequently highly driven, task focussed types that struggle with alien things like emotions. This manifests itself in all manner of relationship wreaking behaviours – tantrums, sarcastic comments, snidey put-downs, dismissal of the feelings of others…

Add into this that we are on the other side of the financial fence, so do not always have the same pressures on our personal finances. I hope you can see the potential for an emotional disconnect.

The best cure for unhappiness in a practice is therefore to hire and develop a team who can form and maintain relationships with others. The name of the skillset required is emotional intelligence.

Though it is an elusive skill to master and often viewed as “airy-fairy”. It is highly rewarding to have the ability to manage your emotions such that everyone can have a good day clinically and emotionally.

The journey you go on in learning how to master your emotions is not an easy one. You will have to face down some demons. It’s hard work, it’s draining work. But even the most thick-skinned rhino can learn to manage their emotions and develop healthy relationships with those around them. I’m proof of that!

If you want to learn more about this, then look no further than Shawn McVey. I can personally attest to the value of his training.

Your boss

How do you make your boss happy? Easy. Find shit. Fix shit. Make people happy. And one more thing. Bill your shit properly. Done.

Your family

Often forgotten in business writing, but of most importance. Your family come first.

Happily, if you focus on the other three areas then I guarantee you that your family life will improve also. You see the skills of emotional intelligence come in just as handy at home as at work. Plus a successful business allows you more freedom.

Earning more money and being less stressed. Having more time away from the business because you are confident it runs well even when you are not there. Having time to see your kids grow up. These are the things we should work for.

We work to live, even those workaholic types like me…that’s the way it should be. Work to live, not the other way around. You’ll never look back and wish you’d worked another hour that week. You may well look back and wish you’d spent more time with your family and friends.

So there you go. My not-so-secret sauce that makes a veterinary business tick.

Now over to you. What do you think?

How to get exactly what you deserve

August 27th, 2014

Ever feel like you don’t get the returns that you think you are worth?

There are many opportunities in life where the energy we put in doesn’t seem to deliver the results we think it should.

Perhaps you put in 15 hrs a day on the front line of your business, yet make no profit and the business stagnates.

If you are in this situation then think about this.

You will get what you deserve. End of.

Put another way, if your day is spent doing $10/hour tasks, like email or photocopying – you’re really only worth paying $10/hour.

If you never get a second to attend to your own really important strategic things because you allow others to add their “urgent,” but trivial, things to your list then the impact you have on your business will itself be trivial.

Chances are, therefore, you are already getting precisely what you are worth.

To change your situation, my advice is to spend a lot of time each day thinking about and deciding what is important to get done, not being hijacked by what is urgently screaming to get done.

Only when you accomplish the important things will your circumstances begin to improve.

So what’s the most important thing you can do today, this week or this month?

What’s the biggest, ugliest and (perhaps hardest) thing that if it gets done will have an exponentially awesome effect on your business or life?

Once you work that out, get on it.

The leaks that are slowly draining your bucket

August 7th, 2014

We all focus very hard on getting new clients. Harder and faster with the emails, the mail shots and the adverts. (Always with the adverts.) We’ve become insanely focused on the new client sign ups, because we can measure these and if we are getting lots of new meat into our grinder then we’re all OK right?

Frequently though, we are doing nothing better with this approach than sinking very, very (almost imperceptibly) slowly. But make no mistake. A marketing strategy focused solely on turning the new client tap to ‘full gush’, will be guilty of making the error of letting those valuable existing clients, simply leak out the bottom. (And into your competitor’s bucket.)

Of course the hard part is spotting the leaks. No sorry, that’s not true. The hard part is being brave enough to look for the leaks. Here’s why.

If your active client numbers are stable, but you are registering 100 new clients each month, then take a wild guess at how many are leaking out from your bucket?

Think this might be an over exaggeration? Try it out. But only if you dare.

An Update from Recruitment Bootcamp, Gold Coast

March 25th, 2014
Nancy & Dave at Recruitment Bootcamp Gold Coast

Nancy & Dave at Recruitment Bootcamp Gold Coast

We had an awesome day here at Broadbeach, Gold Coast. There was excellent interaction with our delegates and good feedback on the material. Looked like a lot of light bulbs went off today. But OMG there were some really crazy recruitment and HR real life horror stories today. I’m so glad people came as help is definitely at hand. ;-)

Here’s what two of our attendees had to say…

Recruitment Bootcamp: Delegate Feedback from David Nicol on Vimeo.

If you want to come along there are two dates left.

Melbourne on Thursday 27th March and Sydney on Tuesday 1st April.

Click here to book a place today.

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