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Five lessons from Australia that will make you happier in your vet practice.

1. 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.

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

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