Veterinary human factors and building a high performing veterinary practice team By Katie Ford

Updated: May 3

Here at JHP we know that veterinary human factors are a hot topic in the veterinary community at the moment, and rightly so. Having an understanding of these non-clinical factors is a valuable tool to improve patient safety, enhance performance and support the wellbeing of the veterinary team. Read on for Katie Ford’s thoughts on this important subject.

One observation that I found interesting over the past few years has been the subscription difference between clinical and non-clinical CPD. Often being a speaker on the latter, I see numbers markedly reduced when comparing a session on chest drain placement with one on stress management or communications. This has long since sat in my mind, as surely, one is just as important as the other?

Boosting our knowledge with clinical lectures is fantastic, but how frequently do we place that chest drain? Surely far less often than we care for ourselves each day, and potentially not a useful skill if we can’t effectively communicate the need for it to the client? I have had this conversation with a number of people within our profession who’d noticed the same.

Insights into high performing veterinary teams: The Veterinary Innovation Project Podcast

I recently launched a podcast with Ru Clements, The Veterinary Innovation Project Podcast, focussing on said innovations and, for season one, a theme of High Performing Teams. Our first guest, Dan Tipney, was a former airline pilot and sports coach, now Head of Insights and Evidence at VetLed. He speaks in episode one of his mental model of high performance and reminder to ‘mind the gap’, the theoretical space between what we know and what we actually do; we are fully aware of how something should be done, but what affects the dissonance between the real-life happenings and this? This is where the real power of human factors comes in.

Listen here:

Veterinary Human Factors

We may have all the theoretical veterinary knowledge necessary, but if we are overtired, have low blood sugar or are distracted, our performance may not be on top form. For this reason, our learnings from medical and aviation fields on checklists and procedures can be helpful, meaning we don’t miss vital steps due to human error or distraction. Equally, human factors are not all individual, sometimes we might be in an environment where it does not feel psychologically safe to ask for assistance in a task, or a blame culture within a veterinary practice makes a situation feel even more pressured. Human factors are at the intersection between cognitive factors, physical factors and organisational/environmental factors, something we haven’t always considered over the years.

Traversing the Gap: the successful veterinary practice team

So, when we are looking at traversing and understanding said Gap, and discussing performance and success, it is vital for us to outline both terms. The dictionary defines performance as “the action or process of performing a task or function” and success being “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”. What is our aim and purpose each day, and what does it mean to you? How would you define the successful veterinary practice team?

In the above episode, Dan brings in a poignant point from the world of sport that “top sports teams are not focussing on winning a particularly game but becoming the best team that they can be”, and I feel there is a huge amount that we can take from that in our profession too. This is not us fixating on an ‘outcome only’ mindset, but ensuring that ourselves and our veterinary practice teams are able to function to the best of our abilities and are patients are as safe and as comfortable as possible.

I’d suggest listening to the episode and consider what success means to you and your team, and how you can all best work together; when we head in the same direction, we are all more than the collective sum of the individuals. We are not machines, we are human beings – so let’s be inquisitive about what that means in terms of veterinary team performance, but also in setting ourselves up for success.

Powerful stuff, and whilst I will still always attend the chest drain lecture, I hope this helps exemplify my passion for non-clinical factors too.

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