PSIvet Member Spotlight: A Dynamic Duo

April 2023 |

Dr. Lindsay Sjolin and practice manager Becky Sarratea tag team with management and motivation. And it’s paying off.

Practice Owner Lindsay Sjolin, DVM, and practice manager Becky Sarratea, LVT, Alpine Animal Hospital in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., know the meaning of teamwork.

Like many veterinarians, Sjolin prefers caring for patients rather than dealing with client concerns or managing the veterinary team, and that’s where Becky shines.

It’s paying off: Their esprit de corps has been a huge contributor to the growth of Alpine since Sjolin took over. Practice revenue grew by 10% from 2019 to 2020 and by 30% in 2021, and it’s been growing steadily since then.

For Sarratea, the most important part of her job is just being there to handle all the little things and answer the questions that come up throughout the day. “When there is an issue, the staff can come to me right at that moment and get it taken care of,” she says.

Staff Retention

Perhaps the clearest evidence of outstanding practice management at Alpine is that the hospital didn’t lose a single employee to burnout because of the COVID pandemic. In 2020, turnover rates among U.S. veterinarians and veterinary technicians reached more than 14% and 25%, respectively, attributed in large part to burnout, according to American Veterinary Medical Association statistics. For some practices, pandemic-driven decreases in practice efficiency, coupled with heavy caseloads, have pushed those numbers even higher now. But Alpine was able to work through it and come out the other side with its team intact.

“A few people have left the practice for various reasons since early 2020, but no one left because they felt overworked and underappreciated,” Sjolin says. “Becky did a wonderful job keeping everyone’s spirits up early on in the pandemic, so we were able to maintain our staff and keep a positive environment through the worst of it.”

Sarratea attributes the practice’s success during COVID to her team’s flexibility. “When it came to setting new protocols for curbside care and things like that, my team was open to change,” she says. “We would put a protocol in place one day and the next day something would happen and we’d have to change it. They were so good at going with the flow.”

Listening also helped. “[The team] could see when things weren’t working, and we listened to their feedback,” Sarratea says. “I think they felt like they had a say in all the changes going on.”

One of the most difficult aspects of the pandemic has been childcare. Employees out sick weren’t home for a single day; they either had to quarantine for up to two weeks or stay home altogether because schools were closed. Many practices couldn’t keep pace with all the callouts, leading to feelings of underappreciation, burnout and, ultimately, attrition, but Alpine handled the situation with grace and kindness.

“We knew we needed to be understanding and make changes that would allow some flexibility,” Sarratea says. “Our staff without children could see the problems some of their colleagues were having with childcare, and everyone was willing to fill in for team members who had to leave unexpectedly or be out for long periods.” Adds Sjolin, “We were able to keep up with the increased patient volume and crazy callouts because we had a full staff, and that’s thanks to Becky’s management skills.”

Technician Utilization

When Sjolin bought the practice, there was one registered technician on staff. She made it a goal to increase that number, and now there are three working full-time. “Having more registered technicians allows us to do so much more patient care,” she says. “They’ve gone to school, they know how to perform higher-level tasks that assistants are not allowed to perform, and they understand the medicine behind what they are doing.”

In addition to financial gains (the practice’s average transaction charge is about $250), morale at Alpine has improved as a result of good technician utilization and a supportive practice culture. “Becky and I have worked really hard to create a positive environment at Alpine, and we have a really great team right now,” Sjolin says. “Sure, we have down days, but we try to support each other so we can get through the day together as a team.”

Key Takeaway: Honor Your Team

The team comes first for both Sjolin and Sarratea. “Without our staff members we can’t do our jobs, so we try our best to support them, listen to them, and try to make their time here as enjoyable as possible,” Sjolin says. Benefits are generous, including an IRA plan (3% practice match), paid time off, reimbursement and PTO for continuing education.