The Modern Equine Vet
September 2023
Vol 13 Issue 9 2023
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Practice Management

Unplug and Enjoy Life With Boundaries

By Paul Basilio

Most people will agree that setting appropriate boundaries is critical to the foundation of a healthy work-life balance. The problem, however, is that enforcement of those boundaries is exceptionally tricky in a field where emergencies abound, and there is pressure to see “just 1 more patient” at the end of a long day.

To illustrate this point, Kelly Zeytoonian, DVM, MBA, CERP, asked audience members to raise their hands if they communicated their desired mode of communication to clients before attending the 68th Annual AAEP Convention in San Antonio. Only a few hands went up.

She then asked the group of assembled veterinarians whether they were feeling resentment toward clients who were texting or calling them relentlessly during the conference. Many, many more hands went up.

“If you’re feeling guilty or resentful toward your clients, team, or even family, it could very well be that you have not clearly communicated the boundaries that you wanted to set,” said Dr. Zeytoonian, owner of Starwood Equine Veterinary Services and Starwood Veterinary Consulting in Woodside, Calif.

Identify the pain points
Setting boundaries can seem like an abstract, unattainable ideal for veterinarians who are doing everything they can for their patients and their clients alike. However, a quick evaluation of common pain points can identify concrete solutions.

“I look at [the origins of boundary violations] by breaking them down into resource-based boundary crossings or values-based boundary crossings,” she explained.

By asking yourself simple questions, such as what part of the day causes you to feel the most drained or what brings you the most stress during a typical workday, you can begin to identify some of your boundaries.

“It’s a great way to start to identify them,” Dr. Zeytoonian said. “Many of us don’t even know what those boundaries are. We feel resentful, but we’re not sure why. It’s important to ask your employees the same questions, because it’s a great starting point for working through the differences among team members.”

Get the right tools
To establish boundaries, it’s necessary to establish expectations.

“Expectations are the bottom line,” she explained. “Share those expectations so people know which lane to stay in.”

As an example, Dr. Zeytoonian stated that her practice notifies clients that they must adhere to certain standard of care treatments regularly, such as scheduling the horse for regular evaluations, fecal egg counts, dentistry and vaccines, to guarantee emergency coverage by the practice’s veterinarians.

Simply put: If the clients do not use the practice for all those services, then the practice cannot guarantee coverage in an emergency. Clients can certainly call in an emergency, but they will not be a priority.

“Some people may think that there is no way they are going to be able to tell clients to do all of those things to guarantee emergency service, but the fact is that 26% of clients use a non-veterinarian for dental care, and 50% administer at least 1 vaccine on their own,” Dr. Zeytoonian said. “This is an opportunity for us to drive business back to our practice while establishing boundaries. It improves revenue, and it keeps our associate veterinarians happy because there is already an established relationship when they go to see an emergency case.”

Strategic automated responses
Another tool to help veterinarians establish boundaries is to fully embrace the usefulness of automated text, email and voicemail responses.

“I have a response [on my phone] that pops up on a daily basis,” she explained. “It says, ‘Thank you for contacting me. If you need something that’s veterinary related, call the office. Here’s the number, here’s the email.’”

She added, “We don’t text at our practice.”

Dr. Zeytoonian explained that all of the associate veterinarians at her practice have a similar voicemail template, since it’s inevitable that a client will find their number somewhere and try to call them individually.

“The standard [outgoing] voicemail message says, ‘If this is veterinary related, call the office,’” she explained. “Full stop. The veterinarians either don’t have to respond to the voicemail, or they can forward it to the office, and the office will take over the callback. There’s no exchange [with clients] through our cell phones.” MeV


In addition to managing communications from clients, Dr. Zeytoonian’s practice also uses Slack to manage intraoffice communications, specifically because staff members can mute notifications while they are on vacation or when they take personal time.

“If a veterinarian goes on vacation, they are required to turn over all of their cases, complete all of the medical records, and share with another doctor any outstanding laboratory tests or questions or concerns that may come up while they are out,” she said. “When [a doctor] is gone, they can be gone. It’s their responsibility to make sure all of the information is there for us, but as long as they do we have a hard protocol of not bugging people when they’re out.”

Dr. Zeytoonian recently put these strategies into practice after welcoming her daughter and taking temporary leave from the practice.

“It’s been important for me to really be able to focus my time and attention on the new human being, and enjoy that downtime,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been able to do that, while also making sure that my first baby—the practice, and the team and clients associated with it—is still well taken care of.”

She added: “I have found that with all of these protocols in place, the team doesn’t need me. And that’s a little bit scary, but it’s also great.”

The handy dandy, everyday email auto-response
“Thank you for your email. I will respond at my earliest convenience. If this is a veterinary-related inquiry requiring a timely response, please contact the office by emailing __________ or by calling _________”