Laura Cutforth

Guest blog from Laura Cutforth, RVR and practice manager explains why the role is ‘not just a receptionist’, but key to progressive practice management.

I have spent much of my working life in male dominated industries, from car dealerships to estate agencies.  As a woman it was always a challenge to progress into leadership roles when faced with male competition.  I do like a challenge, but the hard work and effort to scrape my way into these roles was not always rewarding.  I often found that even though my title was leader, the respect and salary for that role was not given due to my gender.

I had my midlife crisis at the early age of 33 when I decided that if I didn’t start doing what I love now, I would soon be stuck in a job where I would wilt away and never make my mark.  Working in the veterinary industry was always something I had dreamed of, so I applied for the role of veterinary receptionist at my local practice. My view of this role beforehand was the same as every other poor, unsuspecting receptionist; I’d answer the phone, book appointments and cuddle puppies and kittens all day. The worst that could happen is getting peed on! I was so far off the mark.  I still have no idea how to explain to someone applying for the position of veterinary receptionist, what the job really involves. It is a position in which you have to learn as you go.   

A focus on the client journey

I started my first job as a veterinary receptionist nine years ago. The beginning of my career in veterinary was focused on the client’s journey – hooking the client in on that first contact, booking the appointment, selling our services, and creating lasting relationships with the client and their pets. The client was everything, their complaints were valued, and we would change the way we worked to better suit their needs. We would work around their schedule, often putting ourselves out to accommodate. I knew all my clients by name, I knew when I saw them approaching the door what they were coming for, I knew which vet they liked to see, and I knew what treats their animal preferred. 

I soon realised that a veterinary receptionist is far more than ‘just a receptionist’. The job title will never do the actual job any justice. I became a Registered Veterinary Receptionist (RVR) two years ago, and whilst working my way through as many training courses as possible, I started to see a real career path ahead of me.  Whilst the career of a veterinary receptionist was not recognised or valued within the practice, I became passionate about the importance of the veterinary receptionist and how they impact the practice as whole and set the standards. 

My next career step was becoming a team lead for reception over four branches. This was a big step up and a role I really enjoyed.  I was responsible for training new receptionist, controlling stock and budgets, and making sure my team had everything they needed to do their job to the best of their abilities.  Over time I felt this was as far as I could go in that practice, and my career was in danger of becoming stagnant.  I knew I needed change: I’d only had the experience of one private practice and felt a corporate practice would be a good experience and one I could learn a lot from.  When joining the corporate practice, I got back behind the reception desk and this was quite a shock, things had changed. It was at this point I could clearly see changes in client and practice attitudes.  How did this happen? Why was everyone so angry?

“It’s no surprise that clients are getting agitated, and the staff burnt out. It’s the perfect storm for a total breakdown in relationship between the client and practice.”

I took a step back and looked at how I would have felt as a client when contacting the practice ten years ago in comparison. As a receptionist, I had started to view the client as an inconvenience, and this clearly impacted on how I reacted, and subsequently how the client reacted to me.  I found myself explaining to clients the impact of the 3.5 million more pets purchased during lockdown in the UK, the shortage of veterinary staff affecting the level of service, and how the profession had lost many staff members due to stress, pressure, and abuse. I was almost blaming the client, making them feel guilty for getting another pet or calling in to ask about tick treatment.  It’s no surprise that clients are getting agitated, and the staff burnt out. It’s the perfect storm for a total breakdown in relationship between the client and practice.

The challenge of making positive change

Being a veterinary receptionist is one of the more prominent positions to hold when trying to make a positive change to your clients’ journeys, but it’s one that needs input from the whole team. They all need to be onboard and willing to make those changes.  This is a difficult challenge when you are not in a recognised leadership position in the hierarchy. Getting your ideas implemented may need the authority and confidence of the practice manager to ensure they are followed and valued.  I feel the call for change needs to come from the top and filter down into the staffing structure for it to truly be taken seriously. 

I wanted to be the person who could implement those changes and create a better practice for clients and employees. I could see the difference in the type of management and how some practices are missing the active role of the practice manager, one who is on the ground experiencing what it’s truly like from the employees and client’s point of view.  So many practice managers are wrapped up in numbers and admin that they miss out on what it’s like to be an active member of the team.  A practice manager who is actively progressing the practice by focusing on the clients’ journey, also has an impact on the financial success of the practice.

Natural progression

My confidence had grown, and I was ready for my next challenge.  I had made many connections over the years and one connection was with a likeminded pair of vets who had a vison that resonated with me. They want to create a practice that not only offers a modern, forward-thinking service, but one that holds onto the traditional values of client relationships, continuity, familiarity and most importantly, a happy working environment. This will be a practice where the love for the veterinary industry is restored in both its employees and clients.  My experience from working with the British Veterinary Receptionist Association (BVRA) gave me the confidence to approach the vets and tell them exactly where I was aiming to be – practice manager! They understood the importance of coming from a veterinary receptionist background and how that can be a natural progression to becoming a successful, understanding, proactive and sympathetic practice manager.  My new journey starts in May 2022 as a practice manager. I am so proud of my progression, and of the experience I’ve gained going through this time of ongoing change in the industry that has helped me get to where I am.

We receptionists know what the clients want. We know what impacts the practice and the client. We see the changes and we know what works and what does not.  We have the people skills and the understanding of how the practice works to be able to run a practice proactively. It is us, the veterinary receptionists, who can progress from reception into management and make the changes that are needed to bring back the love of veterinary for our teams and our clients.  I urge any receptionist, new or long-standing, to really view your job as a career path. We are no longer ‘just a receptionist’ – we are progressive, knowledgeable people making an impact in veterinary!

Laura Cutforth

RVR, Practice Manager

Laura has been in veterinary for 9 years in the South Wales area on the Gower coast. She is most passionate about promoting the role of a veterinary receptionist and raising the awareness of their importance within the practice. Over the 9 years Laura has completed many courses relating to her role, her biggest achievement was completing the BVRA (British Veterinary Association) awards and becoming an RVR (Registered Veterinary Receptionist), and finally joining the BVRA Council as a council member.

Laura has progressed from her role as a veterinary receptionist to lead receptionist and now takes on the challenge of practice management.  With her experience within a private and corporate practice, she understands the importance of an active practice manager that focuses on the clients journey without compromising the staffs wellbeing.  One of Laura’s goals in her new role is to invest in the reception team and encourage career progression.

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