Time on Your Side

by Renee Marples, RVT

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Every day we wake up, put on our scrubs, grab our coffee and race to the hospital.  On our way we think about cases from days past and wonder what waits for us as we walk through the door.  The minute you walk into the hospital reality hits.  Your desk is overflowing with patient files waiting for reports to be written, there is a huge follow up list, the morning surgical schedule is packed and afternoon appointments are booked every 15 minutes – with no room for emergencies.  Sound familiar?

You start the day and get through surgeries perfectly, patient appointments begin and are running smoothly … and then it happens!  It’s that dreaded moment when you need to EDUCATE.  It doesn’t matter what it is about (meds, wound care, supplements or nutrition) because they all take TIME.  What’s time? Who has that?  Your 15 minute appointments begin to slip to 20 and before you know it you’re running at least a half hour behind towards the end of the day, your clients are getting frustrated and your staff are upset because they want to go home on time for once.  

Time is money!  So how do you go about making up that time or making it worthwhile?  The reality is for most people there are only two options.  1. Work as you feel each appointment requires and take no breaks or 2. Start cutting those conversations.  So what goes?  Obviously medication and wound care is essential so typically it is nutrition that suffers the time consequence.  This is something I hear regularly when visiting hospitals – there just isn’t enough time in my day to talk nutrition.  It’s the one thing that gets cut because on the physical exam of that patient everything looks fine, the history from the owner sounds relatively good and you’ve heard of the food the pets on once or twice and don’t seem to be an issue so let’s leave things as is.

Let’s think about this together for one minute here.  What are we teaching our owners with this approach?  Is it not our jobs to continually educate our clients on what is proper and essential for that individual pet?  How would the teenager at the pet store know exactly what is best for this owner’s fur baby?  Or WORSE, how does the grocery store’s new pet aisle marketing campaign  provide those owners with sound medical advice?  Here is the biggest question I want you to ask yourself:


There are so many benefits of coaching and recommending nutrition in a practice.  Besides being a wonderful source of income for your hospital, you would be providing the BEST nutrition SPECIFICALLY for that client’s pet.  You know the client, you know the patient, you have the medical files, and you are the medical provider that has education. YOU know what is BEST!  So if time is the biggest issue we face every day – let’s fix time!  

There are a couple key tips when increasing nutrition in your practice:

  1. Develop a protocol for nutrition in your hospital.  Decide what are the first and second diet recommendations for each category that everyone in the hospital can follow.  This makes for a solid recommendation throughout the hospital and decreases the back and forth questioning (time) within the team.  
  2. Ask open questions!  Talk to your clients!  Find ways to ask open ended type questions with your clients to find out not just what they are feeding and how much but WHY.  Why did they choose that diet?  Why do they like it?  Why do they feel their pet has an allergy to corn?  Asking more allows them to talk freely and for you to develop a true sense of not just what the pet needs but what the owner needs.
  3. Make it a team effort!  Have reception ask if the client would be open to discussing nutrition.  This super easy question allows the owner to understand nutrition’s importance right away.  Have your intake tech (if able) ask those open why questions and discover what the owner needs.  This will allow you to concentrate directly on the issues in that valuable 15 minute but also provide you with the FULL history you need to discuss nutritional requirements for 5 minutes or less.
  4. Do a SOLID nutritional recommendation.  This is key, key key!!  Saying you recommend something but not following through mean the owner has heard what you had to say and will actually take that advice to the pet store where they will succeed at putting the pet on something less than ideal.  So what is a solid recommendation?  This means you say the #1 diet they need to switch to, put the food at the front counter for them, tell them why this is the diet for their pet and use tools to present the owner with information, costs and daily feeding amounts.  Seem hard?  This is actually extremely simple as there are tools out their like Hill’s Healthy Weight Protocol which calculate everything for you, are simple to use and all team members can be involved.
  5. Training!  Continual education is key to any practices success.  If you don’t know what the diet is or how it works then how do you expect to sell it?  Reach out to your industry representatives to find ways to train your team in a way that works best for your practice.

Time is always hard, but team involvement will be your key factor for success. Time may equal money; but ask your representatives how food can impact your finances in the hospital today.  At the end of every day each veterinary healthcare team member has something they strive for.  You want to provide the best possible service and medicine possible, so make sure you don’t lose sight of it.


Renee Marples is a Registered Veterinary Technician and Hill’s Territory Manager for Hill’s Pet Nutrition Canada.  Originally from ON, Renee graduated from Georgian College back in 2006 and now lives in AB with her husband Adam and their fur babies LuLu a 9yr old terror terrier and Ty a 10 yr old DSH forever kitten.