Recruiting a Practice Manager – considerations to ensure success!

by Adam Hiscock


When did time begin?  Is there life after death?  Which came first; the chicken or the egg?  What does a Practice Manager do?


All of these questions are seemingly impossible to answer.  I won’t even begin to try and explain the first 3 questions, although I do think it’s the chicken………….or is it the egg?


I should begin by saying that when I ask the question ‘what does a Practice Manager do’, that is not to suggest that I’m asking it with a hint of sarcasm.  This blog has not been suggested to me by a disgruntled team, keen to know what their Practice Manager actually does – in the same way that when my wife suggests we host a party, she arranges the drink, the food, the guest list and the facilities, then turns to me to ask what exactly it is that I am doing.


So what does a Practice Manager do?


The very question of what a Practice Manager does is hard to define, for the simple reason that it is one of the most variable and under defined roles there can be, particularly when it comes to a veterinary practice.  In fact, in a great many practices, the role doesn’t even exist, but why is that?


Well firstly it very much depends on the size of a practice.  For a small practice, it is likely that the set up consists of one or two vets, a similar number of nurses and maybe a receptionist or two, so the requirement to have a

Practice Manager is not necessarily required when the various tasks can be split between everyone else.  In other practices, the demand might be there, but it could be that the functions of a typical Practice Manager role are being covered by an office administrator, Head Receptionist or even a Head Nurse, not to mention the Business Owners themselves.


It can often be many years into the practice life cycle before the need for a Practice Manager becomes evident.  Whilst this can come about through staff turnover or a review of work processes, happily one of the most common reasons we see is due to the success and growth of a business.

As a practice grows bigger and staff increase, it can be very difficult for the person carrying out those responsibilities to be able to balance the requirements and functions of a Practice Manager role, along with the other aspects of their own role.  Indeed, many practice owners are very hands on but can feel that their time would be better spent if they weren’t constantly dragged into the day to day affairs of what is a very busy working environment.

If a practice wants to sustain growth, then they need the owners to be able to create time to focus on the more strategic side of the business.


How to start the process of seeking a Practice Manager


Once a practice has decided that they need a Practice Manager, they need to decide just what kind of role that will be, but before that there is the important factor of deciding what to call the job.  Yes, many of us have been there in our careers, analysing the title we have, feeling it doesn’t represent what we do and longing to change it to something with more grandeur.

The term Practice Manager is very well known within the industry, having been used for many years, and certainly when it comes to your candidates searching for a role, they are most likely to search for such a title.


However, some practices feel this is an outdated term, stuck in the past, and instead prefer to label it with more modern titles such as Operations Manager or Customer Care Manager.  This is all very much down to personal preference, but what is always vitally important is to put yourself into the candidates’ position and consider how they might search for your role.

You need to be thinking about the type of person you want and what they might be looking out for.  If you want to attract people to your role then very simply you have to lay down the correct kind of crumbs to help them find the cheese.


Should you promote or recruit externally?


One of the biggest decisions to make is the subject of whether to recruit someone already within the industry, or to look beyond, and of course there are advantages and disadvantages to both.  Some practices are fortunate to have the luxury to be able to promote from within.  An experienced member of staff who has been with the practice a long time could be ready to step up into the role, but it does depend on what the role is going to be. Equally it is important to consider whether just because someone is an incredible RVN, do they have the skills required to become Practice Manager…yet?


Hiring someone who has come from another practice in a similar role is always an attractive proposition.  With that person comes someone who is already steeped in veterinary knowledge and who can bring ideas based on their previous experience.  The danger with this of course is that for some people, they can find it difficult to change their ways or to be able to adapt to different processes.

By comparison, someone who comes from a different type of industry already lacks the veterinary knowledge but may be able to come in and see things from a fresh angle.  As some practices often tell me, they can teach someone the veterinary knowledge but what they might not have is someone already adept at certain skills not already existent in the practice, such as HR.


As we talked about at the top of this blog, the role of Practice Manager has such a range to it.  In some practices this could simply be someone who is a very experienced administrator who perhaps leads a small number of people and who is responsible for some of the day to day tasks in the practice.

For other practices however, the Practice Manager is arguably the lynchpin of the business – someone who is the go to person for all staff, who not only oversees the day to day running of the practice, but leads the teams by example, manages all HR issues and staff performance, sets budgets and targets, is responsible for keeping the practice up to date with all legal compliance and who possibly even sits on the board alongside the owners, getting involved in strategic planning and business analysis.


Scope the role and get clear on what you want


With all of this in mind, it is therefore widely advised that one of the first things you do as a practice is make a full list of just what you want the role to be.  Write it down, discuss it as a team and try to put a job description together that encompasses everything you want.  Remember though to be flexible and to keep an open mind.

Until that person is sitting in front of you and they start to talk about what they can bring to the role, there may be things you hadn’t even considered, or additional strengths that person has that you can utilise in other areas.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends and connections at other practices either.  It’s quite possible that they have already been through a similar exercise and you might be able to draw upon their experiences, perhaps even involving their own Practice Manager, to gain an understanding from a candidate’s perspective.


Of course it’s not just someone’s ability that makes them the perfect candidate.  Whilst this is very important, there needs to be just as much emphasis placed on what personal attributes the person has.  The person needs to be someone who is going to blend into the team and get along with your existing staff whilst also commanding that respect that marks them out as the Practice Manager.  With a role as important as this one, you want to take on someone who is in for the long haul and who has the passion and drive to help take the business forward.  But most of all, you want someone who understands the business and who fits the ethos and culture that you have created.


Vetting the candidates


The last hurdle a practice has to negotiate is the interview.  If all of the previous factors have been considered then hopefully as a practice you will have several very good candidates to talk to.  It is essential to have a structured interview process in place and to be consistent across each of the candidates.

If you can hold the interviews close together, then you will be able to maintain the continuity and to more easily compare the candidates with each other.  Your interview should use questions which draw upon the skillset and personality types you are looking for and a great way to encourage this is through getting candidates to provide examples of things they have done or would do, maybe even using real life situations.


I would also recommend asking the candidate to prepare a short presentation, based on a specific question; this allows the candidate to demonstrate their understanding of the role and of the business and as mentioned earlier in the blog, it can give you ideas to take forward that you won’t necessarily have considered before.


Lastly make sure you obtain references on your chosen candidate as despite popular opinion, this can still be an incredibly insightful and important exercise in ensuring the candidate is completely right for your role.


Attempting to do all of this as a practice is hard work and very time consuming, so what better thing to do than use the services of a specialist non-clinical veterinary agency, like here at Elite Veterinary Staffing Solutions!!

We have over 6 years of experience working on these types of roles and are very adept at helping practices find that perfect candidate, from helping them create the role to sourcing the candidates, to even sitting on the panel of interviewers.


If you are a practice in need of help then please look no further – we would be delighted to help.  And perhaps we can even help you decide whether it’s the chicken or egg that came first.


I still think it’s the chicken………………