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February 3, 2022 Phil Tucak, BSc, BVMS

dvm360®’s Australian correspondent, Phil Tucak, BSc, BVMS, updates us on solving the workforce challenges facing veterinary practices, boosting wildlife surveillance to prevent pandemics, and supporting veterinary transfusion medicine.

Smooth Operating Vets

Dr Jocelyn Birch Baker, founder of Smooth Operating Vets and owner of High Street Veterinary Surgery (Photo courtesy of Smooth Operating Vets).

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After-hours calls are important client service and CAN be managed successfully in your veterinary practice.

One of our recent after-hour emergencies involved this beautiful girl Molly, who chased a roo into a dam and the roo cut into her thoracic cavity with its back foot. My Nurse and I were able to save her which was amazing and why we offer an after-hours service, however, it's important that we have the correct management and support of this service for our team.

Here is what we do to make our after-hours service great!

1. Share after hours with another clinic.

Sharing our after-hours service with another clinic not only halves our time on call, but also increases the business when we are on call. This works out well as our team would prefer to be doing something rather than sitting around waiting and both clinics involved are very happy with the system we have negotiated.

2. Screen the calls.

When our clients call the clinic after-hours, our answering machine informs them of our opening hours and that they can book a consult time online. If it's an emergency, they are also given the number for the vet on duty and informed that the after-hours fee will be x amount. We've found that providing this information stops the silly (non-emergency) calls that we used to get.

3. We roster a nurse on call and pay call-out fee and time at the clinic if called in.

The nurse provides support to not only the vet, but to the patient as well. Together they can do great work and it certainly reduces the stress of trying to get an x-ray done on a bull arab on your own!

4. Pay the vet and nurse well.

Our vets can make $2000 on the weekend which can certainly make an after-hours shift worth their time.

5. Rest your people well.

I have lots of ways of doing this which I can discuss in another blog post.

6. Absolutely, no home visits after hours.

Our team are never required to do home visits as part of our after-hours service. This helps our team feel safe as they know they will only ever have to do after-hours at our clinic.

7. Safety first.

If our after-hours vet does not feel comfortable going to the clinic for any reason, for example, the client sounds drunk or angry, they do not go. If the vet doesn't feel completely safe, the client is told that they will need to find another vet, they're thanked for calling and if necessary, their number is blocked.

8. Our vets will be respected.

The clients we attend are always appreciative of our care, and that we are there for them.

9. Our Practice Management System is on the cloud.

Our vets always have access to our PMS which makes it very easy to retrieve information about the client and patient before agreeing to go to the clinic.

10. If we ever got to the point of not having enough vets to offer an after-hours service.

If not having enough vets to provide an after-hours service became an issue, I would: Consider sharing with a third clinic - this is something I'm already considering. Stop doing calls after 9pm - although this would be problematic as the closest emergency clinic is 8 hours away. Use VetCheck 24/7. Or a combination of all of these options!

Providing an after-hours service is a great way to hone veterinary and people skills, but like anything in a veterinary clinic, our vets need training, support, and preparation for it to be successful.

The satisfaction of dealing with an emergency using our skills and ability and saving an animal is one of the reasons we are vets, but we cannot continue to do things the way we always did.

Many of the old ways of doing things no longer work and we need to recognise that there are now many different options available. As a profession, we need to embrace and action these new opportunities if we are to continue to not only succeed but to grow.

Do you have any questions about successfully managing an after-hours service at your veterinary clinic? Ask Jocelyn at

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  • Writer's pictureJocelyn Birch Baker

Hi Jocelyn,

I just wanted to touch base with you again with some feedback from my 1/2 day appointment the other week- lurking out the back in your pharmacy & hearing everything that goes on behind the scenes.

Firstly- I’d like to say that i always knew that you had a wonderful team, but i was honestly blown away by the love & compassion that all your staff have. I witnessed many conversations between vets, nurses & owners which were all informative & the delivery was sensational.

BUT- I must stand and applaud your team when I heard one of your amazing vets & nurse take a dog out into the back room to give the little one an injection & was apologising to him/her for having to give the injection. That conversation between the vet and the dog really pulled at my heartstrings!! The fur baby went home with its owners not long afterwards, so there was nothing dramatic going on. When I heard “I’m so sorry sweetheart for giving you this nasty needle”. I actually found myself just standing there with my jaw dropped”… completely blown away!!!

Just the pure love and compassion for animals that goes on under that roof is by far the best I have ever seen!! And I have been in & out of veterinary clinics in one form or another for well over 20 years!!

I cannot thank you & your team enough for what you do everyday & the love & compassion that you all put into it. Seeing your team hard at work, doing what they do makes everything we do all worthwhile!!!

Please pass this onto your team, as they definitely deserve the recognition!!


Naomi Rourke

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