Understanding practice culture

According to the 2018 Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study, veterinarians under the age of 45 reported greater rates of serious psychological distress than the general population. Major self-reported conditions of those distressed included depression (94%), compassion fatigue and burnout (88%), and anxiety and panic attacks (83%).

And they’re not the only ones struggling. According to a 2016 study by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, half of all respondents cited issues related to practice culture, including office dynamics and communication, as their greatest professional challenge. Forty-one percent of technicians surveyed also indicated compassion fatigue as a major factor negatively affecting their job.

Workplace stressors and mental health issues like these don’t just take a personal toll on affected team members. On a larger scale, they can also be responsible for driving down employee engagement—the emotional bond team members have to your organization and its goals—which studies have identified as a key indicator of a healthy workplace culture.

In Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch, authors Curt Coffman and Kathie Sorensen explain the difference between engaged and disengaged employees:

Engaged individuals “consistently perform at significantly higher levels across outcome measures. They enthusiastically drive productive relationships with customers and associates. Continuous improvement and innovation are a personal quest.”

Disengaged employees, on the other hand, “are unhappy and actively share it. The focus of their relationships is built on the negative; they cosign other people’s discontent with no exploration of solutions.” (Coffman and Sorensen, 2013)

AAHA teamed up with The Coffman Group and Aspire to create resources specifically for the veterinary profession, including the NEXUS ExperienceTM survey and resources for both practice management and staff to improve and maintain healthy workplaces.

Who can benefit . . .


Practice managers and owners

You could benefit from these resources if . . .

You’re struggling with team members who “quit but keep coming to work” or you want to know how to keep your superstar employees motivated and productive (without “rewarding” them with more work to do).

Do you want to . . .

  • Get your team humming with efficiency?
  • Decrease hospital drama?
  • Quickly understand what your team needs to get the job done?
  • Encourage your team to build a stronger connection to your practice?
  • Tap into individual strengths to bring out the best in every team member?
  • Attract the very best talent and be recognized as a great place to work?
  • Be a leader in the veterinary profession?
  • Join a community of other practices working toward the same goal?

Then the NEXUS Experience™ can help!

Technicians and support staff

You could benefit from these resources if . . .

You’re feeling invisible rather than invincible in your current role, struggling with a leadership team that doesn’t practice what they preach, or you’re eager to gain the confidence to bring your ideas to the table and create real change.

Do you want to . . .

  • Hit the reset button on your practice culture?
  • Improve team communication and processes?
  • Be an advocate for your coworkers?
  • Restore your passion for the veterinary profession?
  • Realize your individual strengths and put them to work?
  • Easily share what your coworkers are really thinking with the leadership team?
  • Grow your own management skills?
  • Establish yourself as a leader within your hospital?
  • Stop feeling alone?

Then the NEXUS Experience™ can help!

“We’re more supportive of each other and I feel a more positive vibe in the hospital. [AAHA Culture Connection] allowed me to see problems I didn’t know were there.”

Rebecca Korven, DVM, Owner

AAHA-accredited Celtic Creatures Veterinary Hospital, Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada



Does my practice even have a culture?

Yes, it does! While it may not always be top of mind, you, your team, clients, and patients experience your hospital’s culture every time they walk in the door. In AAHA’s Guide to Veterinary Practice Team Wellbeing, “workplace culture” is defined as “the results of diligent adherence to established and expected workplace behaviors determined to be essential for achieving the organization’s goals, as well as the avoidance of those behaviors that are deemed unacceptable.”

Who is this program for?

AAHA's Culture Initiative is for the leadership team and anyone else who cares about their workplace, role, and partnership with others. While cultural change is a top-down process, everyone on the team must be involved. Remember, you can’t build a culture for your team. You must build it with them. Because of this, the program is intended to be used by every member of the practice team.

Why should I be concerned about my practice culture?

Healthy people = healthy practice. According to Jennifer Blackmon, corporate director of culture transformation for The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, happy employees are 12% more productive, stay in their roles longer, and use fewer sick days.

Professional wellness is widely recognized as a critical issue within the veterinary profession, as mental health issues such as depression, financial stress, compassion fatigue, and suicide have become increasingly concerning problems. Workplace culture and self-care have consistently been identified as key areas that can lead to improved overall wellbeing in our personal and professional lives.

My team members seem fine. Why do we need to talk about this?

Disengaged team members wreak havoc on culture—but signs of disengagement can be difficult to detect if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Just like septicemia, unless you’re monitoring subtle parameters, you can be caught in a crisis when your team can no longer compensate. A doctor who is quieter than usual, a technician who begins making critical mistakes, a receptionist who rolls her eyes at the client who just turned his back . . . how do you know if these are individual, private problems or issues caused by the environment your team spends the most time in—your hospital?

How will this program benefit me?

For practice owners and managers

The NEXUS ExperienceTM  and practice management community help you invest in your greatest and most valuable resource—your team! By keeping them happy and healthy, you will:

  • Reduce costly turnover due to increased employee satisfaction. According to The Coffman Research Institute, turnover for engaged employees is one-third of the overall average
  • Improve patient care and client satisfaction as team members build strong, lasting connections to your practice. Engaged teams are more productive, which leads to improved service, and in turn, increased client satisfaction and retention
  • Increase productivity by tapping into each team member’s unique strengths. According to The Coffman Research Institute, engaged teams achieve 116% of their goals, while disengaged teams achieve less than 60% of their goals
  • Elevate your reputation—and attract and retain top talent—by caring for your team first

For technicians and support staff

The NEXUS ExperienceTM gives every team member an opportunity to create change. By joining the discussion, you can:

  • Close the communication gap and build mutual understanding between leadership and the rest of your team
  • Elevate patient care and client satisfaction through improved team communication and processes
  • Leverage your unique strengths to do more of what you love
  • Establish yourself as a leader and help shape the future of your hospital

What is the AAHA Culture Initiative?

The AAHA’s Culture Initiative is a multifaceted program that aims to prevent or mitigate mental health issues in veterinary practice teams and provide guidance for those teams to build stronger, healthier workplaces. 

What is The NEXUS Experience™?

Part one of the AAHA Culture Initiative program, The NEXUS Experience™ is a brief survey that uses scientifically targeted questions to measure employee engagement and identify key pain points within your hospital’s current culture. The results are shared in confidential, individualized reports for each member of your team as well as in an anonymous group report, which will be used as a springboard for discussion.

Learn More

What is the Practice Management Community?

Part two of The NEXUS Experience™ program, the Practice Management Community is an exclusive online community that offers ongoing support through educational resources and interactive tools like the Agenda Builder™, which can help you plan staff meetings customized to the needs of your unique culture—meetings that team members will actually want to attend.

Learn more

How much does the program cost?

Number of employees
AAHA-accredited member
1–20 $475 $675
21–50 $675 $875
51–100 $875 $1,075
100+ $1,275 $1,575

I’m ready to sign up! How do I register?

Congratulations—your team is on its way to building a healthier culture! You can register here.

Register now

AAHA's Culture Initiative is supported through a generous educational grant from Merck Animal Health.