Many veterinary professionals have a mistake-phobic mentality and believe mistakes reflect stupidity or incompetence. However, mistakes do happen, and how they are dealt with—whether among the team or with a client or patient—is what really matters.  Team members should always conduct themselves with integrity, showing they are striving to do the right thing for both the practice and the client.

Mistakes are, in fact, opportunities to learn and develop. All team members should consider these principles to help prevent mistakes and manage them when they occur.


Standard Operating Procedures

Every practice should have Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)—written instructions outlining the steps for routine practice activities—to ensure consistency in training methods to provide quality services and products to clients and patients. Practices that do not have written SOPs face many pitfalls, ranging from a chaotic workflow and unproductive team members to inconsistent client service and patient care. When practices create and implement specific, carefully crafted SOPs, team expectations are clear, orderly systems followed, and mistakes dramatically reduced.  When mistakes are made repeatedly, sometimes without anyone realizing, the reason frequently is lack of training in the practice’s SOPs. Mistakes are made more often because of lack of training than lack of ability. Every practice should have SOPs in some form because they are the first step toward avoiding many mistakes.

A culture of honesty is valuable in a practice because a lack of transparency (eg, keeping secrets) causes problems and mistakes do not get corrected. Make team members want to be honest by emphasizing how client service and patient care could be negatively affected and how dishonesty can hurt the practice owners. Include honesty as a core value in the team member handbook to show it is taken seriously.


Rewards for Admitting Errors

Practice leaders should welcome team members who admit their mistakes and encourage them(e.g., with praise) so more team members also feel comfortable owning up to their mistakes. Give team members the opportunity to heal psychologically, learn from their mistakes, and improve skills such as decision-making and communication.  In Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success, John C. Maxwell shares that some of America’s most successful entrepreneurs made huge mistakes before making their fortune. For example, Mary Kay of Mary Kay Cosmetics, who is known as “America’s Greatest Woman Entrepreneur,” filed for bankruptcy early in her career but learned from her missteps and built her company into a multibillion-dollar corporation.  If practice leaders want team members to admit mistakes and improve performance, they must open the lines of communication and build a culture of honesty in which team members are not afraid to admit errors and always want to right any wrongs.

Sharing Experiences

Consider creating a Client Experience Share Time as a routine agenda item at every team meeting that allows team members to share client interactions, both good and bad.  Encourage everyone to participate—more involvement can help team members feel confident about sharing mistakes and triumphs.  Remember, these are learning opportunities in which open, honest communication is essential, with no repercussions for anyone who shares a negative experience.

Enhance the learning experience by asking team members who interacted with the client to share their role in the experience.  How did their involvement impact the client experience?  What could have been done differently? Conclude with suggestions for better ways to handle the situation and resolve the issues.


Mistakes are always going to happen, particularly in the fast-paced environment of a veterinary practice.  However, ensuring the practice does as much as possible to help team members avoid making wrong decisions or acting inappropriately, then acknowledging mistakes that do occur, discussing the details of the incident, and helping the team focus on improvement will create a better working environment for team members and clients.

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