Top Workplaces: At MedVet, 'everyone is a leader'

Laura Newpoff
Flynn the bird with a MedVet employee.

In 2019, MedVet’s veterinarians, specialists and support staff cared for more than a quarter million pets, guiding them and their families through specialty procedures involving things like jaw fractures, pancreatic disorders and cancer treatments. It was able to improve the lives of so many pets because of an ongoing expansion of its network to 29 locations in 15 states. 

That growth, however, hasn’t come at the cost of diminishing its close-knit culture.

The entire MedVet network operates from the core values of teamwork, leadership and compassion, or TLC. They are the foundation of the “MedVet Experience,” where all employees work together to provide the best possible outcomes for patients, clients and referral partners.

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Dr. Eric Schertel, MedVet’s executive chairman who has been with the company since 1999, says a key component of the business model has been to build strong relationships with its 7,500 referral partners. To do that, MedVet realized years ago that happy employees who felt that they were valued and that their work was meaningful would be the ones to accomplish that goal. 

“The core values of teamwork, leadership and compassion—those were developed to really reflect on what (co-founder William DeHoff) started in the organization (in 1988),” he says. “As time went on, we grew to realize the employee was really the person who delivered all those pieces of the MedVet experience. It led us to set aside the employee experience as our No. 1 strategy. It became a strong message.”

Part of that employee focus was centered around developing leaders from within through experiential learning programs, leadership development summits and ongoing training. The message was that “everyone at MedVet is a leader,” says Dr. Linda Lehmkuhl, CEO. 

“We realized a few years back that successful leaders in an organization help drive culture and lead to the behaviors and results we are looking for,” she says. “You couldn’t just hire those people. We wanted our veterinarian to become our medical director.”

MedVet dedicated itself to developing employees both as individuals and as members of specialty and emergency health care teams. When employees felt engaged and empowered, they succeeded in delivering a top-notch experience to everyone who encounters its hospitals. 

Community focus

As MedVet has grown it has made a commitment to meet the needs of the local communities it serves by providing continuing education for local veterinarians and their teams. It partners with organizations and events as the emergency veterinarian onsite, provides care to service dogs and drives education and awareness of emergency and specialty care throughout the community. Employees also teach animal CPR at community events for free.

MedVet also is active in educating its referral partners about industry best practices. It supports animal-related charities in each community and offers discounts to military members and rescue groups.

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The employee and community focus were top of mind for MedVet’s employees who were surveyed as part of the Top Workplaces awards program. Here’s what they said:

  • “I absolutely love my job on many levels, from the excellent standard of medicine that we are able to practice, to the fast pace and ability to learn something new every day, to the interactions with clients and referral partners. I enjoy my co-workers, my manager is very compassionate and I would not want to work anywhere else.”
  • “I am part of a team that really values my thoughts and ideas. I have flexibility to work and get things done as I do them best, not on someone else’s terms. I feel free to point out things I think are not working and that my concerns are taken seriously. I know that if I make a mistake, it will not be held against me in the future.”
  • “I feel that I have a strong support system with my coworkers and am always given opportunities to grow and learn. I also feel that management always listens to any concerns and is so flexible and willing to work with schedules as best to their ability and the hospital’s needs. I also love what I do and what we do here as a hospital.” 
  • “Tremendous opportunity to do high impact work and work with amazing and engaged people. Overall, at MedVet, we do work that truly makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Coronavirus impact

MedVet has mostly expanded through mergers and acquisitions over the years, often buying small community emergency rooms and then expanding them by adding specialists. It’s now dipping its toe into the world of starting practices from scratch and has plans to open a new one in July in Salt Lake City. 

That practice likely will be impacted by the industry’s changing protocols because of the spread of the global pandemic Covid-19. MedVet has had to take several steps to protect its workers and clients because its business is considered an essential service and its emergency rooms are busy even as the virus spreads. These steps include: 

  • MedVet is practicing social distancing by providing only curbside service with client-free lobbies.
  • It is communicating predominately by phone or video formats throughout the client’s visit.
  • Visitation is suspended for end-of-life circumstances.
  • Its team is following enhanced cleaning protocols, excelling at personal hygiene and not traveling.
  • Continuing education and other events have been postponed.

Lehmkuhl says MedVet will continue to preserve public health while focusing on delivering urgent care. Employees will work as teams and be responsible for different shifts to minimize exposure across their own group. 

“It’s amazing how fast a team can come together and drive change when you really need to,” she says.

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer.