We recently caught up with Kristen Norris, CVPM, of West Villa Maria Vet Clinic in Bryan, Texas. Kristen attended our VMC School of Veterinary Practice Management in October 2019 and earned her Certified Veterinary Practice Manager (CVPM) credentials in January 2020. We wanted to congratulate Kristen and ask her a few questions about the process of pursuing her certification while managing a busy practice and how the school may have helped her achieve that goal.

Here are the highlights or our conversation…

VMC: So, Kristen, how long have you been working as a practice manager?

 Kristen: It’s been nearly 6 years now. I started three days after the birth of my son. I had been training for the position and found out when I was in labor that I would need to step in sooner than expected.

VMC: Wow! That’s dedication and courage! Becoming a mom and a practice manager at the same time! How long have you been involved in the veterinary industry in total?

Kristen: I started at the clinic as a volunteer nine years ago, then I worked my way to a technician position, transitioned to a full-time receptionist because that was what we needed, then eventually moved back to a full-time technician position. One of the reasons I feel like I can effectively manage is because I’ve worked all the positions. It was a great foundation to understand the workings of the practice.

VMC: When did you decide you wanted to pursue earning your Certified Veterinary Practice Manager credentials? What was your motivation?

Kristen: I was taking one of Mark Opperman’s smaller weekend classes and he talked about becoming a CVPM. At the end of the day he told me he thought I was the kind of person who should look into it. I really took that to heart and did some research and decided that he was right, this was what I was destined to do. I started picking up books from the reading lists, joined the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA), read all of Mark’s articles, and saved up money to take the management school. I didn’t want to consider taking the exam until I had done all I could to be successful. I financed my own tuition and attendance costs because I didn’t want to feel like I had let my clinic down if I didn’t pass.

VMC: What were some of your challenges to becoming certified?

Kristen: One of my bigger challenges was that it required a current CVPM or experienced practice manager that would know me well enough to write a letter of recommendation. In my area, I didn’t have anyone who was qualified to judge my ability to fit that letter of recommendation. Then I met a practice manager out of Houston through the VHMA. She was in charge of a weekend prep course I took through the VHMA. We spoke for an hour each week on different topics, discussed issues in our practices and how I would handle them, and in the end, she felt she could write the recommendation letter for me.

The other real challenge is the massive amount of information to learn. I needed to balance study time with my family and running the practice.

VMC: How did you handle the time you had to spend away from your busy practice pursuing further education through the VMC school?

Kristen: There were a lot of phone calls and we use cloud-based software. So early in the morning I checked in with the clinic, if needed I could log in to run a report or find what they were looking for. We stayed in touch. Practice managers need to remember that the clinic CAN go on without you – they will survive for a week. It’s worth it ultimately to better yourself and your effectiveness in your clinic.

VMC: What role did the VMC School of Veterinary Practice Management play in helping you work towards your certification goals?

Kristen: It tied everything together. I attended the school after completing the suggested reading list for the CVPM certification and I was nearly done with the CVPM prep course. By attending the VMC School of Veterinary Practice Management, I was able to take months of information and figure out how apply it properly. I clarified my questions with the instructors, I could say, “Hey, I read this one way and then a different way, what can you tell me about that?” The school was a perfect wrap up and it ultimately gave me the confidence to feel like I was prepared to take the exam.

VMC: What most impacted your management of your hospital as a result of attending the VMC school?

Kristen: The thing I brought back that had the biggest impact on my practice was the concept of the Perception of Value. My clinic has bettered itself through some of the different activities and meetings I’ve done on Perception of Value. It’s one of the things that I’m most proud of in my clinic. The team has learned how to communicate the value of what we do with our clients. VMC’s Comprehensive Management Resource Library has been an enormous asset, as well. I no longer have to reinvent the wheel. Whether it’s job descriptions, evaluations, onboarding… having those base pieces is huge. And because of the school, I know when and how to use them.

VMC: What would you say to someone who was considering pursuing their CVPM certification or attending the VMC School of Veterinary Practice Management?

Kristen: A lot of it is being open to change and looking at the big picture. If you get too tied down to, “This is how I do it in my clinic,” you won’t be successful with the CVPM or VMC school process. You need to be open to changing the way you do onboarding or evaluations, the way you treat your staff, or how you handle staff meetings. I have changed so much in the last year. It’s not even that I was doing things wrong, I have discovered ways to do it even better. Be open to change and looking at 100 different ways you could be doing things, don’t bottleneck yourself into thinking “That would never work in my practice.” For the CVPM especially, I had to train my mind not to think only, “That is what I would do in my practice,” but in terms of the best process, in general, for all clinics.

VMC: What will you do now with your hard-earned experience and credentials, Kristen?

Kristen: I am honored to now be considered an experienced, certified manager. I love teaching and enjoy working with younger practice managers. I look forward to continuing to learn from other practice managers and using my knowledge and experience to help others the way VMC and other experienced managers have helped me. Ultimately, I hope that in the future, I may be able to work as a consultant and mentor other practice managers.

Thank you so much for your time, Kristen, and for sharing your thoughts and insights with us.

We hope that this interview might encourage someone else who is considering the future of their career in veterinary practice management. We wish you the best of success!