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Navigating the Flow of Clinic Culture

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How to steer your clinic in the right direction for a positive work culture

Work environment has a significant impact on job satisfaction. Workplace culture can be based on the overall environment of the clinic, but it can also vary from individual to individual. Specifically, in medical culture and the veterinary workplace, services provided by staff and patient outcomes can also influence clinic culture.1

Aaron Smiley, DVM, spoke about clinic culture during his talk at the 2022 Veterinary Medical Congress in Indianapolis, Indiana. In his lecture, he likened the clinic culture to being on a river.sometimes it’s all around you [and] Forgetting to be in the river, just doing things instinctively [and] I don’t even know why. It has a lot to do with culture. So by that definition of culture, I hope river culture goes in the right direction. I want to float downstream.No need to reach a specific destination [and] I don’t want to float in the wrong direction. So how do we create a clinic culture and move it in the right direction?”2

Smiley uses this river metaphor to describe how clinic managers can help when they think the clinic culture is “running the wrong way” or simply isn’t working for their employees. showed how clinic culture can be turned around. It’s important to ensure that the clinic’s culture has a positive impact on employees, rather than adding to their daily stress.

Four Elements of Clinic Culture

Smiley said that implementing these four concepts could improve the clinic’s culture.2:

  • work together. Collaborate and support team members when someone needs help. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with big responsibilities when you lack support and collaboration from your team members.
  • listen to understand. It is important not to listen until it is your turn, but to listen to understand the other person’s point of view and opinion. Employees feel appreciated by feeling heard and understood when expressing specific challenges or frustrations.
  • Assuming good intentions. If a colleague is in a bad mood and is angry with you, it’s common for them to respond in a personal way at first. However, Smiley suggests assuming people’s good intentions so as not to act hastily on the situation or escalate the problem. A colleague’s bad mood can be a reflection of your personal life, regardless of your accomplishments.
  • Talk To People, not people. Talking to the person having the problem is the best way to clear up misunderstandings, rather than talking to other people. This may seem obvious to some, but it often feels safer to avoid confrontation and not talk to the direct cause of the problem. However, this can prolong the problem and lead to a passive-aggressive clinic culture.

With staff shortages growing, creating a positive clinic culture is more important than ever. Smiley said it’s important to make sure everyone at the clinic feels safe and happy in their work environment.


  1. Tillott, S. The importance of staff involvement in developing a positive work culture. Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health – Articles: Part B. Published 2013. Accessed 10 August 2022.
  2. Smiley, A. Rivers of Clinic Culture. Place of publication: Instructions of the Veterinary Congress. June 24-25, 2022. Indianapolis, Indiana.