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Dr Anna Abdala’s My Kind of Vet clinic has been named the 2023 Australasian Best Led Practice. The Queensland vet reveals how much had to change to get the business into winning shape. By John Burfitt
For Queensland vet Dr Anna Abdala, a job transfer a few years ago not only took her out of her comfort zone, but ultimately delivered her to a place she never expected to be.
In early 2017, Dr Abdala was transferred by the company she was working for to a practice in Ormeau on the Gold Coast. Within a few weeks, however, she knew something was wrong and indeed, her instincts were soon proven correct when the practice was placed into receivership.
By the time the receivers had finished tallying up the debts, they announced they were shutting the practice down. That’s when Dr Abdala decided to make her move.
“I still don’t know why, but I approached them about buying the practice, with no money to do so or much of an idea of how to run a business,” Dr Abdala admits.
“What followed was a blur of meetings with lawyers, accountants, and financial people, and a few weeks later, I owned the practice. But really, I had little idea of how to run it, so I had to learn as I went.”
The hard road
Whatever she learned over the past six years, she clearly learned it well, as her My Kind of Vet clinic was named the 2023 Australasian Best Led Practice by the Lincoln Institute, recognised for the outstanding management style it epitomises.
In determining the winner from a range of contenders, the Lincoln Institute examined the way practice teams and owners operated across 18 key selection criteria, evaluating such key areas as workplace culture, human resource management, work-life balance, business acumen and client engagement.
Dr Abdala admits winning the award came as a surprise. “When I learned of some of the other great practices in contention, I was stunned as it really was such an honour,” she says. It was an important recognition of just how far My Kind of Vet—previously known as Animal Options Vet Clinic and Wet Noses—had come in the past six years, including through the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic. But for Dr Abdala, it was personally significant in that it acknowledged just how far she had developed as a manager.
Brazilian-born Dr Abdala graduated from the University of the State of Santa Catarina in 2009, before moving to Australia in 2012, where she landed work as a veterinary nurse at a Deception Bay clinic until her Australian veterinary license was approved in 2015.
She then got her first Australian job as a practitioner at a clinic in Hervey Bay, before being transferred to the Ormeau clinic. Twelve weeks of turmoil later, she bought the clinic and did her best to overcome its troubled past.
“It was a very rocky start,” she admits. “When I bought it, there was a big clean-up to do with both staff and clients, and in many ways, it was like starting from scratch.”
Despite her best efforts, she admits she was soon overwhelmed. “All I knew was what I was doing was wrong and I had a couple of staff who were difficult, and I had no idea how to manage the human resources side of it,” she says.
Initially, she thought the best way to take control was to focus on attracting new clients and building projected profits. But when issues within the practice continued, she realised it was how she managed the team that needed the most attention. “You don’t know for a while that you can’t handle it all, but you get to a point where you know you must take action if you want to stay in business,” she says.
Two years after buying the business, Dr Abdala commenced the Lincoln Institute’s three-year Lead to Succeed leadership mastery development program which focuses on practice performance through the application of leadership principles. The program covers topics such as effective delegation, achieving outcomes, dealing with conflict and team accountability.
“One of the first things I learned was you cannot talk to people about the numbers you want to achieve if you first don’t know how to talk to people, the best way to manage and motivate them, and to make them accountable,” she says. “That was when I began to discover there was a better way to manage from within the team.”
A better way
Acknowledging that she was overwhelmed and needed the team to take a more active role in decision-making proved to be a major turning point.
“As a business owner, it can be very isolating being the one making all the decisions, but this was when I realised it was not all about me and effective management did not have to come from the top down. We found it was far better acknowledging the issues we were facing and then finding solutions together, allowing the team to try different ways and then report back.
“Taking a team approach allowed everyone to be more independent in how they did their job, and also allowed me to breathe. It began to feel like we were taking a community approach to how the practice was being run. As the owner, I learned to let go of being involved in every decision and instead to trust the team to use their own skills to work things out. And the main word there is ‘trust’, as I do think we trust each other to achieve the outcomes we want for the practice and for our clients.”
My Kind of Vet also created a distinct point of difference by offering conventional medical therapies along with integrative and alternative modalities, such as natural remedies, acupuncture, laser therapy and orthopaedic procedures. The clinic also places a strong emphasis on preventive medicine.
It was the way My Kind of Vet overhauled and then developed a new approach to its team culture that made it stand out from the other contenders during the judging of the Best Led Practice Awards, says Dr Michael Powell, one of the directors of the Lincoln Institute.
“What was so impressive is how My Kind of Vet adopted a deceptively simple strategy to transform their culture, which was essentially embodying self-awareness, personal accountability and self-care,” he says. “Most importantly, they have never lost sight of their purpose, and operate with a strong theme of psychological safety, respect and genuine care for each other.”
He adds that My Kind of Vet has utilised the diversity of its 12-member team—boasting seven nationalities and speaking eight languages, including Auslan—to its full value.
“The way they celebrate diversity is so impressive, and it is clear they recognise the gift in that experience, which I am sure has helped when they’ve faced challenging times, not just with the ongoing skills shortage of the profession but also through the pandemic.”
Dr Abdala says embracing the diversity of the team, especially given her own South American roots, has become a fundamental of the way her team does business.
“You have to be clear about navigating those waters, and there isn’t a wrong or right way to do that,” she says. “It is just about acknowledging that people are different, and I think our clients like that as a lot of them are from very diverse backgrounds as well. So we are just a reflection of the community we are a part of.”
Having won the Best Led Practice Award, My Kind of Vet is now being recognised as a model of how a contemporary veterinary practice should be run. Dr Abdala’s advice to those new practice owners just starting out?
“The main thing I learned is to understand things change all the time and you have adapt and trust that process. Being willing to change your perspective as an owner is the key.”