Navigating the flow of clinic culture

Navigating the flow of clinic culture

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

The environment you work in can greatly affect your job satisfaction. Workplace culture can be based on the overall environment of a clinic but can also vary depending on the individual. Specifically with health care cultures and veterinary medicine workplaces, the service provided by staff and the patient outcome can also affect the clinic culture.1

Aaron Smiley, DVM, discussed clinic culture in his lecture at the 2022 Directions in Veterinary Medicine Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. In his lecture, he compared to clinic culture to being in a river: “Can you think about what your clinic culture is? Sometimes it’s all around you [and] you forget that you’re in the river, you’re just doing things instinctively [and] you don’t even know why. It’s a lot to do with the culture. So, with that definition of the culture, we want the culture of the river going the correct way. We want to float downstream. We don’t have to get to a specific destination [and] we don’t want to float the wrong way. So how do we create a clinic culture to cause us to float in the correct direction?”2

Smiley used this metaphor of a river to show how practice managers can redirect clinic culture if it seems to be “flowing the wrong way” or simply not working for its employees. It is important to make sure the culture of the clinic is affecting its employees positively instead of adding another level of daily stress.

Four components of clinic culture

Smiley noted that implementing these 4 concepts can help improve clinic culture2:

  • Work together. Use collaborative efforts and support team members when someone needs help. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by large responsibilities if there is a lack of support from team members and a lack of working together.
  • Listen to understand. It is important to make sure that you are listening to understand the other person’s perspective and opinion, rather than just listening until it is your turn to speak. Feeling like you are heard and understood when expressing certain challenges or frustrations can allow employees to feel appreciated.
  • Assume good intention. If a colleague is in a bad mood and gets angry with you, it is common to have an initial reaction of taking it personally. However, Smiley suggests to assume good intention from people to ensure that you are not acting rashly to situations and escalating problems. A colleague’s bad mood could reflect their personal life and not anything to do with your job performance.
  • Talk to people not about people. To solve a miscommunication, it is best to talk to the person in conflict rather than talking about them to others. This might seem obvious to some, but it often feels safter to avoid confrontation and not talk to the direct source of the issue. However, this can prolong the issue and can lead to a passive clinic aggressive culture.

With staff shortages on the rise, creating a positive clinic culture is more important than ever. According to Smiley, it is crucial to make sure everyone in the clinic feels safe and happy in their work environment.


  1. Tillott, S. The importance of staff engagement to the development of positive workplace cultures. Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health – Papers: Part B. Published 2013. Accessed August 10, 2022.
  2. Smiley, A. The river of clinic culture. Presented at: Directions in Veterinary Medicine Conference; June 24-25, 2022; Indianapolis, Indiana.


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