Janet Nelson improved on the tools and techniques she uses in her work at the U’s Veterinary Medical Center with new skills learned in the HSM program

When you think of health care or health services, do you automatically think of people? It may come as a surprise to learn that the same principles and tools used to manage health services in organizations that care for people can also be applied to entities that administer to animals.

Janet Nelson is a certified veterinary technician (CVT) who supervises Emergency and Critical Care and Wards in the Lewis Small Animal Hospital at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center (VMC). She says there are a lot of parallels between how people-oriented health organizations and the Vet Center are run. 

When she started college in 1989, Janet had every intention of becoming a veterinarian. But when she got some experience in a local veterinary practice, she was more attracted to what the vet techs were doing. So she got her CVT in 1996 instead and went to work in small-animal hospitals, tending to dogs and cats, avians, and reptiles. After 14 years she felt she had outgrown private practice and looked around at what else was out there. In 2011, she came to work at the VMC as an overnight emergency CVT and was promoted to supervisor in 2012. After being in that role for several years, she wanted to better understand and improve on her managerial practices, so she enrolled in the Health Services Management (HSM) Bachelor’s Degree program.

Why HSM?

Janet Nelson sits on a window ledge outside the U of M Veterinary Medical Center

“I had always wanted to finish my degree,” says Janet, who represents a number of nontraditional students who return to school to get a degree after their career has been launched. “I was interested in the course work because I always like to know the rationale behind absolutely everything. Plus, I had a grade schooler at home and I thought it would be cool to do our homework together.”

That was in 2016. She continued to work full time, carve out family time with her husband and son, and take one or two courses each semester. Janet took some time off when her father got sick and passed away, but has since rejoined the program and graduated in fall 2023.

“There’s been so much in these classes that, although they’re designed for human health care, they totally apply to vet med,” she says. “Veterinary technicians are very similar to human nurses, although 'nurse' is a protected title reserved for human health care. We call them different things but it’s the same, other than our patients are different species and can’t tell us in words how they are feeling. Yes, the HSM program very much applies to the veterinary world as much as the human world.”

Same Process, Different Name

Janet says among the practices that human- and animal-centered health care share in common is how the teams are put together. “As a manager, you’re managing people and teams. So communication and quality improvement—those things are the same. And we don’t have the Joint Commission in vet med but we have the Board of Veterinary Medicine, and certain practices, like the VMC, are also accredited by American Animal Hospital Association,” she says of the organizations that oversee accreditation, standards setting, and the like.

Janet Nelson stands beside the Snoopy statue outside the U of M Veterinary Medical Center

“In this program I’ve learned about Lean and Six Sigma and how to do a SWOT analysis. And learn, you know, what sorts of things you need to document. Just last week I was learning in the human resources class how to take the number of hours based on a full-time equivalent and figure out how many people I actually need to have for a specific project,” Janet says.

“This program has made such a difference in how I interact with employees, how I go through the interview process, and how I approach change management, for example. And it’s kind of fun and exciting to take the things I’m learning, apply them to real-life situations, and start to see results.”

Monique Dubos is a writer and content strategist with the U of M College of Continuing and Professionals Studies, where she has covered the College’s noncredit professional development, construction management, health services management, and IT infrastructure programs since 2018. She has also written for the Institute on the Environment, the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program, and various publications. Connect with her via LinkedIn.