Education: Kent State University
Hometown: Canton, Ohio
Pets: Kula, Tommy, Opus, Columbo, Pearl, Moses, Virginia, Muffin, Flower, Zoey
Sharon was born and raised in Canton, Ohio, home of the Football Hall of Fame. After receiving her Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Education from Kent State University, she taught classes for the gifted in Canton for 10 years and was named Outstanding Young Educator in Ohio.
Her next career was as a program director, working for a Girl Scout Council in the Chicago suburbs for 5 years and then at Girl Scout National Center West in Ten Sleep, Wyoming for 11 years.
Sharon worked as Dr. Robin’s veterinary assistant in her House calls Unlimited practice in Wyoming and moved to Windsor when they purchased Windsor Veterinary Clinic
She lives above the clinic and shares her home with a plethora of cats and dogs. She enjoys reading, calligraphy, and photography.
Enriching the Soul of a Hospital
The 1999 Practice Manager of the Year, Sharon DeNayer, gives clients “state of the heart” care.
Here’s your chance to learn her secrets.
By Sarah E. Nichols; Photo by Any Boudreau
Firstline – August/September 1999
Charles and Marian Baum know the pain of euthanizing a beloved pet, but a special woman made the difficult day bearable. After the euthanasia, the Baums approached the reception desk to pay the bill. Sharon DeNayer, clinic manager at Windsor Veterinary Clinic, PC, in Windsor, Colo., intercepted their walk – and their pain.
“Sharon is very soft-spoken, and her voice comforted us as she explained the euthanasia process,” Marian Baum says. “When we were ready to leave, Sharon took my husband and me into her arms and told us not to worry about the bill for the moment.”
Such moments make DeNayer the heart and soul of the clinic – and the winner of the 1999 Practice Manager of the Year Contest, sponsored by Firstline, Veterinary Economics, and the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. Her soft-spoken manner, business savvy, and team approach set her apart.
DeNayer pools experience from a variety of jobs, including 10 years as an elementary school teacher for gifted children in Canton, Ohio, and 11 years as program director for Girl Scout National Center West in Ten Sleep, Wyo. She believes a practice manager’s success lies in his or her ability to complement the practice owner. And hospital director Robin Downing, DVM, says the pair’s partnership is proof of DeNayer’s success.
“I tell people I provide the right brain of the team and Sharon provides the left,” Dr. Downing says. “But that still understates her contributions and the synergy we’ve created. She provides the balance I need to remain focused and energized to complete a goal.”
The women’s 10-year friendship began when DeNayer joined Dr. Downing’s mobile practice, Housecalls Unlimited Mobile Veterinary Services in Worland, Wyo., as a veterinary assistant. Since 1991 she’s handled daily operations at Windsor Veterinary Clinic. As DeNayer says, “Dr. Downing manages the veterinary issues, and I take care of everything else.”
Focusing on the team
“A significant part of managing any business is building a team that runs smoothly and efficiently,” says veterinary assistant Michael S. Hernandez. “Sharon helped develop a staff that does exactly that. On most days, it seems as if we read one another’s minds.”
DeNayer’s careful selection of employees makes this intimacy possible, she says. She follows her gut feeling: If applicants don’t fit the team, she doesn’t hire them. Believing that everyone motivates him- or herself, DeNayer encourages team members by setting a positive example. “I keep my promises,” DeNayer says. “And I expect the best from team members, so I set them up for success by providing a safe workplace, training, and state-of-the-art equipment.”
Still, DeNayer says, in the midst of hard work and commitment, the team makes room for fun. Toys and stress balls hide in convenient corners. And no one passes up an opportunity to relieve tension through celebration. “We can always find a reason to celebrate, whether it’s a big or little success, a team member’s birthday, or a pet’s birthday,” DeNayer says. “You name it, we celebrate it ‑even if it’s just for a few minutes.”
It’s clear when you talk to the people she works with that DeNayer’s team members look to her for guidance and support, and new employees respond immediately to her leadership. “The first day, Sharon put me at ease,” says Shirley DeVore, a volunteer with the practice. “But most of all she makes all of us feel needed.”
Caring for clients
DeNayer believes the investment she makes in her team trickles down to clients and that the services and programs she spearheads help solidify clients’ loyalty. Clients receive such personalized care, she says, that pet owners who move long distances away often continue to make the trek to the clinic. In fact, one client drives seven hours to visit.
One special practice amenity, the comfort room, gives clients a private place to spend time with their pets before a euthanasia, to wait during surgery, or to visit with animals before an adoption. The room features a rocking chair; a love seat; a TV/VCR photo albums; educational books, cassettes, and videotapes; a courtesy phone; a sink; an aquarium; and a “Do not disturb” sign. DeNayer came up with the idea after attending a training seminar on euthanasia and designed the room as part of the clinic’s remodel and expansion a few years ago.
Another part of the “state of the heart” mantra: consideration for children who visit the clinic. DeNayer created Kojak’s Corner‑formerly a small closet beneath the clinic stairs-to welcome children and keep them occupied. Colorful animal caricatures decorate the walls, and a wooden chest holds toys and books.
But most of all, DeNayer shows how much she values clients. “Long before working here, I visited as a client,” receptionist Wendy Ball says. “Sharon always made me feel welcome and important, recognizing my cat and me by name, as if we stopped by every week rather than once a year.”
Despite the stress and long days that come with veterinary practice, DeNayer rejoices in her work. And her clients show their appreciation with thank-you notes, phone calls, and flowers. But she says the real satisfaction comes when animals drag their owners through the clinic door because they’re excited to be there.
“Some people might describe me as an overachiever, but I don’t believe there is such a thing,” DeNayer says. “My reward is seeing clients and staff members smiling, dogs wagging their tails, and cats purring.”
Sarah E. Nichols is assistant editor for Firstline
Mark Opperman, VPM, president of Veterinary Management Consultation Inc. in Evergreen, Colo., and Indianapolis; Roger F. Cummings, VPM, a consultant with Brakke Consulting Inc. in Dallas; and VHMA president Ralph Duke, CVPM, judged the contest. They evaluated candidates’ administrative abilities, personnel-management skills, and marketing and client education expertise.