Treatment shifts should be spaced 10-12 hours apart. Most medications used need to be spaced 8-12 hours apart, but volunteer time must be taken into account. 8AM and 7PM work well -if a PM shift lasts 4 hours, volunteers will be out by 11pm. A minimum of two medical personnel (volunteer or staff), and three medical personnel during peak parvo season (>15 dogs in the ICU) should be scheduled per shift. New volunteers (first 6 months) are expected to volunteer twice weekly, with some flexibility. Experienced volunteers (>6 months) are expected to volunteer weekly with slightly more flexibility when needed.
The Parvo Medical Schedule is made weekly by the manager. Volunteers submit their availability for the upcoming week, and the manager arranges the schedule before the start of the week. This allows for volunteer flexibility and thus better retention. The volunteers with the least availability (i.e. Tuesday only) should be scheduled first, and the volunteers with more availability can be used to fill in the remaining open shifts. Send a friendly text to volunteers that forget to send in availability. It’s important to ensure volunteers/staff are viewing their scheduled shift every week as soon as the schedule is sent out to prevent last-minute schedule changes and no-shows.
Don't be afraid to contact volunteers individually if someone needs to change shifts, especially for doing a more complicated shift switch (A covers B’s shift, B covers C’s and C covers A’s). Look back at the week’s availability to find a good person/option to text. Beware of, as the manager, being the on-call person that covers all shifts that can't be covered - this is a common cause of manager burn-out.
- Google Docs is easily edited and shared with team members to display the weekly schedule.
- Google Forms is used for volunteers to submit availability for the upcoming week.
See schedule.apaparvo.org and submit.apaparvo.org for current APA! forms.
Shifts should be 2-4 hours. When medical treatments take longer than 4 hours for volunteers this should be taken seriously not only for ensuring proper patient medical care (most medications can’t be administered again sooner than 8 hours) but also for ensuring volunteer retention. Contact the volunteers that were on shift to identify any issues and provide assistance. Common issues may include:
- Lack of efficiency/proper efficiency training
- Sudden increase in patient population
- Critical patient care taking up a large portion of a single individual’s shift time
- Non-medical maintenance duties occupying large amounts of time.
It is important to clarify whether shifts were long due to treatment times or non-medical responsibilities. See Triage Mode Protocols for efficiency training.
- No Shows - No shows are unacceptable regardless of volunteer status and should be treated seriously. Refer to the Scheduling & Shift Changes for protocols on missing a shift. Skipping two shifts is grounds for dismissal from the team. The language can/should be softened for long-term volunteers.
- Last Minute Shift Change - Volunteer requests for last minute shift changes should only be expected if its an emergency or moderate illness. Requests for shift change to the team can be made at any time for non-emergency cases (see Scheduling & Shift Changes for definitions of emergency), but volunteers are expected to keep their commitment to that shift until they can find their own replacement.
- Holidays - Holidays can sometimes be hard to cover. A method that has worked in the past is asking volunteers to commit only 1 hour to the shift and schedule as many as 5 medical volunteers to get the shift done as fast as possible. Offer coming 1-2 hours early/late and staggered scheduling (i.e. A comes in 8-:915, B comes in 9-1015, etc). Have a “shift lead” that ensures all work is complete by the end, or ensure volunteers will communicate properly.
Alternative Scheduling Procedures
Self-scheduling options such as Doodle and allowing editing on Google Docs are possible. However, these methods are not conducive to optimally scheduling all volunteers based on availability because they often result in people being available fewer times due to the feedback they receive when looking at other people’s schedules. For example, Volunteer A is available Mon-Fri and schedules herself on Monday and Tuesday. Volunteer B looks at the schedule one hour later and is only available on Monday, so she can't volunteer now.
Quality Over Quantity
These are words to live by when it comes to recruiting and training a parvo medical team. One well trained, efficient and reliable volunteer is more valuable than two volunteers that are not, and they will create a much more stable team and program. Don’t sacrifice quality training of volunteers to mass-recruit/train volunteers. With that in mind, it is also important not to stack the team with only a few superstar volunteers such that when one leaves, the team becomes unstable.
A proper team size depends on frequency of work per medical personnel (staff vs volunteers) and season (representing number of patients in the ICU). In a 7 day week there are generally 14 shifts to cover. Generally, 16-25 volunteers is sufficient, assuming they are a good distribution of AM, PM and Weekend volunteers.
- Normal Seasons - During these seasons when there are generally <15 patients in the ICU, there are 28 slots to fill (2 volunteers per 14 shifts).
- Assuming a team of volunteers-only, where half the volunteers work once a week and the other half works twice a week, 20 medical volunteers is the minimal team size necessary for a volunteer-only team.
- One full or part-time staff can cover 5-6 shifts (do not burn your full-time staff out by scheduling them for 10 shifts per week). This leaves 23 slots to be filled by volunteers. Thus, with a full or part-time staff member, a minimum volunteer team size should be 16 volunteers.
- Peak Season (spring and summer, or >15 dogs in the ICU) - aim for 3 medical personnel per shift, resulting in 42 shift slots to cover.
- With a volunteer-only team, 28 medical volunteers would be ideal.
- With staff, via the logic in the previous section, 24 medical volunteers.
- Another option is to recruit an assistant team to help medical volunteers with cleaning, laundry, feeding and other easier tasks. Assistants require less training and a smaller monthly commitment. 2 medical volunteers and 1-2 assistants per shift would work as well. This drastically increases the size of the team, but it also allows more flexibility in scheduling.
Recruiting should be prioritized prior to the peak season, i.e. in late winter and early spring. However, especially keep in mind "Quality of Quantity" in the peak season. While 28 medical volunteers is the "ideal", one volunteer that can treat 10 patients in two hours is far more valuable.
- Slow Season - During the slow season (late fall, winter) 2 volunteers per shift is still ideal in case there is an unexpected large or multi litter intake (low numbers are not guaranteed during the winter), if a patient needs two sets of hands for treatments (squirmy SQ patients/chihuahuas), or if a newly trained volunteer needs guidance. However, most of your experienced volunteers will be able to cover shifts on their own. Refer to the Empty ICU Protocol for guidelines. Additionally, recruiting is not ideal during the slow season as there are typically not enough patients and/or not the correct stage of treatment (i.e. dog on an IV pump for Day 3 training) for thorough training.
- Email template - should contain necessary information including requirements, expectations, and questions to reply to. See attachment example at the bottom of this page.
- Wait List - Add a section on your Contacts List for individuals that cannot be trained immediately. Include any necessary details such as when they can start training and their medical experience level.
Recruiting can, and should, be done via email. Recruit specifically for shifts that are hardest to cover, and make this a stipulation for starting volunteering, keeping the need for volunteer scheduling flexibility in mind. Typically, this includes asking new volunteers to take weekend shifts and/or morning shifts. In your email template, require that prospective volunteers be generally available to volunteer on weekends (+/- AM vs PM if needed) for first 6 months of volunteering.
It is important to have a healthy mix of local volunteers and not too many students that go out-of-town during school breaks (especially summer break).
Different towns will have different recruiting avenues. Some examples include:
- Shelter/Organization volunteer orientation
- Shelter/Organization volunteer email list-serv
- Local university pre-vet, pre-med, or animal-related clubs
- Local veterinary technician schools
- Organization's facebook page
Selecting Ideal Volunteers
Professionalism and responsibility are the two vital qualities to recruit for, as medical knowledge can be trained. Medical background is NOT essential when recruiting new volunteers. Professionalism and attention to detail can be evaluated in email correspondence. For example, a candidate who responds to all recruitment questions thoroughly with attention to organization, grammar, and detail is likely to take the position and responsibility of a medical volunteer seriously. The recruiting email should be “intimidating” enough to deter un-ideal candidates while exciting for the highly motivated candidates. The Parvo program is a unique opportunity and should be presented as such. Interviewing would be ideal but is time-consuming and not essential as issues with volunteers will often be revealed during the first day or two of training.
If a candidates will be going out of town(1+wk) within the first month of volunteering/training, post-pone training until after the vacation. If going on a 1+wk vacation (such that they'd miss two consecutive weeks of volunteering) within the first three months of volunteering, postponing training until after the vacation may be best. These guidelines may not apply to volunteers who already have medical experience (vet techs, nurses) as they dont have as steep of a learning curve nor need the frequent practice.
Cultivating Team Environment
The following are suggestions for cultivating a friendly team environment which will make volunteering more enjoyable and increase volunteer retention:
- Private Team Facebook Group – This digital resource can be used to share pictures of puppies (privately), stories, concerns, grievances, etc. It is important that this resource be private and by invitation only, preferably excluding non-volunteers (even veterinarians).
- Events & Outings - Local bars, restaurants, etc that are dog friendly (so volunteers can bring their pets) and relaxing are great sites for meeting places for the group. This can be done less frequently (i.e. every 6 months) than other team building activities.
- Introductions - Introduce new volunteers on all shifts to anyone they may not have met. The manager should try to schedule him/herself with new volunteers multiple times to cultivate a relationship so they feel comfortable bringing concerns to you.
- Team T-shirts - Team t-shirts are usually done by having one team member design the shirt and everyone chip in if they would like to purchase one.
Handling Volunteer Complaints
Volunteer complaints are inevitable and expected. Handling complaints in a professional and responsive manner is vital for maintaining a healthy working environment. The detailed handling of all scenarios is beyond the scope of this document, but the following is a short outline of types of complaints which may occur.
- Issues with scheduling - Volunteers are expected to adhere to the commitment made when joining the team, especially within the first three months of joining. However, some flexibility should be given to experienced volunteers. For example, if a reliable volunteer has been part of the team for over a year, had an increase in work/school commitments, and can no longer commit to weekly shifts, offer volunteering every-other-week.
- Complaints about volunteer responsibilities being unreasonable - Since 2010, the vast majority (99%) of parvo volunteers have been able to meet the expected volunteer responsibilities without issue. It may be best to remove this volunteer from the team.
- Issues between volunteers - If there is a particular volunteer that others do not like working with, identify why this might be and have a conversation with or send a gentle email to that volunteer. If unable to resolve issues, it may be best to remove this volunteer from the team.
If there is a particularly complex case, try reaching out to other volunteer managers in other programs of the organization for advice.
Mentoring Future Parvo Program Leadership
Plan to spend 2-4 weeks training the parvo program manager at the end of your tenure. This document should serve as a good template for training.