“Oh, a veterinarian, you must love animals! You would be a physician if you wanted to be a real doctor,” says the random person on the shuttle. If you haven’t had that experience, give it time. Side note: If you are “the random person on the shuttle” your desire to have conversation is welcomed. However, understand that if the situation arises where you need emergency medical attention, you may appreciate my expertise.
“You must love animals.” While I recognize this statement is true for most of us, there is a certain assumption being implied – that we don’t like people, or we don’t like working with people. The majority of us will disagree with this feeling. We love animals AND the value they bring to their people. From the itty-bitty hamster that is teaching a child responsibility to the herd of swine (pigs) that will ultimately be used for protein consumption; the (real) doctors that serve these animals are well aware and proud that people are as equally impacted by their work as the patients are.
Sometimes we struggle with communicating this. Relating to clients can often be a challenge to veterinary professionals. “People skills” are starting to be taught more thoroughly in our veterinary education. Some programs have implemented the use of actors to walk us through client interactions.
One of my ‘cases’ involved a woman who brought in her dog for a check-up and to address her Corgi’s weight issue. The black and white answer is diet and exercise to make the dog healthier, and hopefully happier. What we miss is that our client is really upset. There is more to this story, and you can go two ways with this. Ignore the fact that she is upset because we either 1) don’t have time to get into it or 2) don’t feel comfortable or know where to start.
We need to dig deeper, because owners are critical to a successful visit. The dog will eat what he or she is given. Getting the dog’s person to comply with our recommendations is built on a number of things, but especially understanding the recommendations and trusting that we have everyone’s best interest at heart. It turns out that our Corgi in this case once belonged to her father, and he has recently passed away. She feels guilty putting the Corgi on a diet because the dog already lost his owner, and limiting food and treats is an additional loss.
Sure, asking these questions can be uncomfortable. A client crying in a non-emergency situation can be difficult to relate with. Our end goal is the best care for the patient. We cannot effectively do that until we have connected with our client. Accepting this concept is absolutely essential to being the best veterinarian we can. With practice, we will find the balance to not take too much time, getting back to the patient, and building these relationships.
“Sorry, I am not a therapist” is common self-talk. We should really be telling ourselves: “Sorry, I am not a therapist by degree, but I am here to support you through whatever necessary for you to provide the best care for your critter.”