Anyone who has worked a retail or service job knows that it can feel like one of the least glamorous jobs on the planet. Despite it all, I absolutely loved it. A rare extrovert in the veterinary field, I love meeting people and I live for small talk, but my favorite part about retail was making someone feel confident in what they were wearing. I have worked fashion retail for a whopping 7 years—my recent retirement only being to the fact that I begin my clinical rotations this summer. Oddly enough, working retail has set me up for success in veterinary medicine in a way that no class or preceptorship could ever teach me.
For one, the retail space and veterinary medicine are similar in that the most extreme client has the most unrealistic expectations. There’s nothing like getting paid an hourly wage to be told that it’s actually a personal assault to someone if their shirt size is no longer available, and that even though we could ship it, it needs to be here right now. This feels pretty similar to being told that if we, as veterinary professionals, really loved animals, we would treat them for free. The solution to handling both of these situations is the same. Our customer is a person who just wants to be heard. Most of the time, these situations are the resultant collateral damage to something else. Retail therapy is a real thing, so many unreasonable guests are indirectly airing grievances that they’ve come shopping to forget. On the veterinary side of things, when medical issues arise in pets, it can bring up bad memories of sick family members, or even the owners themselves. It seems when it rains it pours, and often a lofty bill may be coming in the midst of other burdens for the individual. Not that ill treatment of workers in any landscape is appropriate or justified, but both of these jobs have just taught me that unreasonable people are most often good people you’ve caught on a really bad day.
Another thing I learned working retail that I take into every aspect of my veterinary career—from studies, to a physical exam, to surgery and paperwork—is “slow down to speed up.” This beloved phrase in retail management was a reminder that, by doing a really good job and accounting for details the first time around, we can gain more time in the long run, which will be faster than revisiting a half-effort job later. In the retail world, this meant making product displays look really neat, grabbing all the correct sizes for your guest, and taking off those darn sensors at the register. In veterinary medicine, this means I do a complete physical exam, even on a healthy vaccine appointment. I imagine that an angry retail customer, who comes back because the sensor was left on the dress they wanted to wear that night, is the same upset owner of the missed linear foreign body under the tongue that was treated for nausea with no apparent change.
The most important take away retail is that my most rewarding days come from working hard and being nice. I pride myself on my work ethic and am always happy to help support my colleagues with demanding customers, or help restock. On the veterinary side, this looks like cleaning the exam tables or taking that third phone call from the owner seen a week ago to explain one more time how to mix a slurry. In two fields where the bad days can be extra bad sometimes, this “trauma bonding” of sorts is so important, and I am glad I know how to be a dependable team member. I’ve also learned that I belong in the business of people; I love to make people feel good. Whether that be in what they are wearing or in being on their team to give their pet the best quality of life, these are ways I seek joy and fulfillment in my career.
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