Thursday, September 18, 2014

We Do The Best That We Can

People get angry at veterinarians all the time.  That procedure costs too much money!  All you're interested in is the contents of my wallet!  You obviously don't care about animals! 

Have you ever stopped to consider your veterinarian's job? We wear many hats, and we perform many jobs. And we do this with a good attitude and a heart for the patient's that we treat (and their owners). 

We must be grief counselors. We hold your hand, pat your back, offer tissues, and listen to your stories about Fluffy when it is time for Fluffy to go. Often, we hear stories about human tragedies as well - this pet belonged to your father who passed away, and Fluffy is all you have left of him. This cat belonged to your son, who died tragically at 21 last week in a car accident. 

We shoulder the sorrow of watching the light in your beloved pet's eyes dim, and we shoulder the dimming of the light in your eyes as you watch it happen. We feel the tears drip our hands, holding the syringe of pink liquid. We feel helpless too, unable to stop death, and we grieve with you. And though we go onto other patients and other cases, a tiny bit of our soul went with your pet into that great dark night (and we must have very big souls, to let so many pieces go). 

We must be financial counselors. Guiding you through the myriad decisions involving a loved pet's care and the expense that it can incur. We tell you about CareCredit and about Humane Society funds that might help. We frequently discount or don't charge for services so we can help that "special" pet get well (and so many of them wind up being special). We trim down surgery times, even though it truly took us an hour to remove that sock from your dog's intestines, and we stay late after work, just to help keep finances manageable for you. 

We must be mediators and relationship counselors between couples warring over decisions on Fluffy's pet care. We must delicately navigate the married (or ex-married) relationship shoals lest we be cast upon them and destroyed. Often, we field phone calls from each individual pet parent - sometimes within 5 minutes of one another - answering the same questions over and over. We do this with patience and a generally good attitude. We help soothe agitated couples and make our recommendations with aplomb. We try to make sure that both pet parents leave the hospital (or phone call) happy. 

On top of this, we ARE doctors. And not just one kind of doctor. Whereas if you visited your MD, he would look at your skin lesion and refer you to a dermatologist, we will skin scrape your pet, culture the lesion, and start your pet on an appropriate treatment course. If you visited your MD with a belly full of hemorrhage, he would send you to a surgeon post-haste. We will stabilize your pet with IV fluids, give a blood transfusion, and take your pet to surgery to address the cause of bleeding. We will talk you through options for chemotherapy if a tumor is found. We will provide palliative and hospice care as needed. If you request referral, we will help you find an oncologist. 

And we must do all this with a smile, a pleasant and cheery attitude. We must answer 10000 questions a day, from the mundane to the very serious. We must take care of the patients in our hospital, while seeing outpatients and doing surgery. We must make many phone calls in a day, relaying test results, 1 prognosis, discussing treatment plans and diets, nail trims and surgeries.  
Then we must go home and try to live a normal, well-rested and balanced life. Raising our children, enjoying our hobbies, cleaning our houses, fixing dinners.

Is it any wonder that we suffer from compassion fatigue and complete burnout on a regular basis?

I am an emergency veterinarian. I am a mother of 2 young children

(and would like to have more). I love my job. It drives me to continually strive to be better, to do better by my patients and their owners. But it also drives me to illness, to lack of sleep, to dehydration, to emotional breakdowns, and nights with my patient husband. 

I wear many hats - both at work and at home. Remember that the next time that you see your veterinarian. Remember that your vet is a person too - with a family, hobbies, dreams, tragedies, and sadness - just the same as you. And much like you, they are working hard and doing the best that they can - every single day.


  1. "WE" .... "WE" ... "WE"...You can not speak for all veterinarians. My old vet is not a person....he's the devil in disguise....along with thousands of other BAD vets.

  2. Wow! So much hate, Regret. I feel sorry for you....and the vets who might have to deal w/you and your kind.

  3. I live with a flock of sheep and assorted pets. My bucolic farm lifestyle would be impossible without a reliable vet. You guys are worth your weight in gold! And, as a small business owner, I know how unreasonable and demanding the public can be.

    I've requested an emergency farm call at 8 am and had my vet finally arrive at 10 pm- exhausted from a grueling day of emergency calls. I felt awful that my donkey was her 4th euthanasia of the day, and that she still had 3 emergencies left to go. She has a lovely family and her own life, yet she manages to give so much to her clients and patients. The least I can do is try to be a good client... and reward her dedication with hand knit sweaters and farm bacon!

    Finally, I'm always baffled that people don't understand that vets can't control industry prices any more than any other retailer/service provider. I'm not handing out free yarn to people who can't afford their knitting hobby... but it's surprising how often "customers" ask!

  4. Clients not only have unreasonable expectations, but they spread their version of events to the end of the earth and back. My boss just got a complaint about me because a dog I saw for shaking his head a week ago now has a skin infection, and the owner complained that I didn't clean out the dogs ears, when I told her that they had some normal waxy debris in them and the owner indicated that they had ear cleaner at home. To note, the dog still doesn't have an ear infection. But she complained anyway that I didn't clean out the ears. She also indicated that her sister had brought in a cat to see me, for some sort of scratching issue, and that the owner had to tell me what had to be done with the cat. My notes on the issue indicate that 'Attempted to discuss with owner...', about eosinophilic granuloma complexes, atopy, atopica, etc, and the owner just wanted a depo injection.

    So that's me, 'having to be told what to do'.

    Another owner, listening to this up in the lobby, said, 'Oh, you must have seen Dr. , I have that problem with her, too. She doesn't explain anything!'.

    I explain things. I explain the pathology of the problem. I explain disease progression. I explain options for treatment, and alternative therapies, and what could happen if they opted for option 1, or option 2, or ... so I'm not sure what to that owner I didn't explain! I answer questions if they ask. I ask if they HAVE questions.

    Makes me paranoid that I'm doing something wrong.

    1. I don't think you've done anything wrong, & the woman in your scenario just sounds hateful. My clinic's done a couple of things to improve their customer relations, & I thought I'd share them here. :) You might find one or two of them useful.

      Doctor visits can be stressful, which can make processing & retaining information difficult. With that in mind, one thing we do at the clinic I work at is to send people home with something physical to help refresh their memories. That may be an estimate for a couple of different treatment options, a printout on the diagnosis, or even just a handwritten reminder on something that was repeated multiple times. The benefit to providing these & noting in the chart is that, should a complaint arise, we can refer to the handout or estimate given & discover if they didn't understand the material or if they just wanted that damn depo shot (or to make someone's day as bad as theirs).

      Also, as a general rule, if someone mentions anything like ear cleaning, nail trims, etc. at our clinic, we offer to provide the service while they're there & note any price additions. The owner might have ear cleaner at home, but it doesn't take long to clean the ears (& a doctor doesn't have to be present). All in all, things like that go a long way towards connecting with the clients.

  5. K,

    Nothing frustrates me more than when I take the time and effort (as I do 99% of the time, we're not perfect) to explain treatment plans and therapies in detail with clients, only to have them complain that I didn't explain something OR that I said something I didn't when they get up front to check out.

    Keep doing what you are doing - which is being a good veterinarian and one that cares about the clients and the patients. Keep listening to clients concerns and explaining treatments and home care to the pet parents. Most appreciate it. And the ones that don't - well, I figure they can go see someone else.

    1. Thanks... it's tough to remember that sometimes. It's tough to let the comments slide off. Especially because I know I'm not perfect either, so sometimes the criticism may be warranted, but how do you tell the difference between warranted critique, vs a client just being a PITA client?

    2. We have a little "process" where we really try to evaluate if a client complaint is a "real" complaint or just a person being an ass. If we genuinely screwed up, we own it, apologize, make it right to the best of our ability. If not, we really don't spend much energy dealing with the complaint. That doesn't work for everyone, but after so many years of dealing with this bullshit, I've realized that there are some people that are simply emotional vampires and they will suck the life out of you. Fact is, they are usually miserable people who project their misery upon the world and try to make everyone around them just as miserable as they are. You have to learn to let them go and push them out of your mind.

      I cannot tell you how many times I've said something in the room, said it again, repeated it as I was leaving the room, said it to my tech in front of the client, etc etc only to have the client ask AGAIN what I said. People don't listen; most of the time they are in their own little worlds. Realizing this will also help you to remember to repeat stuff 10 times and then know you'll probably have to say it an 11th time before they actually get it. That's just human nature.

      You'll be OK, K - this is a tough profession on the best day, and a really shitty one on many days. Just remember who you're really there for - those little animals - and you are making a difference.

  6. I feel like I am pretty nice to my vet, but I have snapped before. I will try to remember how much he has on his plate next time. Thanks for the info.

  7. I never realized that people were so cruel toward their vet's. I am personally grateful that vets exist. It's nice to know that people are out there to help animals who cannot help themselves.
    Mark Leach |

  8. Amen! I am a small animal vet in NC and also a recent graduate. It has been quite a transition from the idealistic world of vet school to the real world. I have learned that people redirect their negative energy just like cats ;), especially in emergency medicine. It certainly has given me some self control when I am interacting with folks in their line of work.