Musings of a Veterinarian

Archive for the ‘Opinion’

How’s Your Quality of Life?

April 21, 2014 By: Dr. K Category: Opinion

These days veterinary magazines are bombarded with articles about balancing life and work, staying healthy, dealing with stress and burnout, and managing debt load. These articles are the canary in the coal mine indicating a stressed out, oftentimes dissatisfied workforce.

I’ve had the unique experience of working at multiple practices over the past several years while functioning as an emergency and general practice relief veterinarian. One thing remains constant in the spectrum of all practices: This profession chews you up and spits you out.

The practices with the worst policies and employee treatment churn through employees who leave due to dissatisfaction from dysfunction. Veterinarians in the best practices oft times struggle but know they are lucky when they hear the horror stories of the comrades abroad. Burnout is real and rapid. Why?

Veterinary medicine is not puppies and kitten, rainbows and unicorns. Period.

The field has been romanticized by the likes of James Herriot and Nick Trout (who I read and love), misrepresented by Dr. Pol, and placed on a pedestal by the general public. Practicing veterinary medicine in 2014 means many things to veterinarians:

1. We deal with money problems. And not just our own.

New graduates arrive on the scene with exorbitant amounts of student loan debt – sometimes surpassing $250,000. New graduate pay doesn’t come close to sustaining a reasonable standard of living when accounting for student loan repayments (which peskily knock on the door six months after graduation). Indebtedness looms large.

The general public has the impression veterinarians are rich. This is so absurd it’s laughable. I haven’t heard of too many human specialists get accused of being in it for the money.

Veterinarians are asked to perform services for free. Every day, many times a day. Giving away services is noble and self-sacrificing. And if I really cared about their dog/cat/ferret/stray I would do my job for free. I would ignore overhead, my loans, paying my employees, offering benefits, and keeping the practice cost effective for clients who are willing to pay for services…If only I cared enough.

The psychological battering sucks the life out of you. And it never ceases.

2. We see the worst in humanity far more often than we see the best.

No law prevents horrible human beings from owning pets. Too many animals are owned by people who intentionally neglect or harm them. Generally obnoxious, self-righteous people crank it up a notch when it comes little Fluffy.  The stress of making life or death decisions that are many times tied to finances cultivates the worst in people. I’ve been the recipient of more than one comment about stealing the food from a child’s mouth.

3. Semper Fi

Clients have expectations that we should always be available. This has led to late evening office hours, 12-16 hours days, and added appointments to an already full schedule. It is far too common for vets to work 50-60 hours a week or more, through the evening and weekend, and even in the middle of the night after a full day of work. I have had experiences with clients who are angry we are closed on a Sunday, angry I wanted them to head to a staffed emergency center at 3am for a blocked cat, and even angry because *gasp* I was a “lady doctor” and not that man doctor they usually see.

Battling fatigue is unhealthy for the body and the mind. Missing time at home is corrosive to families.

If it’s that bad, why am I even a vet?

Well, if we are honest with ourselves, we vets will admit we’ve asked ourselves this question on more than one occasion. So why do it? There are good cases, happy endings, excellent practices, loving clients. There are thankful employers, friendships built, and grateful pets.  There is an inherent “rightness” in what we do. And there is reward. For many, that is enough to combat the heaps of emotional (and sometimes literal) crap we wade through on a daily basis. For others, like a vet school classmate I recently spoke with, it was not.  She is now working outside of the profession and is happier because of it.

Can you have a reasonable quality of life when practicing veterinary medicine?

That’s up to you. My theory on having it all goes like this:

There are three things we all want/need to have a balanced life. Work, Family/God, and Sleep. It is easy to have two. The third is where it gets difficult.

I can’t imagine working full-time and taking care of my daughter/home/husband while also maintaining my sanity and not losing my identity. I’ve struck my quality of life balance by working part-time, raising my daughter, and getting the down time I need to still be me.

I’ve got it all together, don’t I? … Wait, did I say three things? Let’s not forget the fourth…MONEY! By working part time I sacrifice money. And there’s the rub.

We do the best we can in this profession. Finding a balance is tough. Maybe you need to cut your hours. Maybe you need to own your own hospital and set your own rules. Maybe you have a personality that lets the turmoil roll off of your back and you are unaffected. Or maybe you need to step out of the profession and see if the grass really IS greener.

You can’t have it all, no matter what job you chose. There is no magic equation. Some of the best advice I have ever heard came from the former CEO of Commerce Bank Vernon Hill.

If your circumstances aren’t going to change, you need to accept them or change yourself. It’s that simple.

And that friends, is how you get the quality of life you want.

One Decision Away From the Frying Pan

April 02, 2014 By: Dr. K Category: Opinion

The AVMA recently posted a story that gives me a sickening knot in my stomach. Find it here.

The summary of the story is this: A dog owner took her dog to the emergency clinic after she had been spayed that morning but her regular veterinarian because the dog was retching and her incision was bleeding. The emergency veterinarian believed the dog needed exploratory surgery and quoted the owner for the surgery and required half the amount as deposit. The owner had some money but not anywhere close to the deposit. She did not have a credit card. The owner and the owner’s sister were both declined Care Credit, a credit line for medical urgencies and emergencies. The veterinarian sent the dog home with a pressure bandage on her abdomen but the dog died overnight. The owner posted a grief-ridden post on Facebook that has been shared thousands of times.

A resulting maelstrom on social media has lead to death threats and harassing phone calls to the employees of the emergency clinic. And it affirms my feelings that we veterinarians are just one decision away from a social media lambasting that can forever affect our careers.

I understand both sides of the story in this particular case. I am not going to debate the virtues and faults of both sides in this post as nobody has enough information except the two parties involved. My own soapbox for pet ownership is well known but let me refresh you.

Pet ownership is a privilege, not a right.  When you decide to care for an animal you assume full responsibility for its care. I do not expect everyone to have the means to afford every treatment offered. It is highly unreasonably and irresponsible to expect someone else to foot your bill when you cannot afford the care recommended or required. If veterinarians discounted their services for everyone who had financial need, they would rapidly go out of business.

Veterinary medicine is a service AND a business. Businesses must make money to survive. Veterinarians offer many discounted services and have tens of thousands of dollars in veterinary care walk out of their clinics without a sniff of payment every year. It is horrible business practice to give away services regularly but we do it. While most owners are good for payments when extended a payment plan, many others are not. The appalled pet lovers are likely the ones who would have paid a bill if extended the credit. They don’t appreciate the concept of getting stiffed for an entire several thousand dollar bill. And until, as a business owner, you see how unpaid bills affects your bottom line and the ability to pay and you go through the arduous and oft times ineffective collections process – well – you just don’t understand both sides of the coin.

Every day practices are evolving to meet clients’ financial needs while providing the optimal care for the patient. Pets are property by law but have intrinsic value as living beings and family members and we veterinarians, more than any one else, understand this. It’s not a perfect system but most of the time payment plans and Care Credit make it work.

Soapbox dismount.

What concerns me most about today’s social media environment is angry pitch-fork yielding mobs can tear down a person or practice with little knowledge of the facts of the situation or the inner workings of a practice. And it’s all done under the anonymity of the internet resulting in some of the cruelest, foulest, uncensored vitriol posted for all to see. We veterinarians, as well as others in the public service field, have our reputations at stake and can potentially have them destroyed by one disgruntled client. It’s terrifying.

Have you seen this story about the veterinarian who committed suicide after an angry online mob drove her in to financial dire straights?

Every day I make the best decisions I can for my patients while working within a clients’ financial means. If I cannot achieve an outcome that jives with my standard of care, we have the adjust our approach to make it work even if that includes the option of euthanasia.

I fear for the future of good practitioners and public servants when it is so easy for information to pass from person to person without fact checking, intricate knowledge and understanding, and censorship. We will start to practice like we have one foot in the fire which will affect the practice, the client, and the patient. Everybody gets burned.

The Hardest Thing To Say

March 16, 2014 By: Dr. K Category: Opinion

This past week I faced the words I hate saying. A seven month old kitten presented to me for weight loss and loss of appetite. He had no veterinary history and was born to a stray. His elderly owner brought him in poor condition and my suspicions were tweaked immediately. His enlarged lymph nodes and abnormal abdominal palpation further made my heart sink. A positive Feline Leukemia test confirmed my suspicions: This kitten had end-stage cancer caused by his feline leukemia virus.

And here it came, the words I dreaded saying: There is nothing we can do for him.

There is nothing we can do. That vacant, depressing droll makes me feel like a failure as a veterinarian. I pride myself in providing multiple treatment options, climbing the therapeutic ladder to find a treatment that works, and having enough humility to refer to a specialist when needed. I love curing, preventing, and palliating. It’s rare when there isn’t something I can offer to gain a sliver of quality of life for my patients. But how do I deal when I have no options but death?

My cases come home with me. I worry about sick patients. I revel in successes. But the ones that affect me the most, undoubtedly, are the ones I can’t treat. My only peace is I recommended euthanasia to alleviate suffering. A part of me knows I followed all the rules. Another part of me knows this was the right decision. But in the fold of my heart I feel I failed. That love, hope, despair, and feeling of failure describes what it is to be a veterinarian.

Book Review: “An Animal Life: The Beginning”

January 06, 2014 By: Dr. K Category: Opinion

I was contacted a year ago about reading and reviewing a book for a colleague, Howard Krum, and I promised I would follow through. A baby, two career changes, and a move later I have finally completed the book!

Step aside, James Herriot. Gone are the days of romanticized veterinary medicine. An Animal Life: The Beginning chronicles the first semester of veterinary school by following the class of 1992 through Anatomy labs, Wildlife rounds, and cram sessions. Dr. Krum attended veterinary school at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, rendering his accounts of the Ryan Veterinary Hospital and large animal antics hysterically and, oft times, painfully accurate.

Dr. Krum touches on the cruel, competitive, sometimes thankless pursuit of veterinary medicine with humor and wit. He has begun weaving a tale of non-traditional students whose lives are irrevocably intertwined as they toil through their first semester. You will be captivated by Dr. Violet Green, a wildlife vet who does the right thing despite the risks, and Jack Doyle, a former police officer who finds himself in veterinary school.

Dr. Krum provides a good read, though sometimes unbelievable, and entertains as well as educates. If you plan on attending veterinary school, this book is a must read. This novel succinctly describes life at Penn Vet and successfully illustrates just how demanding veterinary school is.

New Lifetime Golden Retriever Study Shows Promise

September 25, 2013 By: Dr. K Category: Opinion

My friends at Morris Animal Foundation are conducting a lifetime study of Golden Retrievers and need all the online promotion they can get. As many in the veterinary community know, Goldens are highly predisposed to specific cancers: mainly Lymphosarcoma, Hemagiosarcoma, and Osteosarcoma.

MAF states: Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is a groundbreaking effort to learn how to prevent cancer and other diseases. It is the largest and longest observational study ever undertaken to improve the health of dogs. The study will enroll up to 3,000 Golden Retrievers and will last 10 to 14 years.

If you have a golden retriever you would like in the study, please follow the directions in the link above and contact your veterinarian.

A Case Against Retractable Leashes

September 21, 2013 By: Dr. K Category: Opinion

Retractable dog leashes land in my top three veterinary hospital pet peeves. I’m not alone as the hatred for these liabilities runs deep among those in the profession. Here I post the reasons to ditch that retractable leash and offer some safer alternatives.

1. Your dog doesn’t need 20 feet of lead

I think dog owners believe they are doing something great by letting their dog run a bus-length ahead of them. This habit oftentimes leads to poor leash skills and refusal to follow commands. Many dogs pull at the end of the lead and are not close enough to the owner to receive or care about correction.

If you are one of those clients who allows the dog to have 20 feet of lead in the 10 foot exam room because he needs his freedom, you probably don’t care about your dog rushing the veterinary staff, running circles around our legs, and tangling himself in the exam table. This is where my hatred of these leashes come from. It’s as much an issue with the leash as it is with its owner.

But Dr. K! I want Fido to exercise while on leash! I suggest a fenced in yard or a large open space free of other dogs. Dog parks and doggie day cares carry their own risks.

2. You have minimal control over dangerous encounters

It happens over and over again. Little dog goes to the dog park and, in the blink of an eye, scraps with another dog while at the end of his lead. The pet owner had no control or chance to avoid the situation because he was too far away. Consider, too, dogs who have too much lead while out on their walks and lunge into the street. I’ve seen the action far too many times and repercussions are severe. Keeping your dog close won’t prevent all accidents, but it can eliminate the most preventable.

3. The quality of the line is poor

The lines in retractable leashes are thin. In my practice, dog after dog comes in with a broken line that has been knotted at the end or is precariously frayed and waiting to snap. Dogs who love to chew on their leashes (You know who you are, crazy labradors!) can easily chew through these leads suddenly leaving them off leash. The mechanisms inside the leashes and the locks are also of poor quality when compared to the sturdiness of a traditional thick nylon leash.  There are better made retractable leashes than others, mind you, but all are inferior compared to the safer alternatives I will list below.


1. The traditional nylon leash. Nothing beats this original.

2. The Lead Rope. I’ve never seen one break.

3. The double handle leash. Even better control and a way to pull your dog closer in a jiffy. This is especially helpful for large dogs in tight quarters.

The Worst Job Interview Ever Part 3: The Explosive Finish

July 11, 2013 By: Dr. K Category: Opinion

Part 1

Part 2

No amount of discussion could convince me to work at Animal Veterinary Hospital. The man sitting next to me on the bench seat of the pick-up wasn’t prepared to give up that easily. I guess he thought if calling me a bitch didn’t end the interview, me telling him he was annoying wasn’t going to stop him.

He yammered on and on about the virtues of his practice as we cruised the winding roads of the neighborhood. I half-listened while formulating my thoughts on getting out of this interview. I’d let it go too far and was in so deep I didn’t know if I could dig out of this grave. We pulled in to the empty parking lot of a school and idled.

Shaffer went on, “The way I see it, we can be like good cop bad cop. You can go in there and be the gentle compassionate one. Really win them over. They’ll like you. If they don’t listen to you, I can go in and tell them to shut the fuck up.” Say whaaaa?

“Umm, ok.”

“I have clients I tell off all the time. They like it. I tell them to stop being assholes. People need that. But you can be the nice one for the ones that like that.”

“I think I could be the nice one, ” I trailed off and sneered in disbelief that this guy continued to top himself.

He put the truck into gear and backed out of our parking spot. “Let me show you where you’ll be staying tonight.” Shaffer had been kind enough to book a hotel room and make a dinner reservation for us that evening. I was to stay at the historic hotel, located on a beautiful vista, and join him in the morning for the working interview. That wouldn’t be happening. But how to get out of it?

We drove and drove with his droning voice ruining my appreciation of the sun-filled brisk afternoon. We rode higher and higher, heading up the rolling hills to the hotel. The path was filled with twists and turns, clearly forged by cattle meandering their way across the valley. I was starting to get that familiar tingle in my stomach. The beacon to impending motion sickness.

As a kid, my car rides consisted of sleeping and puking. I slept through as many trips as I could to avoid the nausea that, to this day, accompanies travel. My motion sickness is so bad, that on a college trip to Costa Rica, I was plane sick, car sick, sea sick, and snorkeling sick all in the same week. Snorkeling sick, you ask? The bobbing up and down in the Pacific ocean while my eyes were fixed on the bottom 20 feet below me triggered a vomit tsunami of fresh fruits and rice over the side of the boat.

And that pre-puking warmth and sweat was starting to spread from my brow to the back of my neck. I focused my eyes forward on a fixed point on the horizon. Was Shaffer talking? I had no idea. I heard humming in my ears and swallowed hard in the hopes the misery could be choked back down to the angry pit of my stomach. There was no hope.

“Is there a place you can pull over?, ” I blurted on the verge of panic.

Shaffer rapidly pulled over into the parking lot of a closed greenhouse. I grabbed the door handle in a dizzying haze and hopped out of the truck. I ran to the tailgate and let loose. I vomited. All over the ground and my shoes. Behind the truck. The truck my interviewer sat in knowing I was puking my guts out. The day could not have gotten worse. Then it did.

Feeling tremendous relief but doing the walk of shame back to the passenger door, I had no idea what to say. ‘Uh, sorry I puked’ didn’t seem appropriate. I climbed in the car, grabbed a piece of gum, and buckled up. Shaffer reached over and gave me two gentle and knowing pats on my left shoulder before putting the truck in gear.

“Why don’t we head back to the hospital.” That was the best thing I heard him say all day.

We drove back in silence. I should have been embarrassed but I wasn’t. This guy was insane. His shamelessness led to my shamelessness.

“I think you should go home tonight since you’re not feeling well. You can come back for the working interview on another day.” Vomit saved the day!

The remainder of the ride back to the practice Shaffer gently reminded me I really wanted to work at his practice. We pulled into the parking lot and parted ways. With a sigh and shake of my head I climbed into my car, locked the door, and pulled out my cell phone. My husband wasn’t going to believe this story.

Two weeks later I received a thank you card for interviewing at Animal Veterinary Hospital. The note also asked if I knew of anyone else who might be interested in working there, to please pass on the information. I only shared my story.

The Pregnant Veterinarian

June 06, 2013 By: Dr. K Category: For Vets, Opinion

Babies! It seems like many veterinary practices are bursting at the seams with women traversing the 10 (Yes, 10!) difficult months of pregnancy. It’s no surprise given most of the veterinary technician workforce and 80% of all new veterinary graduates are women. During my recent pregnancy, I gained valuable insight into what it takes to practice veterinary medicine while gestating.

Anesthetic Exposure

One of the first questions I posed to my obstetrician was, “Can I still perform surgery?” Have no fear ladies, you’ll still get your chance to cut and cure! So long as your practice abides by the standards of care and has an anesthetic scavenging system (Read: The system is maintained and it doesn’t dump exhaled anesthetic on the floor), you are in the clear. Use common sense, however, and keep your face away from animals in anesthetic recovery to avoid breathing exhaled gases.

Radiation Exposure

All radiation exposure should be avoided especially in the developmentally important first trimester.


Toxoplasma gondii is a feline protozoal parasite transmitted by fecal-oral contamination. Avoid handling of cat feces as much as possible and practice good hygiene.  Some obstetricians will recommend having your titer checked while others don’t see the value. This one is up to you. I opted out of this test due to the low likelihood of infection and to prevent myself from unnecessary worry.

Heavy Lifting

Disclaimer: I cemented and mortared a slate patio when I was 6 months pregnant and therefore may not be the best authority in this department. If your OB says no lifting, that means NO LIFTING! Nothing is worth jeopardizing your baby.

This one is tricky. If you work at a practice with a terrific technician to vet ratio, you likely won’t have to worry about lifting that portly Puggle. For most veterinarians, some lifting is required. Sometimes heavy lifting or exertion can result in mild spotting due to the rupture of friable blood vessels on the cervix.  This will cause you to panic but is rarely a serious issue. Sometimes serious exertion can cause placental abruption, serious bleeding, or fainting.

Additionally, as your pregnancy advances your body produces the hormone relaxin that allows your tendons and ligaments to stretch to accommodate for your upcoming delivery. Add a shifting center of gravity to your gumby-legs and your balance falters.

Be deliberate, be cautious, and be reasonable. Light lifting and restraint shouldn’t pose a problem.

Performance of Duties

I worked until my 36th week of pregnancy and I know of vets who have worked right up until their due dates. Here are some things to consider when it comes to performing your regular duties:

  • Swollen ankles, shins, knees, and hands can prevent you from standing for long periods of time and affect your dexterity.
  • Your belly will get in the way of the surgical field. You’ll need to be creative to do your abdominal explore.
  • You will be exhausted in your first trimester and likely exhausted toward the end of your 3rd trimester. Avoid taking extra shifts if you can.
  • You can’t breathe. Bending over to tie your shoe becomes an olympic event so don’t think you’re going to be able to crawl on the floor upside-down to get that hard-to-reach FNA.
  • You’ll have to pee. A lot. Be prepared to zip in to the bathroom after every appointment.
  • Your sense of smell may take on superhero proportions. I never felt ill from the odors of the clinic but the smell of blood at the deli counter was enough to send me running.
  • Pregnancy brain is real. You may have a harder time remembering the details of your cases at the end of the night so try to keep up with your SOAPs as you go.
  • Pregnancy rage is real, too. Don’t tear the heads off of clients. It’s not a good practice builder.


Once you get that positive test result you quickly swing from excited to worried. What if I get a cat bite? What do I do with a Rabies suspect? I found myself suddenly concerned with having my hands in a dirty mouth, getting splashed with urine, and getting jumped on by patients.  This is normal and just starts the life time of worry that comes once your baby is born.


Violet Mae was born 12/26/12 weighing 6lb 5oz and measuring 19 inches. We love our little addition to the VMDiva family!


Empathy: I Has It. (Or at least I’m working on it.)

December 07, 2011 By: Dr. K Category: Just For Fun, Opinion

Every now and then I need to remind myself what it’s like to owner a pet without all the knowledge I’ve accrued as a veterinarian. I often find myself diagnosing a limp, finding lumps, and grasping at lymph nodes when I am in the company of my friends and family. That auto pilot is awfully hard to turn off!

Several weeks ago I allowed myself to immerse in the unbridled joy of being a crazy cat lady as I shopped for a kitty staircase for Winston, my debilitated old man. I purposely failed to divulge my career status to the very enthusiastic and obviously crazy cat man who assisted me in my purchase. It was so awesome to just enjoy being a pet owner without the expectation of expertise. Dipping my toes into the non-veterinary pool was so refreshing I’ve decided to plunge wholeheartedly into my reflection and reconnect with my clientele.

If you’ve followed my posts in the past, you’ve realized I’m an all-or-nothing gal; I hate it or I love it. This personality trait proves challenging for a little emotion called empathy. I’ve outlined some of the pet owner quirks that, frankly, drive me nuts and paired each with an empathetic thought process that keeps my sanity and helps me practice better medicine.

I am trying to better connect with clients while alleviating self-induced irritation. Win-Win!

1. Any Nervous Dog or Cat Has Been Abused

I encounter at least one pet owner a day who believes his pet was abused prior to adoption. The default thought process of an owner is this: “He cowers so he must have been beaten. He barks at men so he must have been abused by one.” If every nervous pet I see was truly abused, every neighbor is a suspect animal abuser.

There’s certainly no harm is believing Fido was beaten under previous ownership but it really chaps my hide when an owner allows this perception to foster bad pet behavior. The perceived abuse provides a scapegoat for their animal’s aggressive behavior and lack of training. Instead of reinforcing good behaviors, owners unwittingly allow the biting, writhing, pain-inducing creature to wreak havoc on me and my staff.  All the while they reinforce the behavior with coddling and praise under the notion that discipline equals abuse!

Empathetic Moment: Human nature, lack of understanding of animal behavior, and compassion drive owners to these conclusions. Submissive behaviors and failure in appropriate socialization most likely account for a majority of these fearful “abuse” cases. However, the truth is abuse does exist and dismissing the idea altogether is a disservice to the pet and owner. Educating owners to the variety of behavior types and teaching them to acclimate their pet to new situations is key.

2. What Breed Do You Think He Is, Doc?

Who cares?!? Okay okay, owners care about their mutt’s constitution. I hate this guessing game because it sets me up for a discussion about a subject I find irrelevant and, it seems, I never tell the owner what they want to hear. Not many owners are keen on me telling them their “Labrador-mix” is actually a Pit Bull. After I’ve offer my best guess, I’m told the groomer/friend/neighbor  has told them it’s an insert-name-here-a-poo and they agree with them over me. *face palms*

From a veterinary standpoint, does it really matter? Nope. The genetic diversity of a standard mutt generally equates to less inherited diseases and medical problems overall. Do owners still want to know? Yep. Some owners seem so fixated on figuring out the amalgam of breeds they even throw money away on those dreadfully unreliable doggie DNA tests.

Empathetic Moment: Why is it so important for owners to know what breeds their dogs are? Knowledge of your pet deepens your emotions and creates a greater bond! I will continue to play the guessing game and call your new rescue a labrashepacockadoodle, but I still refuse to recommend those DNA tests!

3. My Groomer Said/My Breeder Said….

It’s like nails on a chalkboard. The Dr. House part of me begs to ask, “Oh? And where did your groomer attend vet school?” Of course, I’d never. Okay, maybe once but only in the right circumstance.

Now, don’t hang me by my toes yet, all ye breeders and groomers. You folks are often advocates for the pets you care for and for that, I’m grateful. Some of your advice is excellent! But some, particularly pertaining to vaccinations, is woefully inaccurate and not rooted in science. I dread refuting bad advice and fear that if not worded just-so, I’ll come off pretentious and judgmental.

Empathetic Moment:  How are pet owners to tell the difference between good and bad advice? Veterinarians should welcome questions regarding alternatively sourced information handed to the client; sometimes the only way we find out what type of misinformation is out there!

The best pet owners hunger for knowledge and desire the best for their pets. Veterinarians must educate pet owners with reliable and scientifically-based information or they might just get their information from unreliable sources. I don’t want my clients to rely on Drs. Google and Wikipedia exclusively for their veterinary information.

4. We Left Our Last Vet Because Fluffy Didn’t Like Him

New clients who reveal they’ve left a practice because the pet was unhappy with the veterinarian immediately ring alarm bells in my head. This equals one of two things in my book: (a) the client is either using the dog/cat as a mouth-piece to voice disapproval of the care and service provided at another veterinary hospital, or (b) she simply does not understand animal behavior.

All puppies and kittens enjoy visiting the hospital during those first innocent check-ups. Gradually the smartest of the patients, Labradors and Goldens excluded, catch on that maybe this veterinary hospital thing is not so much fun. Do clients really expect their pets to like vaccinations, blood draws, rectal exams, and nail trims?

Empathetic Moment: It is crucial to avoid labeling new clients as “high maintenance” or “difficult” because they were unhappy with service elsewhere.  The new client may have a legitimate reason for leaving disgruntled. A preconceived notion may change the tenor of the appointment.

This initial conversation opens the door to conversation about expectations for Fluffy’s care at my hospital. Meeting a client’s expectations will not only leave the client satisfied but will also, hopefully, establish a long-term relationship of care.

Empathy is perhaps innate, perhaps learned, or even both. No matter, I’m striving to practice mine everyday!


May 25, 2011 By: Dr. K Category: Opinion

Burnout is one of my favorite topics due to its pervasiveness within the veterinary profession. Even though I know the signs of impending tribulation I still find myself, from time to time, creeping toward that all too familiar overworked and stressed out volatile breakdown. That’s why, last week, I unplugged from VMDiva and took a week off of work for my first ever Staycation.

I know veterinarians who pride themselves in their anti-vacation stance. They’ve worked 60 hours a week for years and forgot how to unwind. They wear a badge of honor for taking just one or two days off a year, thinking somehow working themselves into the ground is admirable. That’s just stupid. A veterinarian’s practice and home life will suffer when she reaches burnout. Fatigue and stress manifest as strained relations with family and lack of motivation at work. A veterinarian will practice better medicine with a well rested body and mind. Stressed professionals lose patience and passion, rush appointments, and *gasp* may even have poorer performance.

I used my staycation to accomplish my to-do list of tasks I never have time for. We all have those lists which always get put off until tomorrow. My husband and I upgraded our kitchen and planted our annuals. I even had some dental work done. And some argue, is this really relaxation? For me it is.  Simply unplugging from the daily stresses of sick animals, sad clients, and work-related financial stress uplifts the weary soul. Studies show, too, that getting chores and house projects finished actually lowers cortisol levels. No work AND crossing off tasks on the to-do list: Relaxation!

I started work this week feeling rejuvenated and hopeful. A week at the homestead was exactly what this doctor ordered. Stave off burnout; Use your PTO!