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How Not to Get Fired as a Veterinary Client

I just finished writing an article about a crisis in veterinary medicine with the mental health and overall wellbeing of veterinarians and their veterinary hospital teams, driven in part by the increased demands for veterinary services and the increased abuse they face from cranky clients. Recently, I've also become aware of more and more people in my circle of dog lovers -- online and otherwise -- getting fired by various veterinary hospitals across the country. I find it hard to believe that ALL of these folks are being major jerks, but it seemed like an urgent need to discuss what's happening, why, and how NOT to get fired as a veterinary client. Here are my best tips + a video explaining (sometimes ranting) about what NOT to do. 

I don't go into this in the video, but I said something similar on social media with some friends, which is basically this. While I understand why people are getting fired as veterinary clients more these days and goodness knows I'm a major supporter of veterinary teams, I'm also hopeful that the pendulum will swing back to a normal spot, where veterinary clients are allowed to express their concerns, ask questions, and advocate for their pets ... without being fired. Total compliance and instant acquiescence should not be required by everyone, every time ... especially in emergency situations when people are freaking out and having a hard time processing everything ... especially from the parking lot.

That said, what I share in this video is on behalf of veterinarians and their teams who are currently being treated abusively at levels never before seen.

More...

I know that not everyone likes to watch video or has the time for one that's 27 minutes long (sorry!), so I've also included the content from the slide deck below. If you only want to see me talk about certain sections of the content, here's a video table of contents so that you can jump to the parts of most interest to you:
  • Background - Minutes 1-6 
  • Tips on how not to get fired as a veterinary client  - Minutes 6-10:45 or so 
  • Extra credit for how you can help - Minutes 10:45 -18
  • Examples from my own life - Minutes 18-27

First, a little background

Veterinarians and their teams often feel overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated.

This leads to compassion fatigue, burnout, and suicide.

One study, covering veterinary suicides over 36 years, found that male veterinarians were 2.1 times more likely and female veterinarians were 3.5 times more likely to die from suicide compared to the U.S. general population.

It gets worse.

The pandemic made things much, much worse with…

  • Increased demand for veterinary services
  • All-new protocols for providing pet care created on the fly
  • Cranky clients taking their complaints to ABUSIVE heights.

Run, run away!! Think of it like this. 

Think of it like this … Veterinary professionals are like spaceships with defensive shields at ZERO.

  • That means every snotty comment, every sigh, every eyeroll, every negative encounter hits them FULL force.
  • And, they just cannot take it anymore.

That means … Even normally acceptable comments, questions, concerns, and ways of advocating for your pets might get seen as TOO much. 

Practices that may have only fired a handful of clients per year for egregious behavior … are now showing people the door much more often.

I get it !!

And, yet, I worry …What gets broken may never heal and that whole swaths of people won’t have local access to veterinary care if the pace of veterinary clients getting fired keeps going up. 

What does getting “fired” mean?

Getting fired means …You and your pets are no longer welcome at a specific veterinary hospital. You cannot make future appointments, seek urgent / emergency care, or get meds refills there. Your pets’ medical records will be sent to another veterinary hospital of your choosing.

You might learn you've been fired in a few ways:

  • You might be told you’re fired at the conclusion of a phone call or appointment.
  •  You might receive a written letter, severing the relationship.
  • You might Find out next time you call to make an appointment. (Rarely, I would hope.)

How not to get fired as a veterinary client from your veterinary hospital.

Let's focus on the big stuff ...That’s causing conflict in veterinary hospitals and leading to more and more people getting fired as clients.

Don’t be a jerk. That means … No cursing. No yelling. No calling people names. No making monster or lame demands (like for “emergency” nail trims).

Shut up about masks and other pandemic protocols. Veterinary hospitals are trying to keep their teams healthy and safe. If they get sick, access to veterinary care in your community could disappear entirely for a while, affecting more than you.

Stop with the guilt trips! 

  • “You only care about the money.”
  • “It’s inhumane to let my pet suffer!”
  • “If you really cared, you’d squeeze us into the schedule.”
  • “If you really loved animals, you would do the work for free.”

Don’t make $$ jokes like …

  • “Wow! I’m paying your whole mortgage.”
  • “You should name a wing of the hospital for me since I spend so much.”
  • “Look at me putting your kid through college.”

Don’t expect instant replies or results… even if your veterinary hospital offers email support or 2-way texting, don’t abuse that access with constant back and forth.

Advocate for your pet, extra gently for a while.

  • Instead of starting questions with WHY, try something like “help me understand…”
  • Instead of unloading in a big emotional dump, try something like “here’s where I’m struggling” or “here are my concerns…”
  • Instead of digging in your heels immediately, if you disagree with something, try staying “I need time to think about / process what you’ve recommended…”

Extra Credit for being nice and helpful

Be resourceful. If your pet insurance offers FREE 24/7 access to triage-type information, use it … to take some of the pressure off your main veterinary hospital. It'll help you know if you need a veterinary appointment or not.

The service I use reports that …

  • Approximately, 7 percent of triage consults result in recommendations to seek immediate emergency care.
  • Another 14 percent result in recommendations the pet sees a veterinarian within 24 hours.
  • All the others did not require a veterinary appointment, just some reassurance and basic pet-care advice.

Be extra careful. Try to avoid injuries and common dangers so that you don’t need urgent / emergency care, which frees those services up to pets who need them.

Be thankful…to everyone!

  • “Thank you for seeing us.”
  • “Thank you for answering my questions.”
  • “Thank you for taking care of my pets.”
  • “I appreciate being able to get an appointment.”

Be organized. Bring typed notes with you or send them inside with your pet if your hospital still uses curbside service.

  • In a few bullets (like these) recap important details you want your veterinarian to know.
  • Don’t write 15 pages single-spaced!!
  • Include your mobile # and credit card info, if appropriate, so that contact and check out is faster.
how not to get fired as a veterinary client

Be prepared to wait.

  • Bring snacks and drinks.
  • Know where the closest bathrooms are.
  • Bring something to read or watch or listen to.
  • Pack your patience and sense of peace.
  • Be mindful that your attitude and energy affects others.

Be human. Acknowledge this has been hard on the veterinary profession. Express your support for efforts to improve the veterinary team’s health and emotional wellbeing. We’re all in this together.

Extra, Extra Credit

Bring gifts, if you can.

  • Healthy snacks
  • Home-baked goods
  • Gift cards to nearby restaurants so that the team can bring in food to keep them going during long hours.

Examples from my own life, where I easily could have been horrible and gotten fired.

Lilly's adverse vaccine reaction and everything that happened for the 23 months after that. 

The time Lilly received an overdose of an important medication needed to keep her going after the adverse rabies vaccine reaction. 

Do you have any other tips on how not to get fired as a veterinary client? Let me know. 

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Ashley - August 1, 2021

We’ve had to visit the vet several times through the pandemic – 3 pets – and thankfully all of our encounters went smoothly for all involved. Adjustments for sure due to covid – waiting outside while they take your pup inside, doc visits at your car window, etc. But the way I look at it, be kind and get kind in return. I was so thankful that they were even open to care for and help my furbabies!

Ducky & Bogie's Mom - July 23, 2021

Excellent post, Roxanne – as always!

I’ve been using our current veterinary hospital for more than 20 years – and even did my vet assistant course externship there – and have an excellent rapport with both vets. They know that I know they have always had my dogs’ best interests at heart; and that while we may disagree on minor issues, I will always follow their instructions. Or, if for some reason I can’t, I won’t blame them for the less-than-expected results. Back when I was doing my externship there was some discord and tension among the staff and senior vet (who owns the practice); and until some of the folks left for other employment, it was rough going. I felt bad for everyone because I liked them all and loved the vet. (I still do love both vets.) Now with mostly new staff, things have calmed down; but the pressures of the pandemic are still upon them to some extent.

I have always tried to bring a tray or two of Christmas cookies for “the gang” along with a card; but I like your idea of a restaurant gift card. I might send a Panera gift card so they can bring in lunch for their next staff meeting. They’ve always treated us very well. Dr. Steve wiped tears away the morning he had to help Callie go to the Rainbow Bridge (6 years ago next month). He really loved that girl – and Shadow too – and loves Ducky and Bogie too. I think the least I can do is show my appreciation in a more substantial way than just saying “I love you guys!”. I also put 5-Star reviews on their Facebook page now and then.

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