Friday, November 26, 2010

Caveat emptor

I realized with a start this morning after leaving work that I have never really talked about veterinarians and how to choose one or NOT to choose one. Nor have I ever really talked about the vast differences in how medicine is practiced.

The general population seems to be under the mistaken impression that all veterinarians are the same in terms of quality. This is as ridiculous as thinking that all human doctors are the same. It's just patently untrue. Veterinarians run the gamut from incredibly motivated, intelligent, inquisitive individuals with a drive to pursue excellence and do the best they can for their patients to those veterinarians who could care less as long as they receive a steady paycheck to those veterinarians that hate what they do and take it out on the animals (and everything possible in between).

I was 19 when I first worked for a veterinarian. I had taken a year off of college between freshman and sophomore year, moved home, moved in with my boyfriend (later to become my husband), and was looking for work. I took a job as a receptionist at a local veterinary clinic. My duties were manifold and included not only reception work but occasionally assisting the doctor. It was there that I was first exposed to veterinarians.

The vet I worked for was in his mid-40s. His wife was the office manager. She was bitter and spiteful; he was a jerk. He regularly made sexually suggestive comments towards me. That I could handle (although all of my natural instincts now cry out against it). It was the beating animals that drove me away. He would lose his temper with an unruly animal and out of nowhere, lash out. I once saw him grab a biting chihuahua, pin it in the corner of its cage, and punch it repeatedly. Another time, he was annoyed with a goofy Cocker spaniel, so he used its leash to sling it against the wall.

I was a coward and did nothing. Voicing my strong objection to this man would have probably led to my being fired on the spot. Further, I just wasn't as confrontational and confident in myself as I am now. I was 19. Looking back, I sincerely regret that I did not intervene or report him to someone. Needless to say, that job lasted 6 months. I still drive by that clinic on my way to my parent's house and think about what I observed there. I also think about reporting him - even now. It would be my word against his, and he is well-respected in my small hometown. That experience formed me so strongly that I will not even tolerate my technicians speaking harshly to an animal or calling an animal names when they lose their tempers. Forget about ever doing anything malicious or even over-restraining in my presence. It is not tolerated.

When vet school started, my expectation was to be surrounded by excellence. And for the most part, my classmates were driven, intelligent, and caring individuals that I would trust with my pet. There were a handful however that scared the living daylights out of me. People that seemed to have no interest in animals, that didn't even seem to like them or want to touch them; students that didn't care about grades, personal achievement, or learning anything.

I could regale you with these types of horror stories for hours, but the point of this post was not to scare you away from veterinarians. I want to alert my non-vet readers that NOT all veterinarians are the same. There are definitely quality differences. My goal is to help you guys figure out who is doing a good job, who is doing an excellent job, and who hasn't kept up on their CE and has no interest in offering top quality medicine. Since this post is already running toward my typically long-ish format, I'll save details for the next post.

7 comments:

Fi from Four Paws and Whiskers said...

Reading your posts on a reader in the wrong order..... But you are so right. Been there too.

I was talking to the vet association here yesterday at a meeting about the level of verbal abuse of nurses.... There are some angry vets, who may also get short with the patients. We teach our strudent nurses now how to handle this and to know about the vets under stress hotline and programme. Many jvets ust cant handle the pressures of the job and vet nurses must be able to know who they can inform about this. Or if they are getting workplace abuse.....
:)

Shannon said...

As a pet owner, bedside manner is important to me. If my vet doesn't think about animal care in the same way as I do, than we're not going to be able to care for my furkids.

No, it's not more important than the other things you talked about, but a vet who is condescending, doesn't answer my questions, explain what needs to happen and why or undermines my concerns or causes me to panic won't be getting a return visit from me. And it's also important that they staff are approachable, I have a cat with a chronic condition that requires special food and regular medication so I deal with front of the office staff and techs a lot too and need to know they are knowledgable and able to answer my questions if my vet isn't available.

The Homeless Parrot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Homeless Parrot said...

Shannon - all good points, and I agree. I shouldn't have said that it meant nothing...I meant more that bedside manner is often not a reflection of capability, unfortunately.

The Homeless Parrot said...

Fi: I definitely don't abuse my techs. I try to make sure and tell each one of them every day how much I appreciate their hard work and dedication to their jobs. ER can get pretty stressful, and it's easy to let that stress pervade everything, including tech/dr interactions. I strive to be laid back, but it's not my natural state of being. I also hate people to wait for any reason other than a packed ER. If they're the only person/pet in the building, I expect them to be in/out in a timely manner - so that can lead to friction...

I love my techs, and they do a great job...I'll try to remember to tell them that more often!

Mary said...

My husband had the exact same comments about some of his med school classmates, and doctors he;d interact with during his residency/fellowship.

There's a huge quality gap among different professionals, and it can be very tricky to find someone good!

voguevet said...

I have to say I absolutely cannot stand when a veterinarian doesn't treat his or her staff well. It tells a lot about their personality and you never know if they might lash out to their patients in the same way. I think it's great that you make an effort to tell your employees that you appreciate them; many veterinarians don't take this simple step and it really makes a difference in morale.