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Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian
Originally published on DrAndyRoark.com

I often think of the things that drove me from private practice. The unpredictable hours, physical strain, abusive and manipulative people all played a part in my decision to limit the time I spend in the clinic. Like most associates and relief veterinarians, I had fantasies about what I would change if I owned a practice. Of course, all those decisions in the real world would have had consequences as opposed to how perfectly they worked in my mind.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we as veterinary professionals banded together and decided we were going to be different. What if we made a pact to stop allowing (within reason) those things that result in burnout and cause resignation letters to fly? If we all stopped tolerating bad (I mean really bad) behavior, where would the badly behaved go?

1. Client behavior was the number one reason that I left private practice.

I was hurt from being called heartless, money grubbing and cruel. I am none of those things, and I was sick to death of being labeled by people who didn’t know me and didn’t care that I was a human being trying to do her job the best she could. Now, we all have plenty of clients who can be unpleasant. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about those few, really demanding, soul-sucking, trouble-causing clients that cause your staff to evacuate the room when their number shows up on caller ID. What if we sat down in our respective staff meetings and asked our staff which clients make them not want to come to work and then FIRED those clients? Here’s what I think would happen: Our staff would be grateful and relieved to not have to face dealing with someone who is abusive. We could give more positivity to our good clients, encouraging them to stay with us. We could retain our staff members because we have shown them that no client is more important to us than our team. We could reduce compassion fatigue in our practices.

2. So many teams have that one staff member who just makes life difficult for everyone else.

We’ve all dealt with bullies, whiners and slackers. What would happen if we held our teams to a really high standard (because we respect them as the amazing veterinary professionals that they are) and released anyone who couldn’t or wouldn’t meet that standard? What if, above all things, we cherished our team and only allowed the best players? I think what would happen is everyone would work hard to make sure they weren’t next in line to be let go. I think we’d have more demand for more excellent staff members.

3. What if we refused to work for people who were abusive?

If those doctors and practice managers who enjoy kicking staff members around the office on a daily basis had trouble hiring excellent staff, they’d either change their tune or be stuck with the employees we fired in #2.

4. What if we said “no”?

What if we set our boundaries for the way we allow other people to treat us? What if we politely and firmly referred clients elsewhere if they want us to practice medicine in a way that goes against our principles? I don’t mean the client who can’t afford the “A” plan and must settle for plan “B” or “C”. I mean the client who insists that you go along with their grain-free, vaccine-free, coconut oil plan and declines everything you recommend. I’m talking about the client who insists you do hours of research on a regular basis on some supplement or food they found on the internet and then tells you they’re going to feed it regardless of your recommendation. This is not a good fit. Clients have the right to decide how they are going to treat their pet. However, they do not have the right to tell you what kind of medicine you practice. If you and your client can’t see eye-to-eye, then it’s time to motivate them to find a veterinarian who can.

5. What if we had a “vet-friendly” practice?

What if we designed our practice hours and staffing around our team and made sure they were able to function healthily every day? What if we held our lunch hour as sacred and stuck as much as possible to our closing time? Before you say this is unrealistic, I have worked for practices that do this, and they are very successful.

There is a feeling of helplessness in our profession that comes from knowing that our daily practice is out of our control. Most of us have seen the bumper sticker: “Veterinary medicine – saving lives and getting yelled at”. WHY? If toughing it out is leading so many of our number to suicide, why on earth aren’t we willing to try making our practice a nicer place to work? Surely it is better to try creating boundaries and see how that works before giving up on practice – or our lives.