Tag Archives: veterinarian

The secret reason your clients are afraid

There’s a problem in your office that gets in the way of doing what you went into veterinary medicine to do: Make animals well and win the hearts of their caretakers. Your clients are afraid, but not for the reason you think.

What scares clients that you know about

As a veterinarian or technician, you have plenty of conversations with clients that might scare them, at least at first.

They bring their pet in for a simple checkup, and you find a lump. They think their dog has a nosebleed, you suspect cancer. They’re glad their tubby cat has finally lost weight, and you have to tell them it’s diabetes and then explain insulin injections.

You probably have your own special techniques for calming clients when you know they are afraid. Maybe you’ve practiced a Dr. Herriot smile that makes you look wise. Or you have a simple analogy to explain how the brain works. “See, it’s like a lightbulb.” You’ve learned to look for clients’ shoulders to relax when they realize they can pill their cat.

But what about the ones who are going to pieces right in your office? Maybe before you even walk in the room.

What scares clients that you don’t know about

“How can that be?” you ask. You haven’t even looked at their pet, so what are they scared about?

Let’s leave aside the possibility that they came in because they had found something that worried them.  And then looked it up on the internet. And asked their Facebook friends what they thought. Assume they were fine till they hit your front door. What could have gone wrong?

Think about off-hand remarks. Overheard complaints. A funny look on the face of one of your co-workers. Or your lengthy silence while you stare into their dog’s eye.

Surgeon staring down

Let me give you an example. Yesterday I went to the dentist for a routine cleaning and partial x-rays. I’m fine with the dentist, but by the time they were done, I needed a neck brace for emotional whiplash.

As we were getting started, I mentioned in passing that my gums were a little sensitive and that a bruisey-looking thing that I’d had for years had gotten swollen last week and was now better. Suddenly they were recommending a full set of x-rays and a quick check by the oral surgeon downstairs. “It could be a dying nerve”, the hygienist speculated as she scurried out of the room. “Dying nerve?”

The oral surgeon, a big middle-aged guy with huge hands, swaggered in, drew on his gloves, and tried to yank my lower lip into the backyard. He jabbed every tender spot and announced it was probably a swollen salivary gland that would take care of itself. “It’s not a tumor except in the broadest sense of the word.” “Tumor?”

“If it gets bigger and really bothers you, we can remove it. Of course with the architecture of your mouth, that would be some surgery.”  “Holy cow. The expert thinks this would be ‘some surgery’?”  And as he rode out of sight, he tossed off “It’s nothing to lose sleep over.”

Put yourself in my shoes. I came in for a routine event, no drama. But when several professionals looked worried and casually threw around tumors and nerve death, my whole day veered off course like a doomed rocket. It managed to fly straight again for two reasons: 1) The team figured out pretty fast that nothing was wrong; 2) I politely spoke up about how heavy-handed and brusque the consult was. The hygienist acknowledged that it was true and that she’d heard it before.

If your clients speak up about their concerns and ask you questions, you’ll have a chance to clear things up too. But what if they don’t tell you?

What’s the big deal?

A panicking client can’t concentrate on you or make decisions. She’s tuned into the radio station in her head that’s saying, “Run for your life. Martians have landed in New Jersey.”

Clients who feel blindsided by bad news inexplicably refuse to let you do tests. They stall so they can wrap their minds around this potential disaster.  If they overhear your staff express curiosity about how this will turn out, your clients seethe because employees seem nonchalant about finding a problem in their pet. They may even feel you manipulated their fears to get them to spend money.

But if you don’t figure out that they are unnerved by something they’ve heard, you won’t know what’s going wrong.

How to fix your clients’ secret fears

Since reading minds is hard, you want to prevent secret fears and intervene if they happen. Here’s how.

  • Make your office a calming environment. Use distractions, like music, a TV, or an aquarium to give clients somewhere to focus besides their anxieties.
  • If you sense clients are confused, say something like “Let’s pause. Let’s take a break.” Then ask if they have any questions so far.
  •  Breathe easily as you examine the pet. It will calm everyone in the room.
  •  Talk as you work, so clients know what you are doing. Incidentally, when clients recognize the time and skill that went into the exam, they are more willing to pay your bill.
  • Don’t casually speculate about bad possibilities. Wait till you do at least a brief exam and have some evidence for your assessment.
  •  Watch what you say where civilians can hear you. Complaints about coworkers, blaming others when you can’t find something suggests this is a badly run place with interoffice drama—not a place you want to trust your pet to.
  •  At the end of every encounter, review what you did and what the options are. That way, if your clients tuned out for a while to take stock, you have another chance to get through them. If you suspect something you’ve said might disturb them, acknowledge it. “I know this isn’t what you expected when you came in today. It’s a lot to take in. How are you doing with all this?”

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If you’re having client communication problems, Dr. Susan would be happy to meet with you and your staff.

Self-Care for People Who Do It All

Chronic stress and a perfectionist streak can destroy you. Over the long haul you can quit caring–Burn Out–or care so unrelentingly you bleed out emotionally–Compassion Fatigue (CF). With CF you can’t stop yourself from getting involved the problems of others, so to recharge, you overindulge in things that aren’t necessarily good for you, from sugar to shopping. When that doesn’t do the job, you try to keep your energy from leaking away by isolating yourself, not only from friends but from your own body. (For more information on CF, see my blog post, (You feel sooo exhausted. Do you have Compassion Fatigue?

Not only does Compassion Fatigue take a toll on your personal life, it can eviscerate your practice. People with CF feel no one can do as good a job as they do. They work long hours, snipe at others for not working enough, and prevent coworkers from developing new skills and ideas by insisting that their way is the best, and therefore only, way.The things you do to care for patients and their families that should build your practice wind up hurting it.

The good news is, even smart, Type A chocoholics can prevent or treat Compassion Fatigue with these six techniques.

Blog_2_pic1. Move around a little, preferably outdoors.

Research confirms that even mild exercise is good for your mood as well as well as your health. Regular exercise lessens the worry and the blues that come with setting impossible standards for yourself.Here’s what WebMD says: https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depressionBeing outside in nature for twenty minutes a day makes you feel more alive and energetic. What’s more, outdoors you get a dose of Vitamin D, which fights depression and enhances thinking. Check out this  study on nature and mood. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100603172219.htm Instead of another double espresso, take a walk around the block. Declare a five-minute dance party.

2. Make sure you sleep seven to eight hours a night.

Americans are sleep deprived. We need it to give our bodies break and to clear the cobwebs from our brains. If you handle your work stress by cruising the internet till the wee hours of the morning, you risk poor thinking, slow reaction time, and trouble learning.


3. Eat healthy food and take time to enjoy it.

You know those doughnuts aren’t good for you, but when you focus everywhere but on yourself, you may take the shortcut to energy and grab a hunk of fried dough smothered in chocolate to give you a boost. The sad part is, you probably won’t even enjoy it. The next time you get hungry, pick something with protein and fiber to sustain you. Then, and this is the hard part, sit down to eat. Before you take your first bite, stop and inhale deeply. How does your food smell? What color is it? Taking a few extra seconds to tune into your senses will not only make the meal more delicious, it will help you reconnect to the body you’ve been ignoring.



4. Talk to your neighbors.


I know, I know, you’re an introvert who needs alone time to re-energize. The problem is, Compassion Fatigue exaggerates your need to escape. You forget how to interact, and the next thing you know, you can’t make conversation even with the ones you love. If that sounds familiar, start small. Greet the receptionist when you come in. Ask the kid bagging your groceries how his day is going. You’ll be surprised at how less alone in the world you feel.

5. Tap a source of strength and inspiration.

We all need a life outside work, and most people benefit from connecting to something that braces us in the bad times and expands our minds when we’re ready. For some this will be a spiritual practice. Others read poetry or keep journals. Simple meditation can put life in perspective and remind you that what is happening in this moment, no matter how important it seems, will pass


6. Work with a counselor.

If you’ve tried the first five techniques and find you still overcommit to work and undercommit to yourself, it’s time to get outside help. Since your situation isn’t new to the profession, many local VMAs and other animal health organizations have support systems in place for veterinarians, technicians, and others who face challenges in their work and personal lives. Veterinary Information Network(VIN.com) has online boards that focus on practice issues and a confidential one, Vets4Vets, for those that want a private channel to find help locally.When you choose a mental health professional, find one who deals with your kind of concerns, one that you connect to personally. If getting through CF were easy, you’d have done it. It’s time to have someone on your side. Ask a friend to recommend someone, check with your physician, call your clergyperson, or see what the community mental health center suggests. You wouldn’t ask your patient to suffer; why should you? Since no one can have all the good ideas, let’s share ours. What do you do restore yourself? What are you doing to avoid Compassion Fatigue?




3 Secrets to Getting What You Want at Work

What do you want at work?

Who doesn’t want to be rewarded at work? We all want to use our skills and talents and be paid for it. What kind of “payment” we like depends on what we value. We need money to live on, and some people want put their hands on as much of it as possible. That’s what they value.

Once the bills are paid, other people care more about intangible things. What do you want more of? Time off? Freedom from micromanagement? How about picking new equipment for your department? Be clear about what you value, so you know what to aim for.


Getting more of what you want is easier when your boss thinks highly of you. Employers are like other people. They worry about money,  how to make payroll in these days of economic anemia and increased competition. After that, what they value depends on their needs and personality.

How do you get what you want?

The first secret to becoming appreciated and rewarded at work is to figure out what management values. If you are lucky, the practice owner will tell you what’s important.Think about what questions they ask at job interviews. Pay attention at staff meetings and read the employee handbook. Well-run practices get everyone headed in the same direction by communicating their goals and values clearly.

In addition to what your organization says, gather your own information. If you aren’t used to thinking this way, other people’s desires seem mysterious. Actually you can tell a lot by observation.

Your boss may be highly organized but not good with people. She may have ideas to improve the practice but not enough hours to develop them all. Study the leaders. What do they talk about? Who gets the biggest bonus or the most interesting assignments? See not only what is rewarded but what might be rewarded if someone like you could do it.

Once you have a few ideas about what the leaders, especially your immediate boss, value, the second secret is to assess what you are good at. This is easier than it seems. When we have a gift or skill that is a part of us, we often can’t see it. We tend to remember what we work hard to learn and overlook what comes as second nature. Ask your friends how they see you. Think about what coworkers ask you to do. Their view of your strengths may surprise you, but in their feedback are the answers to the question, “What are you good at?”

The third secret to getting what you want at work is, notice what’s not being done and fill in the gap. Remember the boss who has great ideas but not enough time? Offer to take on a project that you’d be good at, especially if it will help the practice’s bottom line. For example, if you always have the latest gadget, volunteer to research cell phones for the office. When you present your research, show how following your recommendation will make work easier and more efficient, as well as save money over time. You may want to start small with a tip on how to use current equipment in a new way. If you can quote something your boss said or a line from the last office memo, so much the better. It shows you heard what was needed and stepped up. If you give your boss what she wants and needs, she’s likely to do the same for you. Time off, here you come!

Question: When were you successful at getting more of what you want at work? Tell us how you did it.

You feel sooo exhausted. Do you have compassion fatigue?


SPC_blog1Compassion Fatigue is a hot topic in veterinary medicine. Veterinarians and other staff wonder about it when they feel tired or depressed. They are surprised that after they work crazy hours, eat junk food, euthanize pets they remember as babies, get yelled at by clients and coworkers, and watch their income plummet from competition and a bad economy, they feel exhausted. No kidding!

Many others bleed energy because they are introverts in an extravert world. The veterinary field is full of smart folks who chose animal health over human health because they didn’t want to deal with patients who talk back. The most successful of them can imitate their talkative, outgoing colleagues but then they need to go home and not speak to anyone for the next four hours.

A few secretly hope they have developed some kind of syndrome, because it might confirm how much they care about animals. Besides, it gives them an excuse to tell everyone around them what they really think.

None of this is Compassion Fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue is actually a condition where people invest so much of themselves in taking care of others, that they drain out all their resources. Sufferers feel like a “Volunteer Atlas”. They carry the world on their shoulders because no one else will do it right. They may snap at their coworkers and family, try to avoid upsetting scenes, or start to cry more often.

They tend to isolate themselves, because no one can understand what they are going through. They may also try to restore themselves with methods that don’t help, such as overindulging in alcohol, sweets, shopping, or gambling. Ultimately they may even lose their profession and their family. People with Compassion Fatigue sense they are drowning, but they can’t climb out of the pool.

Sound familiar? Can you relate to these twelve people?

1. Joan has been very upset or tearful because of work stress.
2. Mary avoids TV, movies, newspapers that remind her of scary, upsetting events.
3. Bob mentally takes work home, because he can’t stop thinking about disturbing things he’s seen.
4. Alice has trouble sleeping and has bad dreams about work.
5. Natasha feels that she can’t manage, that her life is out of control.
6. Hank feels cut off from family, friends, and co-workers, or society in general.
7. Barbara is unable to stop giving to others, even though she is sinking herself.
8. John keeps his problems to himself.
9. Fred has given up activities that he enjoys.
10. Gretchen snaps at people.
11. Harry startles easily.
12. Ron and Hermione do more drinking, eating, smoking, sleep aids, shopping, gambling.

Most of you will answer yes to a couple of these from time to time. If you say yes to more than half, especially if you have felt this way for a while, you may also want to schedule sessions with a counselor who specializes in work stress.

The good news is that you can recover from Compassion Fatigue and even prevent it all together. There are many things you can do to take better care of yourself. Send an email for a list of self-care resources. And check out our next blog post for tips on how to find a better work-life balance.You will feel better emotionally and be much happier, and all of that will help you to be successful at work.