Cognitive Dissonance: Something’s Wrong, But What?
This past week, I spoke at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) conference in Atlanta, Ga. Even more importantly, I attended a track on the human-animal bond that really has me thinking. Brian Forsgren accepted the Leo Bustad Companion Animal Veterinary of the Year Award, sponsored by Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc., and selected by the Delta Society and the AVMA. The purpose of this award is to recognize the outstanding work of veterinarians in promoting the human-animal bond in practice through a special sensitivity to clients and patients. His presentation was particularly thought-provoking, and one of the concepts he described was the cognitive dissonance that exists in veterinary medicine, that results from trying to balance the care of animals with the business of veterinary practice.
Basically, he stated that cognitive dissonance is the feeling that something is wrong, without really knowing WHAT is wrong. This is particularly potent when it comes to the “politics of pay” so to speak. It’s true that in order for our practices to survive as a business, we can’t necessarily take care of every animal that does not belong to a family with the financial resources to choose our recommended services. At the same time, the family feels it is our “duty” to treat suffering animals no matter the cost to us personally or professionally, and indeed society in general seems to support this opinion. We enter this profession with the knowledge, usually, that we are going to sacrifice the riches of the earth for the work that stimulates our heart. In other words, we didn’t enter this field to get rich, rather, because we want to use our compassion and skills to help animals. But at what cost? To survive as a business, we have to obtain fees for our services so that we can exist to help more animals in the future. We understand this at the intellectual level, but try being the receptionist who must stare into the eyes of someone who has been told that treatment will not be possible for his or her pet because they don’t have the money … all the intellectual reasoning in the world doesn’t help when you stare this problem right in the face, the face of another human being who loves their pet.
There is no “right” answer, I do not believe. This is why it’s called cognitive dissonance, which is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitude held simultaneously. By the way, “incongruous” is defined as “not harmonious,” which is an understatement when you really take a moment to look deep into this problem. In fact, besides the absence of an answer, we just have more questions:
- WHO is supposed to help these animals?
- WHERE can these families turn?
- HOW are we supposed to uphold payment policies that go against our personal mission to help suffering animals?
- WHAT are we supposed to do, as individuals and a profession?
- WHEN will things change, and at what cost to us emotionally?
07/16/2010 - A Pet for Everyone