5 Things We Love and Sometimes Hate in the Veterinary Practice

Just in time for Valentine’s day…


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Love is in the air. Lots of it. But you wouldn’t know it by following the news. 

Presidential primaries, Syrian refugees, Parisian atrocities, Putin’s posturing, domestic xenophobia. It’s enough to make you question whether there’s any room in our frigid human hearts for snow cones and bunny rabbits, much less Valentine’s Day. 

Thankfully, though, I’ve amassed plenty of evidence to the contrary.

After a tumultuous first year in my own veterinay practice, I’ve learned a lot of tough lessons the hard way. I’ve also managed to be excited, uplifted and even awed by the many ways in which practice ownership, and veterinary practice in general, can inspire the best in us.

Unfortunately, it also can awaken the worst. But just because we want to strangle the occasional human doesn’t mean we have to behave like serial killers.

I’m finally beginning to understand that becoming a veterinary professional doesn’t automatically mean that the world will bend to my will. Nor does buying the practice increase my control of the world around me; ironically, quite the opposite in my case.

We still have to deal with people who won’t behave as we think they should, with situations that annoy or confound and with conditions that almost certainly will make us long for the safe, predictable confines of our vet school’s anatomy lab. This means that if we want to survive with our sanity intact, we’ll have to learn to take the bad with the good.

With that in mind, I’ve prepared a brief list of all my favorite and not-so-favorite things—veterinary things that often simultaneously make me want to coo with glee and cringe with dread. Consider:

1) Puppies and Kittens 

Love: Is there anything more iconically adorable than puppies and kittens? I think not. Puppy breath is perhaps the world’s most perfect perfume, and kitten mews comprise its most musical sounds. We truly are charmed to get to work with them on a daily basis. 

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War: What is it about pediatric patients that sometimes seems to bring out the worst in people? 

If your practice is like mine, you have noticed that peds patients often are attached to a variety of irresponsible human behaviors and negative circumstances.

Kittens, for instance, epitomize the unplanned gift of our throwaway culture. And puppies? For all the noise that almost uniformly heralds their arrival, future years too often prove that many owners clearly have no business owning a goldfish, much less a dog.

How to resolve them: Make it a habit to foster puppies and kittens at work. I’m not suggesting that you turn your office into a shelter or put patients’ health at risk by taking in the dispossessed with wild abandon. I’m merely suggesting that to counter the negativity it helps to experience the joys of puppy- and kittenhood up close and personal on a regular basis.

2) Clients 

Love: This past holiday proves that even if real love is hard to come by, high-quality chocolate is not. Thankfully, clients express their devotion not just in high-calorie currency but in loyalty, too. The fact that they keep coming back again and again is one of my most cherished manifestations of true love. 

War: Though I could defensibly hold my clients responsible for the five pounds I gained in December, my beef has more to do with the inherent stress of handling the difficult, the demanding, the obstinate and the deceptive. Something I’m sure you know all about. 

Luckily, I’m learning fast that some clients are not worth working with. The unwilling increasingly are being weeded out via subtle but highly effective means. (Stay tuned for an upcoming column on client relations.)

3) Employees 

Love: It’s a double-edged sword, for sure, but I consider my employees family. After all, I’ve been working with most of them for the bulk of my adult life. This is wonderful in many ways: The camaraderie, the loyalty, the shared sense of community and purpose with a bunch of family members of my choice. 

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It’s awesome, except when it isn’t.

War: After a full year in my new role as a practice owner, I’ve confirmed that employee relations are my weakest area of competency (no surprise here). 

Having to fire my first employee after five years of service was both a tearjerker and eye-opener. Hell truly hath no fury like a disgruntled ex-employee, which, of course, explains the “ex” part. And that’s all I can say on that subject given that it’s gone legal. Sigh.

4) Colleagues 

War: All I ask is that we all agree to play by the same rules for the sake of my patients and their people. Is that too much to ask? I think not. Not as long as I ask nicely next time. 

Love: One of my New Year’s resolutions was to improve relations with nearby colleagues. Though I’ll happily play ball on the board on my local VMA, I’m not well known for playing well with my ER colleagues. Love might be too strong a word, but amends here and there may be in order. 

5) Patients 

War: Lovable? Yes, as long as they don’t make us crazy with their unmanageable diabetes, wily cancers and all those elusive diagnoses we long to pin down. That and their teeth and claws, of course, but those are eminently forgivable. Mostly, anyway. 

Love: It’s not just the prepubertal. The rest of them make everything we do make sense in the end. Being of service to them is an honor and a privilege, even if they do make us bleed every now and again. 

Originally published in the February 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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