Rules of Engagement

Everywhere we go in life, rules are set in place to guide how we behave. When you get to the bank, you know to walk into the lines that eventually lead you to a teller, you know to wait until the teller calls to you and you know how to communicate with them to successfully accomplish any of the transactions you have to complete that day. With us it’s not really any different on the basic level.

However, with us, there is much more to our relationship than just a transaction. I’ve come up with a list of 11 agreements I am willing to make with any of my clients. I’m  betting any other veterinarian would be willing to make the same arrangements.

1. We have to be honest with each other. Sometimes I make mistakes or put things off and you won’t hear from me as quickly as you think you should. You’re not wrong; I drop the ball sometimes and I don’t mind being called out on it. Sometimes things happen at home that you might not be too proud of either. Maybe you decided to not give a medication I prescribed and didn’t want to tell me. Maybe you spaced on an appointment and feel guilty: it’s ok. Sometimes it’s more serious than that. Dogs and cats sometimes get themselves into trouble and the reason they are in trouble can be embarrassing. Sometimes dogs eat your pot, sometimes they drink too much beer. Sometimes they eat things that are embarrassing to talk about. That’s ok. I don’t judge people. I fix sick pets. You can be 100% honest with me and I promise to never judge you or report you to some sort of authority. Ever. Unless you’re abusing animals.

2. I promise that every time you see me you will get 100% of my attention and 100% of my abilities. But I’m only a human being with a very narrow window of expertise. There are some things I just can’t tell you using only my eyes, ears, nose and hands. I’m more than willing to involve as many other people as possible to help to resolve any problems your pet is having. If I recommend that you see a specialist because your pet’s problem is more complicated than something a general practioner should be dealing with, please at at least give it some consideration. The other general practioners in our practice or our area, while highly skilled, do not qualify as specialists and do not tend to have abilities or skills that differ greatly from one general practioner to another. Second opinions are always a good idea, but when I recommend a specialist it’s because I can see some of the problems your pet is having and have a very good idea of what the specialist is going to find but don’t have the skill set it takes to properly diagnose and treat that particular problem.

3. Somedays I probably seem a little off: maybe I look like I haven’t slept in a week or eaten in a few days. I’m ok, I promise. And I will do my best to be as happy and outgoing as I can be but there are parts of our job that are very stressful. We deal with death almost every day. Many times it’s in the middle of the day and I might very well be stepping from an end of life appointment into a new puppy appointment. If I seem like I’ve been trampled on a particular day, please be patient with me. I’ll be my normal happy-go-lucky self the next time we meet.

4. Part of the veterinarian’s oath involves the continual improvement of my skills. If I am not constantly improving, I will be retiring. Even then, I’m willing to bet I’ll still want to be learning the new things going on in this profession. I spend an immense amount of my time getting better at providing veterinary services to you and your pets. Please respect that. If I make a recommendation or give you directions, I’m not making this stuff up on the fly, I’m relying on all of the research and work that goes into this profession. Believe me, there is a lot! If I’m making a recommendation that doesn’t make sense to you, ask me about it. If I couldn’t explain it in easy to understand terms and words, then I wouldn’t understand it enough to feel comfortable recommending it.

5. We need to work together. Most of the work that goes into keeping your pet healthy or making them better when they aren’t feeling well is done by you. I only examine, diagnose and set up treatment plans. In reality, I do very little of the nursing care even when your pet is hospitalized. If your pet is to become sick I will likely be giving you a specific set of recommendations. These recommendations are the best way I know of to deal with the problem your pet is having and stay within whatever budget we have established. There are no guarantees in this profession but if I give you specific recommendations and you make the decision not to follow them, I can guarantee that the results we get will be different than the results I expected to get. Please don’t get frustrated with us should this happen. I promise I’m not asking you to put eye drops in your cat’s eyes three times a day because I think it’s funny to picture you giving them, it’s because that is how often it needs to happen.

6. I will never duck you in public and if I don’t remember your name, I won’t try to fake it. Please feel free to treat me in the same manner. We only go through this life once: if you recognize me in public but can’t place me, say “hi.” It’ll all come together eventually. You may not remember this advice if you don’t remember me, so do this with everyone you recgonize. It’ll make you a lot happier. Unless you borrow money a lot.

7. I get that this stuff is expensive. I try to do my best to work with any budget but we have to pay the laboratory, we have to pay for biopsy results, we have to buy the equiment and supplies in advance. My job is to let you know everything that is available to us to help us in diagnosing your pet’s problem and then treating it appropriately. It is only fair that I also apprise you of how much of your money I am recommending you invest in your pet’s healthcare. Don’t take the money stuff personally and don’t try to make it personal. I spend enough time feeling guilty about how little I see my family. And frankly, we’re pretty reasonable, you might be surprised to learn that part of the recommended work up for a chronically sneezing cat is a Cat Scan (CT) and deep tissue biopsies. I will bring this up with you if you bring me a cat that has been sneezing for a long time but I have never had anyone ask me to refer them for this. And I understand why.

8. We can’t tell you what’s wrong or treat your pet over the phone, via email and definitely not via facebook. That doesn’t mean I don’t want you to call me, email or me or find me on facebook. I love when clients have questions and reach out and contact me. I love talking about what I do. I love helping people. I want to answer all the questions ever asked of me but if I tell you I need to see your pet, I expect to see you and your pet in the hospital as soon as you can get them there.

9. Sometimes emergencies happen and the thing about them is that they always hapen at unexpected times. Sometimes it’s right in the middle of a busy day with a full appointment schedule. Someday I might have to ask you to wait a few minutes while I am dealing with something that can not wait. If you promise to be patient, I promise to drop everything I’m doing if your pet ever needs me. Also, this is probably going to be one of those days where deal number 3 applies.

10. I promise to explain everything I can to the best of my ability but I also have other patients who need my attention. If a lot of people have a vested interest in how your pet is doing, please pick one of them to be the contact person between our hospital and the rest of your pet’s family. I don’t mind talking to large groups of people at the same time. But spending a lot of time on the phone or in person answering the same questions from multiple household members takes away from other patients who need my attention. Please try to have everyone who will be asking questions either in the clinic or on the phone at the same time.

11. Sometimes some words of encouragement and my professional opinion that things are going to be ok is all you need. But if I say something is serious, it’s serious. I won’t ever blow things out of proportion or try to work up unnecessary problems. I have a lot on my plate right now as it is and promise to never try to make an issue into more than it is. If I’m worried about your pet’s health please take my concerns seriously. For example, if you call me in the middle of the night with a concern and I tell you that I think your pet needs to be seen, it’s not because I want to leave my cozy bed, drive to work in the middle of the night and risk missing breakfast with my family. It’s because I am genuinely worried about your pet and don’t think it can wait until morning.

These are 11 promises and requests I have for my clients that I think will make our relationship better in the long run.

Thank you for reading.


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