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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Advice To Wannabe Vets, Part 2

#2: Hone your interpersonal skills and communication abilities.
My father told me many times that "it's not what you say, it's how you say it." As much as I might have rolled my eyes at his cliches (hi, Dad. I know you're reading this), there was great wisdom in this. I have learned the hard way that you can say the same thing in different ways and have people take it well in one case and poorly in another. The ability to communicate with people effectively is probably the most important skill a vet can have. Yes, even beyond their medical and surgical abilities. When I was in vet school I remember reading a survey of existing practitioners and what they looked for when they hired a new associate. Dead last was "knowledge of the profession". Top of the list? Interpersonal skills.

Recently I have seen this issue with a relief vet that works with us and with one of our supervisors towards my current associate. I didn't disagree with what these doctors said to my staff or associate. I understood their points, and found merit in them. However, how these points were communicated was less than desirable. When I talked to the staff and explained things differently, they understood and accepted. If you don't know how to talk to people properly and frame things correctly, you can upset or offend someone. Take the same message and communicate it better, and those same people will agree with you and appreciate what you said. Even if it's a form of disciplinary action, you can phrase things in such a way that people understand that you're not attacking them.

Similar principles apply with clients. You need to find ways to talk to them in such a way that they understand what you're saying, but you're not talking down to them. I remember when I was in vet school and did an externship at a surgical specialist. There was one time he was explaining an orthopedic injury to the clients and how to repair it. He continually looked at the radiographs and used all of the proper medical terms. I glanced over at the clients and saw that they had a glazed look on their face and obviously didn't understand what he was describing. Yet he never seemed to notice or care. A vet needs to be able to communicate diseases and treatment to clients in a way that they understand and can make educated decisions. Vets also need to be able to compassionately discuss tough issues such as euthanasia.

Anyone who wants to go into veterinary medicine because they don't like dealing with people is in for a very rude surprise! Your ability to handle people (clients and staff) is one of the biggest keys to success as a vet.