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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Reluctant To Tell The Hard Truths

One of my idols is Dr. Gregory House from the long-running TV show "House".  Though he is quite a jerk, unfeeling, and conceited, he can say things that nobody else can, and is usually right.  In the real world he would have likely been fired long ago despite his brillance, so you're not likely to find many people like him.  But I really wish I could be as blunt with my clients as he is with his.

Many to most veterinarians are very non-confrontational, introverted people (myself included).  It takes a lot for us to reall sit down and say the hard things to people, even if they need saying.  When I was a new vet, I was more likely to be direct.  Then I started realizing that I actually needed to improve my diplomacy and communication skills, and learned how to be very politically correct in my speech and writing.  Now that I'm entering my 14th year of practice, I think the pendulum is swinging back the other way and I'm getting tired of having to be "PC".

I often think that clients shouldn't have a pet because they can't afford basic care, or simply won't do it.  Rarely have I ever actually said anything to them in a direct way.  Why?  We're vets, but we're human, and it's hard to confront someone in this way.  Also, we don't want to drive people away from our clinic and want to have a good reputation as sympathetic and caring.  So when I see those people I normally go back and complain along with the rest of the staff, or come online and blog about it.

Not today.

I had a client come in to get a rabies vaccine for her dog.  The only reason she was doing this was because her other dog has supposedly bit someone and was under quarantine from Animal Control because the rabies vaccine wasn't current.  These dogs weren't current on any vaccines, didn't take heartworm or flea prevention, and hadn't seen a vet in years.  The owner admited it was because she didn't have the money, and couldn't do anything further for them.  As I was talking to her, something shifted in me, and I braved my non-confrontational nature to say what I really wanted to say.

I talked to her about the severe and life-threatening risks of heartworms, distemper, and parvo.  I told her that she was allowing her dogs to be at risk for disease and potentially even die.  And then I did what I have never done in a situation like this.  I suggested that maybe she should find homes for them with someone who actually can do basic preventative care.

Many reading this may wonder why it's so hard to talk about it.  "They shouldn't be having pets if they can't afford it!  You're a coward if you've never talked to clients about this!"  And you'd probably be right on both counts.  But it's different to talk about it with friends and colleages compared to actually confronting someone.  In your own lives think to difficult things you've had to say to people.  Most of the time we avoid it for as long as possible, if not forever.  Is that wise?  Certainly not.  Avoiding this discussion only hurts the pet, and denies the client needed truth and a reality check.

Now this doesn't mean that you need to be cruel or argumentative.  I was careful to be as polite as possible.  But I did see the client get a little wide-eyed at the suggestion that she give up her pets, which made me cringe inside.  However, it needed to be said, and I don't regret doing so.  In fact, I'm now more likely to do it again in the future.

In our modern society there seems to be too much emphasis on "being nice", or being "politically correct".  It seems that everyone has to be careful never to offend anyone else, like somehow people have an inherent right not to be offended.  But tip-toeing around issues often keeps necessary truths from coming up, and doesn't really get to the heart of the issue.  You can be more polite than Dr. House and still say what you need to say.  When you do so you're actually doing the person a favor as well as helping yourself.

So I'm going to start being more direct with people from now on, and work on my diplomacy skills in telling them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.  The longer I practice the less tolerance I have for ignorance and foolishness.

Or maybe I'm just getting a bit crotchety as I get older!