Help me be a better veterinarian
August 10, 2008 1:22 AM   Subscribe

Help me be a better veterinarian

What do you like or not like about your veterinarian? What are some small touches that you really appreciate? What are some things that turn you off?

I just graduated from veterinary medical school, and started working in a clinic for dogs and cats. I want to do my best to make my patients healthy and their owners happy.

What has your vet done to make you fiercely loyal?

The more specific your suggestions are, the better.

Thanks so much!
posted by ebellicosa to Pets & Animals (44 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Congratulations!

I do like that my vet:

- Gives free inoculations to dogs and cats adopted from the animal shelter. This is how we became their patients.
- Remembers my dog.
- Answers all my questions.
- Treats me as being reasonably well educated about canine care.

I don't like:

- That I had to ask about out of hours procedures in case of emergency and that the number for that isn't on their cards.

I would love it if:

- They gave me a fridge magnet with their number and emergency number.
- They gave my dog a treat when we visited.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:33 AM on August 10, 2008

Best answer: Always keep your education up to date and let your clients know in some subtle ways. My vet often tells me about the latest trends in treatment, research, diagnostics, etc. It comes up in conversation every now and then if we're talking about a specific condition or a course of treatment.

Try to find something likeable in each animal and let it show, because a kind word or two can make all the difference. I know vets find some animals annoying - it must be hard to like something that's making your work difficult or dangerous. But some vets don't realise how absolutely devastating it feels when they're letting their annoyance show. This really broke my heart once, and I won't be using that equine clinic again. It was so unfair to the animal, as she sensed that people were treating her in an unnecessarily angry manner.
posted by kaarne at 3:38 AM on August 10, 2008

Best answer: I have two vets I go to regularly. The one I love is a pain to get to, but I go there for anything critical. I love that:
- They seem to really care. Every doctor/vet I've dealt with was genuinely interested in the well-being of my pet and dealt with me and my pet with compassion.
- They clearly explain the situation and give me reasonable, rational options. Within 24 hours of bringing a pet in (and usually sooner and often after hours), they call me and update me with test results, current condition and prognosis. I got a call for one pet and they said, essentially: He's going downhill fast. If you can get here in the next 2 hours you can spend some quality time with him before he dies. If you want us to take extreme measures here are the things we can do. We don't think any of those things will extend his life beyond another 24-48 hours. The only one we think will make him feel any better is XYZ. But we can and will do any of them if you want more time.
- The financial office is not a guilt-inducing place. Payment options and reduced fees based on ability to pay are clearly available.

The other vet is around the corner and I use him for routine vaccinations and the odd checkup or diagnosis for something like an abscess. They just did a big renovation. This office is fine but not stellar. I don't like that:
- They installed a tv in the waiting room and every examination room. And they seem perturbed & confused when I tell them I don't need the tv on while they examine my pet.
- The tests and procedures they do aren't prioritized for me in terms of, here's what you have to do (vaccinations), here's what we recommend you do based on the pet's current health, and here's what we offer and throw in because it's cool and we can do it. I'm often left probing about which of the procedures are necessary vs. which are nice to haves.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:50 AM on August 10, 2008

Best answer: Congratulations! You chose a really difficult career, and one I really admire. That said, I'm totally picky about vets.

I agree keeping up to date with advances and studies coming out. Keeping on top of things will make you be able to help your patients and also keep you from stagnating professionally.

I have two cats now who are total sweeties at the vet, but I had another cat before (who died of CRF) who turned into a wild tiger at the vet. All vets but one knew how to handle her. They'd become impacient, fearful, and would stress her out and hurt her a lot more than necessary, and they were too easy in pointing out it was the cat's fault. While I agree she wasn't easy, I can't agree it was only her doing it, because of that one vet: she was different, competely calm and very matter-of-factish about what she was doing. Scarlet (the cat) never complained (much) with her.

Personally, for me, I like a vet who tells me everything they are thinking. That takes the time to explain why my cat is ill, how the body functions, what's failing, and what can be done - including several action plans, all the while letting me know that they do keep up to date. Also important is not freaking out when I come back the next day having read a lot on the subject and now have educated questions and I'm able to add a bit more to the discussion. I think it's important you realize why people like me do this: firstly, because I'm the one responsable for the cat's life - me, not the vet. When something goes wrong, I'm the one living with the guilt, the loss, the grief. Information is very important to me so I can make choices, so it's crucial the vet passes it on. I'm sorry if I'm a bit controlling or whatever, but it's my friend on the table, so I have to know, and you have to take the time and patience to tell me.

In general, I like to see the vet really likes animals (particularly cats, for obvious reasons). That is so important. So many vets get into a rutt that I think they forget why they've chosen their career. It's sad and a bit scary. In the end, it's about liking the professional and the person. It's about that connection you make with someone. It's a bit hard to put into words... I've gone through quite a few vets before finding one I'm happy with (and I realize even she has flaws, mind you).

I wish you the very best of luck. Being a vet is a very honorable career indeed.
posted by neblina_matinal at 4:04 AM on August 10, 2008

Oh, and I so agree with cocoagirl about the vets who make you probe for... everything, almost. When I have to say more than once "well, what about treatment X?", or "don't you think perhaps situation Y is developing?", I'm outta there. Like I said, my pet is my responsibility, but let's not go overboard with that. That just tells me this vet is not a good professional and I cannot trust them.
posted by neblina_matinal at 4:11 AM on August 10, 2008

Best answer: My favorite vet moved away about a year ago, sadly, back to the Kentucky farming area where she was from. It's difficult to narrow her down to a list of favorite traits, but she always put me at ease by being at ease herself. She listened and spoke to me about my pets' care as if I were a partner in figuring out the best things to do for them. When symptoms didn't point to a single clear diagnosis, she was honest about her uncertainty -- willing to kick around ideas and explain the vagaries of the studies she'd read, the limitations of the techniques she had to work with, without using unnecessary jargon. She clearly empathized with me when an animal was sick, but she didn't try to hide the fact that sickness and death were part of the game, in her world; she was frank with me, and she eased my anxieties by being calm herself.
posted by jon1270 at 4:14 AM on August 10, 2008

I adore my vet because:

A) She always remembers me, either because she's seen me so many times or because she takes a few minutes to look at my charts before coming in and fakes it well. Either way, it's convincing and I love that I do not have to go back to the beginning every time I see her and explain each cat's medical history. My cats have numerous and weird ailments and it is nice to see someone who remembers the paths we've already been down with them, and does not try to repeat treatments that didn't work out.

B) Along those lines, she remembers all my cats, and when I'm in with one, asks how the others are doing with their various medical conditions and will talk with me about any questions I have about them as well, without me having to make a separate appointment.

C) One of my cats has an autoimmune disease, and did not respond to the first many treatments we tried. Every time I saw her to work on it (which was every couple of weeks for a while), she told me what journals she had looked at, what vet clinics in other states she had talked to - she was really doing a lot of legwork trying to find an effective treatment for him, and I appreciated it immensely. He's on an effective treatment now, but I worry about minor ailments with him because he's immunosuppressed, and she's always willing to do a quick consult with me by phone to talk about whether he needs to come in, and she'll prescribe antibiotics over the phone if needed.

D) One of my cats died recently, and I called the clinic to let them know to close out his records. I received a really lovely handwritten note from her, clearly written with my cat in mind and not as a generic note, and it meant a lot to me.

E) I'm not there constantly anymore, but when I was there regularly working out my cat's autoimmune thing, after a while she started authorizing the techs to give me courtesy discounts because I was there so much.

F) When I tell her about something new I'm trying - like recently when I decided to switch to the human version of my cat's medication for cost reasons - she always wants to know how it works out to expand her knowledge to share with other pet owners. She was really interested in knowing which local and online pharmacies I'd priced out and where the best deal was, so she could tell other people. And I've been the beneficiary of that knowledge when a local pharmacy wanted to sell me a cat med for $90 a month and she pointed me to a pharmacy in Texas that will ship it for $20 a month. I appreciate that she keeps on top of this stuff.
posted by Stacey at 4:51 AM on August 10, 2008

I had a cat with diabetes, so I was a regular at my vet. I appreciated that he remember us, each and every time we were in the office. He was patient in explaining things to us, and in teaching us how to poke the cat with a needle.
posted by at 4:53 AM on August 10, 2008

There's several things that endear my vet to me and have made me fiercely loyal... but I'm not alone in that, they actually are having a hard time keeping up right now and are turning away business even though they just hired a third vet.

- I regularly rescue dogs, and since I have my own mutts, I like to keep them ALL healthy. They cut me a discount on things when I'm doing rescue work, especially if I'm planning to rehome the animal shortly. They're also a lot less expensive than other vets, even though they're not hurting for money. Basically, they set their prices so that the basic stuff (heartworm meds, flea/tick meds, etc.) is even cheaper than you'll find online, and then their profit centers are optional treatments like dentals, grooming, and boarding kennels. This comes across as "We really, really, really care about the animals and want what's best for them, not for our pocket books."

- A few years ago, I dated a veterinary student. I helped her study for her third year small animal classes, so I picked up a LOT of "what a vet needs to know" about dogs and cats and common ailments. I don't ever attempt to diagnose something myself, but I can usually list off the symptoms in technical terms and suggest what I believe the issue is. All three vets at the clinic I go to know this and will usually listen to me and give me the choices on how we can treat it -- usually I'll have researched ahead of time and know what I want. They trust my basic knowledge and my ability to do research, and I trust their ability to narrow things down and to have a conversation with me about the treatment instead of forcing a specific treatment on me. From what I've seen the few times that I've had to take my pups to another vet, especially at the emergency animal hospital, the ability to have a conversation about the treatment is rare. You wouldn't want to give it to all patients. But it's what keeps me going back to the same clinic.

- In the same vein... If they're in a hurry and have clients stacked up, I can just say "ear infection, yeast", they'll confirm it quickly, and they'll hand me the bottle of mometamax and send me back out the door, not wasting their time on a full physical.

- They have trained their techs when to let the doctor handle it. I ask lots of questions, because I know I have gaps in my knowledge that you could fly a jumbo jet through, and I don't make assumptions. I'm relatively famous among the techs at the clinic I frequent for asking questions that make the techs, even the ones who are in vet school, go "*blank look* Uhhhh... Hold on, I'll go get the doctor." This is a good thing. Your techs should not be giving out medical advice!

- Emergency hours -- their phone number for emergencies is the same as their normal number. And the docs all live within a few minutes of the clinic, and can get there before I can. (Actually, some of the doctors sleep above the clinic when they've got tough cases. They have a couple of bedrooms on the upper level.) I had to haul my first pup in at midnight once when she had an allergic reaction to Previcox ... not having to take her to the emergency animal hospital was a giant bonus.

- They change the way they operate based on feedback. For instance, after my dog had a reaction to Previcox, they started handing out a warning pamphlet about Previcox reactions every time they prescribed it, and they switched back to Rimadyl as their standard NSAID, despite what I'm sure was a sizeable kickback from the makers of Previcox.

- They maintain a few emergency appointments during which they can see me immediately. I know I'm killing the doctor's lunch break or their treatment time with some of the inpatient care.... but damnit, sometimes things are time sensitive! Example: Yesterday I dragged my most recent rescue in after he ate a hole in the side of his crate. Had an ear infection, his whipworms had come back, and the hole in the crate was a side effect of some serious anxiety issues, for which we needed to medicate him so that I could get the behavior modification to 'take'.

The one thing I -don't- like is that one of the vets kind of "prefers to go her own way" and isn't always consistent with the young vet that I know from dating my ex and the owner of the clinic. It's sad, but when she's the only one that I can get in to see quickly then I will usually verify what she said/did with one of the two I prefer.
posted by SpecialK at 5:53 AM on August 10, 2008

I've never had a pet, but from knowing friends who do, I can tell you that they really appreciated the kindnesses their vets gave them when they had to put the dogs and cats to sleep. One friend had a large poodle with cancer, and they took him outside on a blanket under a tree. The other friend had an ancient cat, and the vet came to their house. It made such a difference to the pet parents to know that the animals died in peace in places where they were comfortable.
posted by Madamina at 5:59 AM on August 10, 2008

Things I haven't liked about vets:

Silence; not engaging in discussion with the owner unless asked a direct question. I saw a vet that did this when my dog was a puppy -- possibly it was because he was elderly and had two large hearing aids, one of which was broken; he did mention that. People who can't hear well often don't make conversation. But frankly I just think he didn't like talking or listening. When it turned out that she had been missing some key shots for months, I was really irritated that we hadn't just, you know, talked about her schedule; then I might have not been confused. Also, I felt that the five words "She might have some diarrhea" were an inadequate summation of the week-long effects of the worming medicine on my puppy, which, despite repeated disinfection and scrubbing, can still be seen on one side of my mattress. Someone with a more normal conversation style might have offered a better picture.

Snark. I like the vet's office that I go to now, but I think sometimes one of the vets thinks I'm a dog hypochondriac. His manner always suggests I was silly to come in over a little thing like this -- even when he's gone on to take it very seriously, which he always does. And it's never happened that I have taken her in about something we didn't need to have checked out. I think a lot of people who love animals deeply are also impatient with humans. Lord knows I can be.

I appreciate in a vet:

Owning mistakes and fixing them for free or low cost. After my dog was spayed, she came home with odd scabs on her back that she kept worrying. Concerned it was an allergy or mange, I took her back. She had, in fact, been burned on the operating table. A heating pad hadn't been properly insulated (by whom, they didn't say), and several animals had gone home with minor burns that day. The vet apologized right away, told us about the other animals, and treated her for free. My dog was the least upset of anyone.

Caring for stray injured animals without immediate financial arrangements. I had to, I just had to drop off a poodle I found hit by a car on the side of the road, and my vet's office at the time was right there for the little guy -- who had a broken pelvis, as it turned out. He came along fine, and after posting some flyers, we found his owner.

Knowledge of local pet resources, such as boarding, grooming or training.

Weekend emergency availability (by pager or answering service).

Best of luck to you -- I bet you have great instincts.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:16 AM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Congratulations on graduating ebellicosa and also on asking a question I have never heard a vet ask so openly.

Excellent suggestions already, but here's my two pennyworth:-

If you are stuck on a case, never be afraid to consult colleagues and also to refer to a specialist. Make sure you have easy reference to specialists in your area.

Encourage your clients to understand the behaviour of their animal and how their dynamic living environment affects the behaviour of that animal. Actively promote motivational training and responses to pet behaviour. If you suspect that physical/psychological issues in the animal are being caused or exacerbated by owner behaviour or environment, then don't exclude using a qualified pet behaviourist.

Establish (only if the practice partners are amenable of course) good relationships with local animal rescue and welfare organisations. Low cost spay/neuter/vaccination programmes will make a definate difference to the animals in the area your practice covers. If a practice is willing to help out injured, abused animals brought in, then to me, that verifies a sincere comittment to animal welfare, not just the financial rewards of the profession.

Listen, listen, listen to clients when they tell you about their animal, acknowledge their input actively. How someone tells you about their pet can be as significant as what they are telling you (or not telling you)

Be prepared to make house calls, specifically for pet euthanasia. The stress of being brought in to a clinic can make the end very stressful for the pet owner and this will be picked up by the animal. Ergo, euthanasia at home is often the more humane way to go.

If possible, promote to owners the benefits of having one good book on the care of their animal. Pick out some good ones to recommend (look at cost too, this will be significant to many owners). Children are often eager learners if the pet belongs to them and I can't stress enough how important it is to educate on general animal welfare in an easily digestable way.

If a client has problems administering medication to an animal, help them learn the right and effective way to do it.

Ensure you keep respectful, professional relationships with your nurses and techs. This will impact on how they treat the animals at the practice and how they interact with the clients. Encourage support staff to keep up to date on latest techniques. Give them regular constructive feedback on how they are doing.

If owners want to be present during bloodtaking and other minor, non-surgical procedures, then let them. If they prefer you to take the blood, then you do it. Some clients will be happy for other staff to take the animal to the back room to do it unseen, but some will want to oversee their pet whilst this happens. You will soon learn which clients can handle this calmly and those who can't.

If an owner has done a good job of nursing an animal, complying with medication needs, then let them know.

Follow up. Great record keeping and a few moments scanning past records can give you the edge at every appointment.

Offer as much information to clients as you can about the condition and treatment of their animal. Some ready written information on conditions/treatments to hand to a client can make a real difference in compliance.

Be happy to show X Rays and scans of their pet. Often a condition is more understandable with a clear visual reference. Similarly, use models, photographs to illustrate examples of conditions. Many humans are visual learners.

When giving blood test results, a print out (also showing normal ranges) to give to the client can be useful for them to look at afterwards, and help them remember your reporting/explanation of the results.

If clients ask lots of questions about their pet and its condition - rejoice!

Please don't ever say "oh they don't feel pain like humans do". They do. Make sure you give enough analgesia to do the job. If a client says that they think their animal is in pain, it likely is. Even in the 21st century, there are still vets around who won't acknowledge that animals feel pain and that pain causes as much distress to the animal as it does to us.

Last of all, if an owner is insisting on prolonging the life of an animal when its quality of life is close to zero and further treatments/tests will not help, don't be afraid to (with kindness) remind the owner that your remit is to the welfare of the animal.

Enjoy your work and recognise when you need a rest.

The very best of luck to you.
posted by Arqa at 6:22 AM on August 10, 2008

When my cat was sick, my vet took me seriously when our old vet would not. He explains to me why my cat is medicated in any particular way, so that if he does not tolerate the medicine well, I know whether it is an emergency or an annoyance. I never leave without knowing what to do, how to administer the meds, and whether I should be worried.

He always reads their charts before they come in, or else he has the memory of an elephant, because he always remembers our cats. That makes us feel like he cares - and I think he DOES care, actually, which is also great. I never feel like he thinks we are wasting his time. And trust me, when your cat has a mysterious puking problem that is hard to duplicate, it's easy to feel like you are being neurotic or wasting someone's time.

Compassion, compassion, compassion.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:26 AM on August 10, 2008

I think I have the world's greatest vet. I am a very involved, anxious pet guardian, and I'm sure I would drive some vets crazy. Here are some of the things my vet has done that make me love him:

--Although the clinic's normal practice is to keep pets overnight after some medical procedures (like a spay), he will let me take them home, along with explicit instructions about what to watch for, my promise to stay up all night with them, and his promise to come out to my house if anything happens.

--He helps me think through difficult issues like whether the risks of spaying outweigh the benefits in a particular dog's case, and performs outside research without charging me, even though I'd be happy to pay.

--He is always available to talk to me on the phone when I'm concerned about something, and always makes me feel like he's got all the time in the world to help me.

--He totally supports my raw-feeding my dogs (lots of vets don't), although I do wish he knew more about canine nutrition himself. If you want to find a niche, that would be a good one. There are a lot of people out there who want to prepare their own pets' food, and would love the personalized advice of a veterinary nutritionist.

--He obviously adores my dogs--scoops them right up and snuggles with them the whole time we're talking, makes other people in the office come see how cute they are, etc.
posted by HotToddy at 6:39 AM on August 10, 2008

Our vet (soon to be our former vet if our dog's visit to the new vet goes well later this week) has lost our confidence for a few reasons-

1. She insisted upon proselytizing to us. When she found out I was Jewish, but non-practicing, she insisted I needed to "find some faith" and suggested maybe I wanted to be a Christian. She's then made comments/jokes which have made my wife and me very uncomfortable. This has no place at a vet's office. (I would have thought this obvious advice: your faith is private and should not be imposed upon your clients unless solicited.)

2. Our dog is an extremely energetic lab mix. He eats sticks. He has eaten other things he's not supposed to because, to be frank, he's faster than we are and can get stuff down his throat before we see it. My wife and I feel guilty when our dog doesn't feel well because he ate something. There is, as you might imagine, a sense that we let down someone who trusted us. A good vet would make us feel better and say that it can be very difficult to prevent some dogs from eating things. Our vet scolded us and told us we shouldn't let him eat things (no kidding?!?) or chew on/fetch sticks.

3. If we tell you we can't cut our dog's nails despite our efforts to desnsitize him, perhaps you should consider the possibility that this is true. I'd like to think we're pretty responsible dog owners: Ringo gets 1-2 hours of brisk walking about 6.5 days/week (about every 2 weeks, there's a day he doesn't get a walk because the weather is really bad or something prevents us from walking him). We feed him good, nutritious food (not too little or too much) we work really hard to train him and he's generally well-behaved, he's friendly to everyone (and every dog) and seems quite happy. But, he's very energetic and gets a bit crazy at times, and he's horribly averse to our cutting his nails. (We've massaged his paws, tried slowly exposing him to the nail clippers (or Dremel), etc.) So far, nothing has worked. We know this is a problem and don't need our vet to act as though it's our fault. Work with pet owners, not against them.

I guess this is a bit of a rant about our bad vet, but perhaps you'll find it helpful to know why we're hoping to switch vets.
posted by JMOZ at 6:46 AM on August 10, 2008

When it comes to very hard decisions -- invasive treatments, euthanasia -- if your client asks, "What would you do if this were your pet?" please answer honestly. I was once caught between a specialist who wanted to continue treating a very old, sick animal, and my regular vet, who gave me good judgment when I asked for it. I really appreciated that she did not simply say that it was my choice.
posted by nev at 7:09 AM on August 10, 2008

I work for three vets, all of whom I really respect. Off the top of my head:

- as others have said, talk to your clients and respect the knowledge they have
- stay current with both AVMA (or whatever your country's veterinary association is) guidelines, and your state laws (there are still vets here who routinely vaccinate every year (Banfield actually vaccinates TWICE yearly), vaccinate against Coronavirus in dogs, vaccinate against Leptospirosis without actually educating clients about both the vaccine's risks and efficacy, etc.).
- be respectful of your clients who are not average pet owners (ethical breeders, those who do sports with their dogs, etc.), and adjust your care accordingly (do not push spay/neuter to people who show or breed their pets, for example).
- educate yourself about special needs in your area (on the dog show circuit in WNY, for example, whipworms are a common problem)
- remember that there are some owners you will encounter who actually DO know more than you about some things, vets are medical experts, own that role, do not try to also be a behaviourist (unless you are one), or a trainer (unless you are one), or a breed expert (unless you are one), for examples
- please, please, PLEASE educate yourself about nutrition, don't just swallow the Hill's kool-aid.
- don't take it personally when you run into asshole clients who blame you for everything
- SAY when you don't know something, and then go learn about it
- keep an open mind
- remember that you are still a human being and human beings make mistakes

The fact that you even asked this question indicates you're off to a great start, good luck to you!
posted by biscotti at 7:15 AM on August 10, 2008

Never say, "bad dog" to a dog you are treating. I had a vet say that one time (I think my dog was struggling against the vet) and it really pissed me off.
posted by jayder at 7:36 AM on August 10, 2008

I love my vet. I love all the vets at my office. Come to think of it, I love all the techs and assistants too. Let me think of some specific reasons:

1) They never talk down to me. They explain everything to me, tell me what they are doing and why, what is happening in my bunny's body and what my options are. When it's clear that I am comfortable with sciency-medicalish words, they talk to me using them.

2) They are not afraid to say "I'm not sure about that, let me go and look something up" or "I have never done this procedure on this type of animal. I am comfortable doing it, but if you would refer I can refer you to a specialist." My pets are considered exotic (rabbits) and I understand that not every vet will have had experience with them. I wish more was known about their nutrition, but I have the utmost confidence that my vet does the best he can. It never feels like he's bullshitting me, and when I go home and do my own research, I have never found anything that seriously contradicts him.

3) They don't treat me like I'm silly when I'm all in a panic over something that turns out to be inconsequential. They are sympathetic to my ignorance and don't treat me like "Well everyone should know that the moogaflux is connected to the hupsidoodle. Duh."

4) They phone me the day after a visit - any visit - just to make sure everything is copasetic. I have an additional chance here to raise any questions or concerns, and I feel like they really care about my pet.

I guess it comes down to this: treat your patients and their humans with grace and respect, and be confident but do not be afraid to admit your limitations.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:05 AM on August 10, 2008

Oh, one more thing: it feels nice when my vet happens to remember my animals by name. Even if she sometimes forgets names, she seems to remember each animal and might ask something like "is this the 2-yr-old filly I treated last spring" or "remind me again, what was the old one called, the one I vaccinated last time". It does make all the difference.

I'm sure you'll make a great vet and I hope your clients remember to tell you so every now and then.
posted by kaarne at 8:15 AM on August 10, 2008

I really appreciate it when the vet treats me as though I am not an idiot -- for instance, not assuming that they know more about my cat's temperament, etc., than I do (I understand they see a lot of cats and have a wide frame of reference, but if I've had the cat for 13 years, odds are I have at least some amount of insight into how she'll handle exams and pain, and what's normal behavior for her). I appreciate when a vet can not talk down to me, and be willing to consider questions I might have about treatment.

I recently took our cat in to our local vet to be checked out because her (rather large) stomach looked larger than normal. I was treated to a shaming lecture on how awful it was that I'd let her get so obese, and sent away with a recommendation to see a kitty cardiologist for the heart issues that were likely imminent with her obesity.

But as it turned out, her stomach wasn't full of fat, it was full of cancerous tumors. As we found out when we went to the vet hospital.

The contrast between the treatment at the local vet's office and the treatment at the vet hospital was stark -- despite the antiseptic setting (clean, metal, and hospital-like, as opposed to the dingy but oddly more approachable "crazy cat lady" atmosphere of the local vet) the many vet residents and attendings we saw in the hospital were incredibly warm and knowledgeable and concerned. They listened to our concerns and shared with us their own, they saw us as partners in our cat's treatment, and spoke with us frankly about the likely course of her cancer and the decision points along the way that we should be aware of in terms of continuing or terminating her treatment. And nicest of all, every time she goes in for a blood test or treatment, they write up the patient note (at the same level of detail an MD would write for a person), and they always conclude it with some sweet words about our cat -- "Sweetie is the sweetest cat. We look forward to seeing her next week." or "Sweetie is an excellent patient. We're sorry she is sick, but we're happy to see her in our clinic." It's the kind of completely gratuitous, personal thing that makes the sad process of our 13-year pet dying of cancer a bit easier to endure.
posted by mothershock at 8:28 AM on August 10, 2008

I'll second everything everyone else is saying and add, please know how much things cost and be honest about it. Don't let the front desk staff hold the whole bag there. I need to know if the drugs you're going to give my dog cost $60 before you give them to him and I need to know if this test you want to run costs $300 and why and what my options are, here.

The other thing is know your front desk staff. I've been to vet's offices where the vets themselves were totally lovely but the receptionists were rude and uncooperative and sometimes, just plain mean. This happens in doctor's offices as well and it's always unfortunate - you as the vet are responsible for their demeanor and professionalism. Don't forget that they're the ones your clients deal with the most and they really set the tone of the whole office. Hire good people. Be nice to them. Educate them.

My vet does a thing for emergencies where even if they're really booked, you can bring your animal in and leave them there for the day - the vet will see them when he gets a chance. This works out really well for me although I can see where some people might not like it. Still, it makes it possible for me not to take a whole day off work to take a dog with a torn toenail to the vet and I did it last week. The vet sent a note home with my dog commenting on what a good dog he was and that made me feel ridiculously proud. It's kind of like being a teacher: taking the time to praise the animal to the owner makes everyone happy.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:32 AM on August 10, 2008

I transport rescued animals to a variety of vet offices for their initial vetting before going to a foster home, so I've interacted with many different vets in many different settings. Beyond a doubt, the ones I look forward to visiting again are the ones who treat the often dirty, smelly, matted, frightened rescue with as much dignity and affection as they would a valuable pedigreed show dog.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:49 AM on August 10, 2008

From talking to friends about vets, people who like their vets always say "Oh I love going to Dr. Soandso, he just loves Sparky." It puts pet owners at ease when the doctor (and techs) praise their pet.

So my advice is, even if the animal isn't particularly cute or endearing, fake it. Talk about how cute the animal is, etc. The owners will be put at ease. I'd also suggest keeping notes in the chart about personal details, etc, that aren't medical but will help jog your memory when you see the patient again.

When my ex and I first took Tempura to the vet when he was a teeny kitten, the techs brought in a little plate of turkey baby food for him. Tempura loved it, which put him at ease and helped distract him during the vaccinations.
posted by radioamy at 9:17 AM on August 10, 2008

Our first vet (meaning the first one our family used when we got our first-ever pet, a kitten) was very compassionate and personable and seemed to truly love animals. He also remembered Sparky (our cat) by name and always told us that "Spark" (as he called him) was one of his favorite patients. I always thought that that was just a line he handed out to all concerned cat mamas, but when Sparky eventually passed away, the vet not only sent a very lovely sympathy card, a few days later we also received a letter from the Michigan Sate University veterinary clinic that our vet had made a donation in Sparky's name to their Companion Animal Project.

What I didn't like about this vet is that he sometimes off-handedly gave us a particular product (for example, an ear-washing solution) during the course of an exam which I thought was a sample or "gift," and then when we checked out it would be on our bill.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:21 AM on August 10, 2008

Things that will endear you to your patients (and unfortunately, in some cases, were not my experience with a particular vet. Some of these may seem quite simple.)

-Introduce yourself to your patients and specifically their caregivers. In the 2 years that I went to my old vet, I never met the actual vet. The tech I saw never introduced himself unless I asked him who he was. Not cool.

-Approach animal and caregiver with respect, genuine interest and care. It is stressful for both to come to you. Please relate to us as intelligent living beings that have some understanding of what's going on. My cat may not speak human but knows something is wrong and knows it's at the Dr's office. I may not speak Vet, but I also know something is wrong and am nervous about what's going on with my friend.

-Listen to the caregivers of the animal. I may not know a lot about medical terms but I know my animal friend, better than you. If I'm telling you stuff about what's been happening with my pet or their general personality or disposition or any past health issues, please take that into account or at least let me know you hear what I'm saying. I am the ambassador of my friend. Trust I have its best interest at heart.

-Recoginze that I have done my own research. Not to tell you what to do but to be an active partner in the healing of my animal friend. Please don't treat me like a complete idiot or as if I'm a lemming willing to follow your orders without some questioins.

-Learn to speak in lay terms so I can understand what your telling me is up with my friend and what my next steps are.

-If I tell you my cat has had a bacterial infection in the past that has been treated and what going on now seems quite similar, please don't order a really expensive test to rule out a very rare disease. (had this happen and it was infuriating.)

-Treat your front of office staff with respect.

-When you are working with our animal friend while we are not present, we are trusting you to treat them well and with care. I, unfortunately, have witnessed several animals coming from testing a little worse off than when they came in. In one extreme case, the animal had a minor stroke while being tested. It was clear that when they animal was taken back to have blood drawn, it was not treated well. And, the caregiver had to ask a bazillion questions to find out what actually happened in addition to additional tests to find out the animal had a stroke! Again, not cool.

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by Hydrofiend at 10:51 AM on August 10, 2008

The customer's perception is everything. If you have an empathy with animals and show it by being kind, considerate, respectful, and gentle, you've won half the battle. And their owners will definitely notice. If you treat the tenth animal you've seen today as just one more animal, and treat it brusquely, indifferently, with force, or with anger, you've lost half the battle. And its owner will definitely notice.

You might be the best diagnostician in town, but unless you can really relate to the animal in front of you, you can't count yourself a successful vet.

Oh wait. It's just like doctors for humans, isn't it? :-)
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:32 AM on August 10, 2008

seconding what arcticwoman said about a personal follow-up phone call. i've had the good fortune of having some VERY good vets over the years, but i'll always have a special place in my heart for dr. amos. not only was he a great doctor, but he called after my kitty's surgery to make sure everything was ok. that strikes me as a fairly simple thing to do that will go a long, long way.

congrats on your new profession!
posted by msconduct at 12:24 PM on August 10, 2008

Thought of another one. Train your staff to be just as compassionate as you are. The other day my dog had what turned out to be a back injury. She was violently shivering and panting, and I ran her straight to the wonderful vet I described in my earlier post. While we were waiting to see him, me becoming increasingly panicked over what could be wrong with this dog who is the joy of my life, the bitch at the front desk kept going on and on to her co-workers in a pointedly loud voice about how our doctor HAS to have his lunch at 12:30 today, in reference to our need to see him, like I was a huge imposition on the smooth efficiency of their veterinary business. Obviously everybody needs to eat but there are way more tactful ways to handle the situation. Please make sure you work with your staff on issues like this.
posted by HotToddy at 12:32 PM on August 10, 2008

The vet my parents go to back in VT is absolutely wonderful. He remembers the dogs by name and is very kind. When our old dog fell ill and had to be put down, one of the vets from his office came to our home - sparing us the trip, which would have terrified the dog and made his passing fearful instead of peaceful. They came to our house in the van that they use for body-pickup, so they took the body with them when it was over so my family didn't have to deal with that either. They called us a week or two later when his ashes were ready to be picked-up. (They were in a really lovely gold box, which was also a nice touch.)

When I take my cat to the vet, I really like hearing how beautiful and sweet she is - even if I know that they probably say this to every cat. I like it when the vet remembers my cat's name. And when I took her to get spayed, I really appreciated that they called me the minute that she was done and let me take her home right after she was out of recovery, trusting that I would bring her in if there were any problems, and acknowledging that the cat would be more comfortable recovering under the couch than scared in the vet's office.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:38 PM on August 10, 2008

On a non-cats-or-dogs note: for the animals you don't treat, find out what veterinarians or vet schools in your area do treat them, and make sure your receptionists are prepared to refer clients who call in. I had a helluva time finding someone who would see my bettas, and I recently spoke to someone on a pet forum who was very upset when she called a vet for a referral to an invertebrate specialist for her sick giant millipede and got laughed at. Obviously, that kind of thing isn't going to encourage people to come back when they have cats or dogs.
posted by bettafish at 12:40 PM on August 10, 2008

I love my vet. She's in a practice of 8 vets, and I greatly prefer her over all the others. What she does that elevates her above the rest:

- When she enters the room, she talks to me for a few minutes before she focuses on my pet. She wants to know my take on the story before she does any examining.

- She's a very confident person and she smiles a lot, but not in an artificial way, and not just to put people at ease.

- She never talked down to me or assumed that I didn't understand the complicated medical terminology she was using. She trusted me to ask questions if I had them and to say I didn't ger her meaning if I didn't.

- She had a special nickname name for my dog, who recently died. I don't know whether she particularly loved my dog, or labs in general, or she's like that with all her patients, but she made me feel like he might have been one of her favorites. I don't need to know whether it's true. I felt like it was true.

- She never uses baby talk. I do, and I don't see anything wrong with baby talk with your animals, but I really like that she doesn't infantilize my animals the way I sometimes do. She treats my animals with utmost dignity, which makes me think that she does that even when I'm not around. This in turn makes her someone I trust completely.

- When my dog was diagnosed with bone cancer, she encouraged me to call her with questions to get her opinion about palliative treatment (that an oncologist at another hospital was handling), pain management, and when it would be the right time to euthanize.

- She came to my house to put my dog to sleep in his own home. And she cried when she did it. I'll always love her for that.

By the way, let me pass along some very sad vicarious advice from her to you: She told us that day that doing euthanasia gets harder with each one, not easier.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 12:52 PM on August 10, 2008

Things that I like about my vet:

When one of my cats died after getting a lot of care from their clinic, the vet sent me a really nice sympathy card. Small gesture, but it meant mountains to me at the time.

Things I didn't like:

One of my cats (the one who later died, actually), was not a "good patient," and would get totally freaked out if a vet tech had to carry him out of the exam room away from me, even for something quick & simple like getting weighed. I protested, asked if I could come along - explained how this could get very, very unpleasant - and they refused. End result? Cat fucking freaked out, scratched the crap out of one tech and pooped all over the place, took a runner, and was returned to me 10 minutes later panting, in a choke collar. I was NOT happy.

Never would have happened if they let me be there while he was weighed.

Better yet, keep stuff you plan to use for every exam, like scales, in each exam room. There's no reason for a simple procedure to come to something like that.
posted by brain cloud at 1:18 PM on August 10, 2008

Nthing all the good suggestions above. It's amazing how delicate the line is with caring for domestic companion animals.

I would like to emphasize the suggestions of owning up to mistakes and taking a rest when you feel that you need it. We loved our last vet quite a bit. We made the drive 20 miles out of our way to see him and recommended him to anyone who asked. He was sometimes condescending when we made the usual mistake that novice owners make, but we figured it was because he cared.

This all came to an end when we took my mother's old dog to get his teeth cleaned. Despite the fact that he'd just had his teeth cleaned 3 months previous, they told us he needed them cleaned again because there were massive tartar build-ups once again. Fair enough, we said. I checked to ascertain he had all his teeth in once piece and then took him in. He came out a little skittish, but seemingly intact. After a few days where I was finally able to get him to open his mouth for me, I discovered his left front canine was missing it's bottom 1/3rd part.

We brought the problem to the vets attention. He proceeded to tell us that it couldn't have possibly happened at his clinic and why had we waited a few days to report it? He also brought out the old "he's not in pain anyway...he can't feel it" and proceeded to "demonstrate". At that point, I took the dog out and let him know that he had just lost three clients with his little demonstration. We found out later, through a phone call from him apologizing, that he was due to retire. I told him perhaps he should have considered it sooner.

Our new vet came highly recommended. He's one of the ones that cries when he has to euthanize and treats clients with respect. When we brought our youngest with a broken toe nail as an emergency on one of Tamlyn's scheduled visits, they didn't charge us the emergency visit fee. The doctor has also called us the very next day to make sure the boys Mr's and Ms. are doing allright. Little gestures like that do endear, so keep that in mind. Good luck!
posted by arishaun at 2:11 PM on August 10, 2008

When I used to board my dogs at the vet during vacations, I'd get them back emaciated every time. One was a whippet and she didn't have any body fat to fall back on. I know the babies missed me and wouldn't have eaten as much, but you can't just let them starve like that. Do something to make them eat even if you have to fry them some bacon. One time I finally let the vet people have it and their answer essentially amounted to "we tried - oh well." WTF! Poor little dears. They'd have tried harder if it was their dogs. So I guess the lesson is pretend the animals are yours.

I liked the cheapo little bandanas they put on them!
posted by Askr at 3:00 PM on August 10, 2008

Help your clients be realistic about costs and benefits. Most people will want to do everything they can, but try to bring up costly treatment alternatives in a way that will help people feel that they're not being awful people for deciding that they don't really feel good about paying thousands of dollars to try something that may have only a marginal benefit.

Help people understand that pets need good quality of life too, and that sometimes these extended, invasive, costly treatments do little other than extending an animal's suffering and confusion about being sick.
posted by jasper411 at 3:10 PM on August 10, 2008

I can't praise enough vets who will make a house call to carry out euthanasia. A trip to a vet is so stressful even for a healthy animal; they deserve the comfort of being in their own home.

Also, free nail clipping at checkups ;-)
posted by media_itoku at 4:07 PM on August 10, 2008

I once had to call several vets to see if they could treat my pet rats. I appreciated that they didn't say "eeew, rats" but treated me with the same respect I would get if I called about my cat. (True, it probably wasn't the vets answering, but I presume their attitudes were being reflected by the other people in the office.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:59 PM on August 10, 2008

When I had my dog, I took her to a practice with five vets. I had my favorite, but one incident that really stands out in my mind was with one of the docs I hadn't seen before. It was time for my dog's regular round of vaccinations, and bordatella (kennel cough) was one of the regulars. For whatever reason, even though the injection was available, this practice tended to do the intranasal spray.

My dog HATED this spray. She was a loving, sweet, gentle and smart dog, and so long as I was there and told her it was okay, she'd let the vets do anything they needed to. Except this. So the vet, a tech, and I all were down on the floor on our hands and knees in preparation for administering the intranasal. The dog was having none of it. I watched a grown man all but wrestle a very strong 50-lb dog and end up with the better part of a vacc dosage on his white lab coat. With perfect equanimity, he stood up, pitched the syringe, and gave the dog a rub on the ears, and said "Next time we'll try the shot." No recriminations, no red-faced pissiness. Just kindness under duress, which goes very, very far.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:50 PM on August 10, 2008

Wow, what a thread. I am the Client Service Manager at a referral and emergency practice, and this is all very interesting to me as well.

My specific advice would be to become familiar with the folks at your nearest emergency and/or specialty practice. Stop by for a visit, ask for a tour, see if you can meet with some of the ER docs if they have a minute, and spend some time chatting with the techs and receptionists. You may be in a position to ask your clients to trust these people with their pets' lives, and it would be good if you at least knew a little something about them. Heck, we offer the local GP vets the opportunity to shadow our ER vets for a shift if they'd like, you might ask about that.

Congrats, and best of luck!
posted by Rock Steady at 6:41 PM on August 10, 2008

Oh and I forgot - my favorite vet never put the animals up on the table. She got down on the floor with them and it made everyone so much happier. I was really surprised the first time I went into the examining room and there was no big high metal table - and really relieved that I didn't have to lift my 65 pound dog up on to it. Then the vet came in, sat on the floor and immediately won mine and Toby's heart. I wish she hadn't moved away.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:47 PM on August 10, 2008

Firstly, ebellicosa, I admire that you care enough to ask this question. I know you'll succeed in being a fine veterinarian.

We love our vet because he is kind, caring and listens. You know he loves animals because our dogs love him and trust him. He knows how to handle the animals, which is HUGE. He's always straight with us and NEVER pushes for unnessesary tests. His experience is obvious because he's never wrong. His fees aren't outrageous. He always makes personal calls to advise about tests. And he has an email address where we can ask him questions. He's fully devoted to his profession. I don't know what we'll do when he retires. A testament to how awesome our vet is is that his office is always overflowing with customers.

We very much disliked another vet who worked in his office. She was inexperienced and had an attitude about it. It's fine to not know an answer, just don't be mean and condescending to your paying customers. She misdiagnosed one of our dogs that had liver cancer. One of the first symptoms of liver cancer we later found out was a particular skin condition that manifests out of nowhere. We took her to the vet as soon as we noticed it and this particular vet brushed off our concerns and told us that our "dog was getting old and not to expect her to have a nice coat forever." We had to put her down a several months later. I don't know if anything could have been done in the early stages (actually we learned a lot could have been done) but this vet didn't do anything but make us feel stupid for even thinking it was anything other than age. Thankfully this lady moved to Montana. She was awful. Terrible attitude.

I agree that one of the most humane things a vet can do is offer to euthanize a pet at home, both for the pet and for the owner. Nobody, animal or human, wants to die on a cold metal table. I would have loved it if our vet could have come to our house and put our dog down in our backyard, her backyard. Instead she died in a sterile room. It broke our hearts.

Another thing you could do is have handouts to educate your customers about signs and symptoms of various ailments like you find in doctor's offices. People often find out too late about serious problems with their pets because they don't know what to look for. And I agree that any recommendations for books to read would be outstanding. Again, a handout would suffice. People who care to learn more about their animals would appreciate the heads up.
posted by wherever, whatever at 7:01 PM on August 10, 2008

The vet who took care of my first cat, Elijah, was awesome until my cat passed away. The next 3 times I called the vet to take care of my second cat,Tobias, the vet's assistant asked when I was going to return with Eli to get his shots. The first time, okay. The second time, mistakes happen. The third, I found a new vet.

It was hard enough losing my cat without having to explain it over and over again.

My suggestion, take good notes and make sure your staff reads the charts.
posted by 26.2 at 10:12 PM on August 10, 2008

I have to echo just about everything that has already been said, being kind to the animals and owners, speaking in laymen terms and being honest enough to say "I don't know, but I will be happy to research..."

Also, know your breeds... My first visit to a new vet became my last when he walked into the exam room and said "My, what a lovely pair of Malamutes!" to me and 2 Siberian Huskies. If he didn't recognize the difference between a breed that runs about 100lbs and my two 50lb dogs, what else might he not know?!?!

Our current vet is awesome. He sits right down on the floor with my dogs, scruffs up their ears and has the most quiet calming voice. I always get a full explanation of the treatment being recommended, along with prices, without feeling like I am being "sold" a bunch of unnecessary things. I also never get the spiel trying to sell me on Science Diet or some other food other vets are usually being paid to pitch.

As has been mentioned several times, the fact that you are asking this question to begin with is a sign that you are well on your way to being one of the awesome vets so many of us have written about here!
posted by ktpupp at 8:47 PM on August 11, 2008

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