Podcast #2

Donald Duck as Scrouge
One of the biggest causes of burn-out and compassion fatigue in the veterinary industry is the constant battle that we have with the public thinking we are money grubbing Scrouges that are ‘just in it for the money’. KICK ASS VETS feels this is one of the single worst aspects of the field, and the most gut wrenching. When you are working your butt off, working overtime without pay, pouring your heart and soul into your patients, and the clients come at you with:

‘You don’t care about animals.’,

‘All you care about is money.’

‘Vets charge too much money.’

‘If you cared you would do it for free.’

‘I bet I am paying for your Ferrari.’

‘If you don’t save my animal I will sue/kill you,’ followed by ‘I am not paying for anything.’

‘You would rather watch my animal suffer and die than help.’

‘Why do you have to run these expensive tests, you went to school, you should know what is wrong.’

… we have all been there, the list could go on forever. Some of these comments are light-hearted, and some are downright mean, cruel and aggressive. Either way, the problem stands that veterinarians are perceived as money grubbing jerks in today’s society. The public think that vets make TONS of money, and that treatment doesn't actually 'cost' anything, with 100% of the fees going directly into our pockets.

The bigger problem however is OUR RESPONSE. We continually complain and whine about how the clients are mean, and we cry out for public education to improve how we are treated. Although public education is very important, and we should continue to push for this, KICK ASS VETS feels this isn’t the most effective approach. We need to take control of the situation OURSELVES and DEMAND respect; not wait for the public to magically be nice to us. Women didn’t get the vote by waiting for men to hand it over!
Woman protesting with sign 'We are better than this!'
We need to stand up for ourselves and DEMAND the respect we deserve. We can change how we are treated by our responses to mean and abusive comments.
KICK ASS VETS feels that how we respond to these comments is important in not only changing general public perception, but when we stand up to these comments we get a feeling of EMPOWERMENT! By standing up for yourself and not allowing clients to ‘get away’ with making hurtful and abusive comments, you will feel great instead of seething in anger at ‘those jerks’. In this field we need to protect our own mental well-being, and we need to value and respect ourselves enough to not tolerate abuse.
By changing how we respond to abusive comments, we not only change public perception of the industry, but we individually feel empowered. We progress the field by creating more informed clients, we make the field a safer place for ourselves and our staff, and we protect our own mental well-being. Be part of the solution and start demanding the respect you deserve. It can only start with you!
As always, KICK ASS VET’s main goal is tangible, practical and immediately implementable solutions to problems. This blog will look at possible responses to these comments. Try them out, I bet that you will like it!

All comments can be used independently or in conjunction with one another. Try out a few and have a couple memorized ‘in reserve’ that you can use when needed.
It is INCREDIBLY important to deliver these lines in a calm, unemotional manner.
It is also important to understand that owners make mean comments because they are upset. Therefore, we need to both be compassionate while also defending ourselves calmly.
“Vets are only in it for the money”
‘Veterinarians care immensely about the animals in our care. We work very hard to ensure they are comfortable, and get the best treatment possible. However, in order to provide medical care we require payment.’

‘By stating that vets are 'only in it for the money' you are not only contributing to the problem of veterinarians having the highest suicide rate of any profession, but the high level of burn-out in the profession.’

‘Vets care immensely for our patients, and provide the best level of care that you, the owner, allow us to perform. Medicine costs money, and we can only provide services we have the finances to provide.’

‘Veterinarians are significantly underpaid and it is NOT a career that is lucrative. The veterinarians that are working are here because they love your pet and just want to make it feel better.’
“You don’t care about the animals”
Women giving dog a kiss.
Anyone in the veterinary industry knows that the only reason we still do this job is because we love and care about every single one of our patients.
‘Caring about the animals is the only reason we are in this profession. Veterinary medicine is difficult, stressful, not lucrative, and has very high rates of mental illness, burn-out and work-related stress. This is due to the components of the career that AREN’T the animals, such as this conversation. We tolerate the rest of the career because we LOVE the animals, and we LOVE your pet.’

‘Every single person that works in the veterinary profession chose this career because they love animals. It is not an easy profession, and has the highest suicide rate of any profession because of it’s challenges. To say we don’t care about the animals is mean and abusive.’

‘It is both abusive and mean to imply that the veterinarians/nurses working hard to help your pet don’t care about your animal. The exact opposite is true, we are only here because we care about your animal.’
“Vets charge too much money”
‘Veterinarians and clinics are charging appropriately for the level of care they are providing.’

‘Treating animals takes money, as well as time, knowledge and energy. These all need to be paid for in order to be able to continue to provide care.’

‘Vets and clinic fees are not subsidized therefore their fees are set to be able to continue providing care to animals. This is the cost to provide the excellent level of care we provide.’

‘Our clinic sets it’s fees so that we can continue to provide an excellent level of patient care. If you are unable to pursue ‘x’ option of treatment, I am happy to discuss other options for treatment plans. If you feel that you do not wish to pursue the level of care that we provide you are welcome to let us know which clinic you would like your animals records sent to.’
Veterinarians have the responsibility to portray VALUE of our services and our care. By monitoring and paying attention to our terminology, and by defending our fees, we can change the public perception of how much veterinary care ‘should’ cost. In every conversation we need to be careful to not imply the care is ‘expensive’, and portray our fees as they are, just the cost of care.

By the same token, we should not take abuse when clients suggest that we charge too much. We need to PROVE to clients that we are charging appropriately, and show them this value!

See How to be a 'Valuable' KICK ASS VET and Expectations vs. Reality: Vets vs. Clients to help you display VALUE to your clients.
“I am paying for your Ferrari”
Rusted old bike
Personal Story: One of my 'favourite' interactions was when a client complained that they were paying for my Ferrari. I wheeled in my 15$, rusted, used, Gumtree bike to show the client how I get to work. That stopped their comments in their tracks.
‘Medicine costs money, and the fees you pay are going to provide the the care needed for your animal.’

‘I understand you are making a joke, however it is important that you are aware that your fees are going to provide care to your animal. Vets are not taking this home, and are often not even paid appropriately for their work.'
“If you cared you would do it for free”
‘How much I care is completely unrelated to what services I can financially provide. I care immensely and therefore we should work together to get your pet the best possible solution on a budget you can afford.'

‘Owning a pet is a privilege, and it comes with the responsibility to care for that pet at all times, even when it is sick. Part of that care is being able to pay for services. We cannot provide services for free otherwise our business would close and we could no longer supply services to ANY patients. This is all 100% independent to how much I care.’

'I would love to provide free veterinary care for all animals, however that is not financially possible given that veterinary medicine is not subsidized by the government or paid for by our taxes. Medical care costs money, and the financial responsibility is that of the owner. I must charge appropriately for our services to be able to continue providing any service.’
“You would rather watch my animal suffer and die than help”
‘The whole aim of my career is to alleviate animal suffering and I am desperate to help your pet right now. For your pet I have given you the options of x,y,z to stop any pain or suffering. It is your choice on which option you would like to pursue. As soon as you make a decision on which option you are WILLING and ABLE to pursue, I am more than happy to get started right away on helping.’

‘Your comment is abusive and implies that I have not given you options to alleviate any pain or suffering your animal might be in. I have given you various options, and it is your choice which you would like to pursue. I am standing here trying to help, and need you to do your part which is to pick which option you are ABLE to pursue, so that WE can help your pet.’

‘In order to help your pet I need to have the resources to be able to help. I have given you options to help your pet, and am just waiting on your financial resources to be able to continue to provide that help.’

‘In understand that you are upset, however your comments are mean and abusive and won’t be tolerated. I am doing my best to help your animal within your emotional and financial constraints. I would like to put these hurtful comments aside and work together to get the best possible outcome for your pet.’
It is important to recognize when clients are upset, to address that they are upset, and have a degree of sympathy and patience for this. However, it is equally important to not allow anyone to be abusive, even if they are upset. You can both acknowledge that a client is upset but at the same time stand up for yourself.

We would not tolerate racist/homophobic/misogynistic comments just because someone is upset, so why should we tolerate abuse directed at ourselves as a person because someone is upset?
Overly Aggressive/Abusive Comments:
Some clients are either so upset, intoxicated, or are just so down-right mean, that they make incredibly aggressive, abusive and threatening comments. These often include threats to sue, slander on social media, deflect clients from your business, or sometimes to cause bodily harm. They can occur on the phone, or in person. They can be directed at the vet, the nurses or the receptionist. No one is exempt from their wrath!

These overly aggressive clients need to be dealt with immediately, directly and definitively. Any physical threat should be reported to the police.

ON THE PHONE: Any person being aggressive and abusive on the phone should be told, politely and calmly, 'We do not tolerate verbal abuse, please stop or I will hang up.' If the abuse continues, simply hang up.

TO THE RECEPTIONIST/SUPPORT STAFF: Often people will be aggressive/mean to the receptionist/nurses, but not towards the vet themselves. Therefore, it is very important if you are the veterinarian on duty and you hear someone being mean/aggressive/abusive to your staff, you need either get a manager, or you need to step in. You could say, 'We do not tolerate verbal abuse at this clinic. If you have a problem that you would like to discuss politely please wait in this exam room and I will come speak with you shortly.'

ESCALATING ABUSE: If you notice a situation where someone is becoming more and more aggressive and abusive, and you are worried about a physical confrontation, you should remove as many people as possible from the situation and if you are afraid for your safety you should call the police. You will need to determine in the moment whether informing the individual that you are calling the police is safe. A possible response is 'I understand that you are very upset, however your behaviour is threatening and I will have no choice but to call the police if it continues because I feel scared.' Often by taking the emotion on yourself you can calm down MOST of these clients. Very rarely you just need to call in back-up.
Lego Police Man
If any client is becoming abusive and you are scared that you will be physically harmed, or if they are being unruly and verbally abusive, call the police. You do NOT deserve to deal with that!
THREATS TO SUE: Often you will have people threatening to sue you if you ‘don’t save their animal’ or ‘mess up’. For these clients documentation of all conversations becomes imperative. Also, always offer referral in these circumstances. These are often emergency situations where referral isn’t really a practical option, however if the owner is being very aggressive you can always give pain relief and have them take their animal. Often the reality is more of one where you have to do your best, and just ensure that you state (and document) that the prognosis is grave, you will do your best however if they wish to pursue a second opinion they can, and that you make no promises. Stabilize as best as you can and refer these guys away. Once the current situation is dealt with, discuss with your boss about firing these clients to avoid this confrontation in the future.
Vets/Nurses Contributing to Social Media Slandering
Another huge problem in the veterinary industry is the aspect of social media. Clients will post slander about you and your clinic on facebook, twitter, etc. Due to confidentiality you are then unable to respond and the internet trolls come out. Unfortunately, all too often other veterinarians will be part of this ‘troll culture’ and will make comments on these cases.
Statue of a Troll
It is very important that as a community we don’t contribute to the internet trolls. Don’t comment on situations where you don’t know the details. Treat others as you would want to be treated!
KICK ASS VETS encourage and implore that all veterinarians, nurses, support staff, think very hard before joining these internet trolls. We have all been on the receiving end of a client that has a completely different story to what actually happened. You weren’t there, you don’t know what happened, so don’t imply you do and comment. Also, fees for procedures and treatments vary drastically from location to location and clinic to clinic based on rent, cost of living (which affects salaries and costs), costs of equipment, standard of care, cost of utilities, value of the dollar, etc. Do not comment on other clinic’s cost of care because you have NO IDEA what their expenses are.
As a veterinarian/nurse/tech it is important that you DO NOT contribute to the internet trolls. We all know far too well how clients will distort and completely change/make up ‘facts’. To condemn a colleague for something reported by client on social media is contributing to the problem. Also, to comment on fees/costs is inappropriate as you are never aware of the financial details of that case, or that clinic/area. We should be supporting one another.

If you really feel that something was done ‘wrong’ than take the time to contact that vet PRIVATELY, get the whole story, and make your recommendations directly to the veterinarian. Treat others as you would want to be treated!
Why we Don't Defend Ourselves
KICK ASS VETS vets is aware the vets/nurses/support staff WANT to stand up for themselves, and are also capable of coming up with responses of their own. Often-times the reasons that we don't defend ourselves is more due to the common 'The Customer is Always Right' mentality, either perpetuated by our own internal lack of self-confidence, or by our bosses. The other cause is fear of being disciplined or fired by managers/bosses for being 'rude' to clients.

KICK ASS VETS recommends a three-step process:

STEP 1: Have a meeting with your boss/manager to discuss how the clinic will respond to abusive and aggressive clients. Discuss your desires of how YOU wish to respond to these clients, and see if your clinic is on-board. If they are not supportive of protecting the mental well-being of the staff, consider your job postiion.

STEP 2: Arrange a meeting with your whole staff to collectively discuss responses. PRACTICE responses collectively as a team, it will be fun! These clients are not common, but are draining when they occur. Ensure you have a team approach, and support your staff in not tolerating abuse!

STEP 3: Practice what you preach. Change has to start somewhere, and be the start of that change! Be the example for your staff.
Clock in front of blackboard with 'Time for Change' written.
Change doesn't come on it's own, it requires input of effort and energy. Be the agent of change in your clinic!
Do you have any situations or experiences that you would like to share that either highlight KICK ASS responses or strategies of your own? Contact Us with any experiences you would like to share.
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published September 15th, 2019

Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!

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