When Veterinarians Don’t Listen… and How to Get Them to


Veterinarians like me often complain that their clients don’t listen. It’s true; I’m often left feeling frustrated whenever a client practically begs for advice on a particular pet health issue… only to observe that advice summarily dismissed as if it were never offered. Listening, it would seem, is optional at the vet’s. But according to plenty of pet owners, the story is seldom so one-sided. Turns out it’s not always the client who needs to take the cotton out of her ears; it’s the vet too.

This statement probably comes as no surprise to plenty of you. Veterinarians are doctors, after all. And like human physicians, who are notorious for this brand of nonlistening behavior, we have a way of preferring ourselves heard instead of hearing others speak.

Which is normal human behavior. Trouble is, sometimes it seems as if health-care professionals tend to indulge themselves more often in this regard than most people.

The reasons why are many and complex: It’s not just that we’re overly fond of our own voices and opinions, it’s that we’re not trained to listen to ALL of what’s being said. Instead, many of us are taught to spot the symptoms your words reveal, thereby weeding out the “extra stuff” so that we can practice more efficiently.

Which is unfortunate seeing as there’s lots more to glean from what you say than a mere inventory of ills.

Learning From Human Medicine

I got to thinking about this after a friend referred me to an interesting book titled When Doctors Don’t Listen. Written by Brigham and Women’s Hospital ER doctors (Dr. Leana Wen and Dr. Joshua Kosowsky), this recently published book brings home the point that bad things can happen when health-care providers don’t pay attention (misdiagnoses, unnecessary tests, etc.).

But instead of berating us for our persistent lameness in this department, the duo takes another tack altogether: They offer a believable backstory for why docs are systematically “hearing challenged,” then recommend ways for humans to get themselves heard so they can receive better health care. But not without offering physicians a prescription for improvement too (which, by the way, I really appreciated).

Though the family’s furred members are unlikely to have figured in Drs. Wen and Kosowsky’s imaginations upon this book’s conception, it may as well have been written for their benefit too.

After all, from what I can figure, there’s very little difference between the vet and the physician when it comes to getting either to truly listen to what’s being said. What’s more, their suggestions seem absolutely spot-on when it comes to getting vets to sit up and pay attention to what you’re saying.

Raising the Veterinary Hearing Factor

Here’s my veterinary spin on their recommendations, so you can get the most out of your vet and the best care possible for your pet:

1. Tell a story. Humans think best when people tell us stories that explain things. And veterinarians are only human.


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