Vet Shaking Hands

Successful relationships are based on clear expectations and commitments. For example, when I go to my favorite restaurant, I know I can expect their usual level of great service and delicious food. And the owners can expect that I’ll pay my tab, behave nicely and respect the “No shirt, no shoes, no service” sign. I hold up my end of the deal, knowing that they’ll hold up theirs, and vice versa. Same goes for my children’s day care. I bring my kids in clean, germ-free and with healthy lunches packed, and the staff does their part to make sure that my children are cared for, educated and looked after until I arrive on time to pick them up. We each know what to expect from the other.

As a veterinarian, I had a brainstorm the other day: What if expectations between pet owners and veterinary teams were just as clear? We each have our needs, abilities, strengths and limitations. Would we understand each other better — and work better as a team to care for pets — if we agreed on what’s fair to expect of one another? I think we might. Here’s what I believe pet owners should expect from me — and what I hope I can expect from them in return:

  1. I, your pet’s veterinarian, promise that I will always act in your pet’s best interest. I’ll listen (I mean really listen) when you tell me what your concerns and questions are. In return, I ask that you remember that I am a human being, flaws and all. I have only two hands and one brain. At the end of the day, I have a family to go home to, too. I’m just a person, but I’ll be the person who puts your pet first whenever I see him or her.
  2. I promise always to keep learning and improving as a veterinarian. I ask that you also try to keep learning as a pet owner and follow the recommendations I give you.
  3. No matter what I have been through emotionally in a day, you can expect that I will give you a smile, my full attention and my best effort and advice. You and your pet deserve nothing less. You should also expect that sometimes, despite my best efforts, I may look like I’ve been through the wringer. This is because I probably have! We in veterinary medicine deal with death on a near-constant basis, and sometimes it takes a toll on us. If I look and maybe even act like I’m not my brightest, may I ask that you’ll forgive me and not take it personally? I’ll be back to my old self the next time.
  4. I promise not to hide from you in public because I can’t recall your name or I’m afraid you will ask me questions about a pet. In return, I’d be grateful if you could refrain from asking me about diarrhea, vomiting or anal glands when you see me dining.
  5. We have to tell each other the truth. If your Pug ate a bag of marijuana or you haven’t given your pet heartworm prevention in two years, I need to know. In return, I will not judge you or broadcast the information (unless you’re an animal abuser, in which case — you’re toast).
  6. If you will remember that medicine is (unfortunately) expensive, but that compared to human medicine, veterinary care is actually an amazing value, then I will do all I can to work within any financial constraints you have in the best interests of your pet.
  1. I will be your adviser and teammate, if you’ll work with me. I would never expect you to find the right medical course or make treatment decisions alone. Likewise, you must know that I can’t fix problems without you. We need to share information and cooperate to create and carry out the most reasonable care plans. When it comes to caring for your pet, we are in this together.  
  2. You should know I may not be able to diagnose or treat your pet for an illness over the phone. I encourage you to call me anyway. I want to answer your questions rather than run the risk that you may find some bad advice elsewhere. If I think your pet should come and visit the clinic, though, I’m going to tell you so — and expect to see you.
  3. Speaking of answering questions, I will happily answer all your questions and explain everything to the best of my ability. The only thing I might ask in return is that you try to consolidate how often I do so. If you know that other family members will want to hear the story directly from the doctor, or that they will have lots of questions, please try to get all interested parties together in the clinic or on the phone. Having efficient communication minimizes family misunderstandings because of inaccurate information and helps make the best use of my time so that I can get back to caring for patients.
  4. If you promise patience when I am tardy because I am helping a sick pet or one who has been rushed in with an injury, I promise to make someone else wait so I can help your pet if ever these roles are reversed. I feel terribly guilty when this happens, and I do value your time, but stopping everything to help a pet survive an emergency is something I simply have to do from time to time.

Now, I’d like to know what you think. Is it helpful to know exactly what your vet promises to do for you and your pet? Are the expectations for pet owners fair? I’ll promise you this: I’m going to do my best to hold up my end of this deal every day.