We need to talk. Nobody ever likes to hear a conversation that starts with that phrase, but sometimes, we really do need to talk.
Veterinary medicine is changing. It started several years ago.
Sophia Yin was a brilliant veterinarian. She spoke at many conferences about animal behavior and how to make visits more fun for the pets. Several of my staff have attended these lectures over the years. Dr. Yin was really making a difference in how pets were interacted with.
And then she killed herself.
The veterinary community was shocked.
She was so vibrant, intelligent and forward looking. And apparently, she was frustrated about the things she could not change and chose suicide.
Sophia Yin was not the first veterinarian to kill themselves, we had a young vet in Greenup commit suicide a while back.
Vets have long held one of the top spots for suicide in the first world nations. We have high stress jobs, long hours, life and death decisions, lots of deaths, emotional blackmail and lots of financial issues.
But Sophia Yin’s action made it so that we could no longer hide the fact that the rate is too high.
Not One More Vet was formed on Facebook and now has almost four thousand members to provide peer to peer online support group for veterinarians.
NOMV was formed to change the mental health crisis that the veterinary profession is currently experiencing. I have been a member for years and try to help support others when I can. It is too much for anyone to do all of the time.
NOMV also makes it okay to talk about the stress. Someone calls you a female dog, because you cannot treat their animal for free. Someone screams because your prices (which are 10 percent or less of the MD prices) are too high.
Clients go on social media, BBB or other places to voice their displeasure and the sensitive veterinarians take it to heart and try to fix the unfixable.
While this is the way it has always been, vets are now talking to each other and realizing that it is not necessarily them all the time.
Certainly, nobody is perfect and there is a way and means for feedback, but not all client problems can be fixed. Suddenly, it is okay to take time for yourself and even set boundaries. (No, texting me about your cat, that you took elsewhere, at 11:30 p.m. is not okay. I must be available and my phone is always on, but I get about twenty of these a week.)
Fast forward to March of this year.
The world had a pandemic and people stayed at home more. Some stayed at home a lot, while others just went out less. Regardless, people started paying more attention to their pets, deciding they finally had time for a pet and/or had money to treat the pet.
That means that at the same time that vets are being told that they need healthy boundaries, there is more to do and what we are doing takes longer. Curbside for the clients and the patients can mean up to seven phone/communication spots. These always took place, but the client was one of the members that did part of the communication. Now staff members have to be involved in both parts.
That means that veterinary hospitals are too busy during the day to get everything done. Veterinary emergency clinics are too busy to take all the overflow. There are some appointments that are being scheduled out two or three weeks now. Not everyone can be seen on the same day that they want to be seen.
Let’s take yesterday for example.
It was a surgery day, I was still puny from the non-COVID-19 crud, so I came in a couple hours late to start the day.
That way I hoped I would have enough energy to get through the day. Now mind you, an accountant, an ad manager or engineer, might have just taken the day (week) off for being sick. Not your vet, who knows you will have trouble being seen if your pet is sick today.
In the hospital, I had a sick cat with a high white blood cell count and anemia, two parvo dogs and a kitten with diarrhea.
While medicine pickups seem like an easy thing to owners, out-patients that required me to check records or communicate with clients included a recurrent diarrhea in a cat, diarrhea in a dog, antibiotic refill, and antibiotic refill decline because the pet needs a new plan. Meanwhile according to GAMC protocols, my staff sold nine months of flea prevention, ten dose of heartworm prevention and six bags of foods.
I personally saw four puppy plan visits, one new pup visit, made two dogs vomit (one ate a toxic amount of chocolate and the other a fatal amount of ibuprofen), a life-threatening bee/wasp/other sting, two ear rechecks, an allergy skin flare-up, a traumatic tail repair/amputation, a ovariohysterectomy (spay), a rotten teeth, full-mouth extraction, treated dog fight wounds, followed up on a corneal (eye) ulcer and a pup that eats rocks and licks metal gastritis.
At the end of the long day, I took a screech owl out in the woods and released it. Because
I came in late, I only put in a twelve-hour day.
To say I was busy is somewhat of an understatement. And remember, we are still in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions, so my phrase is “inefficiently slammed” with patients.
We simply cannot keep up with everything that everyone asks of us.
Everyone is so busy, there is not enough energy to fill in all of the shifts at the ER. I try to fill in two a month, but the overnight shifts are too much for me.
They are considering closing the ER for some part of the week.
Obviously, we need more staff, but we have gone through almost a hundred applications.
Most of which did not complete the entire application (sorry, no).
I really liked three of the applicants. One did not like us. (Better to find out now rather than later and we wish her well.) One who ghosted us on the working interview. (Ghosting is the new term for saying you will, but you don’t.) And one liked us and we liked him. I know we need to start applications again, but it takes so much time.
By the way, I didn’t get any applicants for another veterinarian. Not one.
I think this is a great area.
When I was sick last week, I knew I could call almost anyone and they would help me if they could.
Folks would help about anyone who didn’t abuse asking.
It seems new folks don’t want to come to this area. Or maybe they cannot work for what we can pay. Or something.
Without help, we must make choices on who we can see and when. I am choosing to put our clients first.
The ones that have made a commitment to us will be our priority.
But commitment to us, might not mean the same thing to me that some clients think it does. Wellness plan clients, obviously will be seen.
Likewise, patients that are up to date on vaccinations will be seen. Those who smile and say thank you, we will move mountains, reroute rivers and stay late for you.
The ones that are beginning to be the ones that we might not fit in are the ones we haven’t seen in a few years.
Those online pharmacy requests can call us a dozen times a day after we have replied for three days. They lose the scripts and ask us for duplicates, triplicates and more and still sometimes get them wrong.
Online pharmacies are a challenge in the midst of all the other urgencies.
Especially when we know that items aren’t that much cheaper and so much less of our time to get up for you. That is a stress we don’t need.
Another stress that is unneeded is blaming us for your situation.
We did not cause your pet to have parvo, panleukopenia or seizures. A fact of life is that veterinary medicine costs money. I think we are fair, but we do try to do everything the pet needs and things can add up. We understand budgets and are happy to help you work out something within your budget.
GAMC will not be turning away people that need to space care out or make monetary arrangements. We may be reminding you that we do not deserve to be called names, cussed at or demeaned.
Vets are discussing the need to be firing certain clients right now.
We don’t want to be there and we do realize there is stress because your favorite family member is sick.
But if you get fired by any vet, good luck getting a new vet after that. We and others are screening new clients.
Things are changing.
We will work with you.
If the wait time is long, maybe a snack run or an errand would help.
Although sometimes we need you close for communications.
Try to text ahead and be clear about what you need and we will try to have it ready.
If you think of a way we can do something better, we want to know.
When I say we need to talk, we are willing to listen, but we treat you with compassion and respect and we deserve the same.
MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566.