4 ways to provide culturally competent veterinary care

Can you communicate with all of the potential veterinary clients in your community? Attract more business by bridging the communication gap and broaden your horizons.
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Feb 01, 2012


Bob Levoy
What exactly does it mean to be culturally competent? Bob Redlo, director of national workforce planning and development for Kaiser Permanente, says it involves understanding the culture and beliefs of the clients you serve. It means understanding their language and communicating in that language—even if you have to speak through an interpreter.

If you can't communicate with the non-English speakers in your community, your practice is at a serious disadvantage—especially if other practices have multilingual personnel. Here are four ways to bridge this communication gap.

1. Speak their language. Hire associate veterinarians and team members who are fluent in the language of target populations in your community. Staff members at Dr. Neil Gajjar's clinic in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, speak a total of five different languages. "Speaking the same language as clients automatically makes them feel more at home," Dr. Gajjar says.

2. Listen and learn. If you're near a college or university, hire an exchange student to work part-time at your practice as an interpreter.

3. Be aware of cultural differences. "We ask employees from the appropriate backgrounds to teach one another what we need to be aware of culturally," says Joseph Healy, chief operating officer for Beth Abraham's Comprehensive Care Program in the New York City area. "There are many things to take into consideration when working with people from different backgrounds," Healy says. Here are a few things to think about when welcoming a new client.

> Should you shake hands or nod your head as a greeting?

> What questions can you ask in front of other family members?

> Is it appropriate to make eye contact?

> How close should you stand to the client?

> How loud should you talk? (Some languages are louder than others.)

4. Do your research. Contact the language department of a local community college or university to find someone who is familiar with the culture, behavior, and beliefs of the ethnic groups you serve. You could even invite this teacher to present an educational seminar at your next team meeting.

A recent U.S. Census Bureau report indicates that America's population is becoming increasingly diverse. Get ahead of the curve by making your veterinary practice culturally competent.

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Bob Levoy is the author of seven books, including 101 Secrets of a High Performance Veterinary Practice and 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices.