Advice for a bad day

Advice for a bad day

You’re a good person. Your team members are good people. Clients ready to pick a fight don’t have to bring down your whole veterinary practice’s mood. Get some perspective, laugh about it, and get through it.
Apr 20, 2016

If your day has reached "Children's Picture Book" levels of insanity, it's time for some perspective. And some laughs. STAT. (Illustration Dean Scott, DVM)So, we had a bad day recently. And when I say, "we," I mean everyone in the clinic had some negative interaction with a client. There was one client who managed—and, you know, you have to give them props for the high-level, multi-tasking of anti-social skills they displayed—to upset everyone at some point during a visit. Even our clinic cats were peeved. What was interesting, however, were some thoughts that came out of this bad day that I thought were worthwhile to share.

We are good people

First off, when criticism rains down on us in the veterinary field like ash from Mt. St. Helen's, it's important to remind ourselves that we are good people. And that we have surrounded ourselves with good people, and we tell our staff we know they are good people. This is important because there are times clients insist we aren't good people. While I'll defend myself, I don't feel the need to convince these clients I'm a good person. I already know that. A lot of things get unfairly laid in our laps, and good luck trying to get clients, who aren't otherwise inclined, to see us as well-intentioned people. Yes, they're going to go off and spew their negative viewpoint here, there and yonder. So what? I know I'm a good person and I know my staff are good people and that is all that matters at the end of the day.

5 is the magic number

Which brings me to my second point. No matter how bad a day is, it will end. On our particular bad day, I kept telling my staff, "Hey, look, no matter what, we are going to be done at 5 o’clock. Five. The magic number is fiiiiiiiiive."

It's easy to get caught up in the tidal wave of angst after dealing with a clenched-sphincter of a human being. I think sometimes that's what they want and that's why they behave the way they do. However, if we let it to continue to affect us, they have won. And, while I'm not 100 percent good at this, I will tell you that it is a relief to take a breath and remind myself that these kinds of days are finite.

2 percent of client complaints are legitimate

Also, consider the source. There seems to be an unsettling outlook that all clients are created equal, that all complaints are legitimate and valid, and that we must “fix” something whenever these things come up. That sounds to my ears like we’re in an abusive relationship with clients. In my career, I would say that only about 2 percent of client complaints are legitimate. That doesn't mean to say I'm perfect 98 percent of the time—it means we deal with a whole lot of complaints. That's because that's what people do. Just because a client is angry doesn't mean they're right.

I still always look at everything that gets presented to me first as if there was something I could have done differently or something I could do differently in the future. But a lot of times people are complaining at the level of what I call the "You put cheese on my burger when I told you not to!" They’re offended by the most mundane and simple of things. They don’t allow for any human error and will respond, on a 1 to 10 scale, at an 11 for anything. I like these people because they make it very clear up-front that they are going to be a continuing problem. It makes it easier for me to dismiss their insults and not take them to heart.

The job's hard—don't make it harder

Our job is difficult, and I recognize that. And while it is work, I strive to have as much fun as possible, for both myself and my staff, in a work setting. That doesn't mean we cut-up all the time or can't be serious. But I think we need to take moments and recognize the absurdities that arise in life and find humor in them.

For me, regardless of how bad a day may be, I can usually find some way to make it into a cartoon, share it with others and, hopefully, give them something to recognize, chuckle at and realize that we're all dealing with the same things.

Editor's note: Want to read about other veterinary professionals' coping mechanisms? Check out our new data here.

A graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Dean Scott has enjoyed 35 years in the veterinary profession, including five years with the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. He now practices small animal medicine at Animal Clinic of Brandon in Brandon, Florida.