Think twice before criticizing a colleague

Think twice before criticizing a colleague

Badmouthing our colleagues in front of clients paints a bad picture.
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Jun 01, 2009

Recently, while surfing the Internet, I came across an unfavorable review of a colleague. I know this person is an excellent veterinarian, so I was surprised at what I read. What concerned me most was the fact that the critic's accusations stemmed from another practitioner's inappropriate comments.

As veterinarians, we're a group of highly educated, competent, well-respected professionals. Our teams, clients, and communities look to us to be medical providers, advisors, and role models. So we shouldn't badmouth one another. No one's perfect. If you think you are, check with some veterinarians in your area. Chances are they've treated your surgical complication, changed a medication you prescribed, or pinned a diagnosis that eluded you.

LET'S THINK BEFORE WE SPEAK

Occasionally, a colleague may appear to be inept. But perhaps she's a recent graduate whose mentor skipped town. Or maybe a client failed to present an accurate history, refused diagnostic testing, or didn't follow instructions.

In 15 years of practice, I've seen ureters ligated and urethras transected during sterilizations, demodectic mange treated repeatedly with steroids, patients that died after ovariohysterectomy because of hemorrhage, iatrogenic tracheal ruptures, heating pad burns, and sponges left in abdomens. It's tempting to criticize those veterinarians. But clients can misconstrue words as innocent as "I'm surprised this wasn't diagnosed" into "Dr. Right said my first veterinarian is incompetent."

Criticism can lower our clients' and team members' perception of us and negatively affect their attitudes. Furthermore, considering our society's litigious tendencies, one slight accusation can spur a lawsuit, and before we know it we're being asked to give a deposition or testify in court.

THE RIGHT WAY TO RESPOND

If a client presents a pet with a problem that's been misdiagnosed or treated improperly, what's the right response? Review past records and note relevant history, lab findings, treatments, and the patient's response. Then proceed as normal: Conduct a thorough assessment, perform necessary diagnostic tests, and make the best recommendations. Don't worry if a diagnosis or therapeutic plan contradicts that of a previous veterinarian. If a client questions how an osteosarcoma was misdiagnosed as a sprain, explain, "I see how that could happen. Both conditions can have similar presentations and clinical signs."

We shouldn't lie to cover other doctors' inadequacies. But we don't need to point out their mistakes. If a client questions the appropriateness of a previous veterinarian's actions, we should simply reiterate our findings and recommendations. We can politely state that we don't know all the details of the previous visit and decline to speculate about his or her decisions.

DON'T PLAY THE BLAME GAME

The best course of action is to make a phone call to the other veterinarian. We can review the case history with the doctor and discuss our findings and planned course of action. Keep the conversation professional. Most of our colleagues will appreciate this kind of call. Let's remember the Golden Rule and treat other practitioners as we would like them to treat us—with courtesy, understanding, dignity, and respect.

Dr. Melody Heath is an associate at Viewmont Animal Hospital in Hickory, N.C. Send questions or comments to
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