Achieve your goals in veterinary practice


Long ago, before you even made application to veterinary school, you had a vision; you had a vision of what you wanted to accomplish once you had that license of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in your hand.

Long ago, before you even made application to veterinary school, you had a vision; you had a vision of what you wanted to accomplish once you had that license of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in your hand.

Your envisioned purpose and goals gained from previous life experiences, love of animals and science and a capacious intellect.

Your original goals probably envisioned some sort of golden standard of veterinary medical practice. "Practice" means you apply the broad skill base assimilated over these many years of study to the animal health problems presented to you on a day-to-day basis. Beyond the problem solving, you also are looking for creative ways to communicate wellness and prevention to animal-owning clients. Your knowledge is massive, even before the point that you graduate from veterinary school. After graduation, your medical knowledge and skill base will be a major accomplishment and source of pride.

Staying focused

A first important tip: Be aware of how easy it is to lose sight of how much you do know.

With ever-expanding technology and vast amounts of information to pour into the gray matter, we tend to focus more on what we don't know than what we do.

Because of the emphasis on assimilation of a lot of detail about many areas of animal health during the course of veterinary school, we tend to doubt our own competencies. We become more and more cognizant of what we don't know. It is important to engage in positive self encouragement to maintain confidence about incredible abilities.

During the years, I have assimilated valuable ideas from many different resources and savants far more insightful than I am. The following wisdoms might be as helpful to you as they have been to me in maintaining a purpose and satisfaction in a veterinary medical career.

Keep your vision

If you have not actually written down what you originally hoped to accomplish by attending veterinary school, now is the time to do it.

For many students, the competition of gaining admittance and making it through an extensive four years of challenging study becomes the vision and goal in and of itself. If this has happened to you, be forewarned. You might become disenfranchised within a few months or years after graduation because it feels as if you no longer have a goal. You need to have a long-range plan for your career and define what you are trying to accomplish with your life's efforts.

Hone your people skills

You will graduate with an incredible empirical knowledge base. Now you have to have the common sense as to how to apply it.

Successful application comes through understanding how to work with other people, particularly through effective communication skills.

A good starting point is to know as much about yourself as you can. Understanding your work style, your belief system, how you communicate with others, and your instinctive way of looking at the work environment will all impact your success. The more you can know about yourself, the better. Most of us are very cognizant of our own strengths but not so knowledgeable about our weaknesses. Explore some of the learning systems, courses, and instruments that are available for understanding yourself. Myers Briggs testing, Carlson Learning System's DiSC, and Dimensions of Leadership instruments, are just a few ideas. Plenty of self-help books exist, too.

Develop your self image

Although somewhat intimidating, consider videotaping your presentation style in an exam room. Critique yourself for clothing, makeup, coiffure, diction, eye contact and ability to keep medical jargon and concepts simple. Ask others to critique your skills.

Try to envision someone you have respected as a clinician who has tremendous exam room skills. Try to figure out exactly what that person does that makes him or her so great in working with clients, colleagues and co-workers. Move beyond the medical expertise and look to the characteristics of the individual that makes him/her so effective at providing good animal care.

Don't second-guess a client's needs

The client came to you for a specific reason: your opinion.

Just by the mere fact of establishing an appointment, a basic level of trust has been established. That person understands that he or she is paying for your time and values your opinion. Meet that trust. Give an answer. Offer the best you can possibly do for the animal, and let the client decide without being judgmental about that decision or choice. Learn to be confident in your response to the client.

Exercise skills at not showing hesitation. Be confident in saying, "I don't know, but I will find out." Because clients want your opinion and understand how much data is out there, they understand that additional research might be necessary. Offer to do additional research for a price. Get a second opinion from other doctors in the practice, for a fee. All of these are options to showcase your expertise. The client appreciates that while you know your limitations, you can confidently give specific recommendations as to how best address the pet health problem identified.

Ten steps for exam room success

Many derivations exist on the following theme, variations that have been published elsewhere. In advance, I apologize for not giving due and specific credit to the unknown person who first authored such great guidelines. This is my own version evolved from many years of working with veterinary clients.

1. Introduce yourself. Make sure you wear a nametag or embroider your name on your examination coat. Make sure your examination coat is clean. Studies have shown that clients prefer doctors in white. Keep color preference in mind when deciding how you wish to present yourself as the authority. Because younger doctors can be confused with technicians and other animal healthcare assistants, white provides a better impact than later in life when you have some gray hair to show seniority.

2.Know and use the client's name in greetings. Use his or her name throughout the rest of the exam. Maintain the correct level of respect. Mrs., Mr. or Ms. is totally appropriate in most situations, even though modern American culture has resulted in a lot of first-name familiarity.

3. Talk to the pet or animal and touch the pet in greeting. Use the pet's name. Assure you know the pet's gender and use the correct pronoun. "He" or "she" is always preferable to "it."

4. Do something. Use a digital or aural thermometer, otoscope, stethoscope, while providing a brief explanation of findings. Use the opportunity to educate.

5. Ask something. Find out what the client has perceived to be abnormal or different about the pet. Leave questions open-ended rather than leading the client into an answer.

6. Say something. Explain your findings as you examine the pet. "The lymph nodes are normal ..., the abdomen palpates normally ..., the skin is slightly inflamed in her groin ...," etc.

7. Show something. Show the client what you have found. Show the client the dried tapeworm segments around the rectal area. Show them examples of heartworms. Show them parasite eggs and ear mites through the microscope. The new digital technology readily documents case progression so you can present comparisons of before and after results of treatment and procedures, such as dental prophylaxis.

8. Give something. The client should never leave without a piece of tangible information that pertains to his or her pet's situation. Exam room report cards summarizing the physical examination findings are a very useful educational piece that can be shared by the client at home with other family members.

9. Listen! Concentrate on hearing what the client says. Learning to hear with comprehension is a real art. Don't anticipate or interrupt except to ask pertinent questions. Maintain good eye contact. Valuable information is always there if you can take the time to hear it.

Remember: listening = bedside manner.

10. Compliment. End on a positive note. No matter how nasty the pet or grumpy the client, find something to compliment. Saying, "Ginger has the most expressive eyes!" might not be that far from the truth even if those eyes were expressing extreme antagonism toward you as the DVM!

Finally, my last word of advice is something that clicked many years ago after a very long day of clinics. It suddenly occurred to me that no matter how tired I was, if the focus could be maintained on the pet as being my own favorite animal ever, then I could find the energy and communication skills to tell the clients everything they needed to know to make decisions.

To this day, I recommend that doctors of all ages try to remember their favorite, closest animal companions. Pretend that your current patient is that favored pet. This one little tip will help you stay focused on making the best-possible recommendations and fulfilling the vision that inspired you to make application to veterinary school in the first place.

Dr. Heinke is owner of Marsha L. Heinke, CPA, Inc. and can be reached at (440) 926-3800 or via e-mail at

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