The dilemma: Handling a former veterinary associate's dirty moves


Clashes between veterinary colleagues are part of human nature-but when do they cross the line?

Dr. Hodges has been practicing small animal medicine in his community for 18 years. He has always enjoyed being a solo practitioner, but a few years ago things started to get busier, and he was getting older. It was time for some assistance, so he hired Dr. Gilbert to be his first associate.

Dr. Gilbert was three years out of veterinary school and had a strong commitment to pets and the profession. But 10 months into the relationship, the two veterinarians found themselves at odds about everything from compensation to diagnosis and treatment protocols. Dr. Gilbert finally had enough of what he considered to be an abusive environment, and he abruptly left the practice. Dr. Hodges returned to his solo practice having "learned his lesson."

During the next several months Dr. Hodges received an exceptionally high number of record transfer requests from Dr. Gilbert, who was now practicing in the next town. Dr. Hodges began to suspect that Dr. Gilbert had taken client record information with him when he left the practice. In addition, several clients called him to say that Dr. Gilbert was telling them that he, Dr. Hodges, had made diagnostic errors that were not in their pets' best interest. These clients were not happy.

Dr. Hodges thought his former associate was acting unprofessionally. He proceeded to file a complaint against Dr. Gilbert with the state board of veterinary medicine. His claim stated that his former associate was engaging in unprofessional behavior. Dr. Hodges thought Dr. Gilbert should be sanctioned and forced to stop this unprofessional activity. The board contacted both veterinarians and asked them to elaborate on the accusations. The state board eventually determined that this was an acrimonious relationship but that Dr. Gilbert's behavior did not rise to the level of unprofessional conduct. The case was closed and the board did not issue any sanctions.

Confrontational situations often develop between fellow professionals within the same community. Do you think Dr. Hodges' use of the state regulatory agency was the proper option for what he thought was a colleague's unprofessional behavior?

Rosenberg's response

Dr. Gilbert's perceived unprofessional client poaching and derogatory opinions probably produced more anger than actual damage for Dr. Hodges, and the state board of examiners was not the proper venue in which to air these grievances. Unprofessional behavior usually involves consumer fraud, false advertising and immoral behavior. Colleague grievances can be handled effectively in other ways.

These two veterinarians should have taken a deep breath, scheduled a meeting and reached some type of truce. In addition, many state veterinary associations have ethics and grievance committees to assist their members. If all else fails, the civil courts exist to determine if laws have been broken or monetary damages are in order.

Challenging situations require the veterinarian to act in a professional manner. To this end, the veterinarian must be honest and act in the best interest of his client, show compassion to pets and respect the veterinary profession above all else.

Get in touch

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Dr. Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, N.J. He is a member of the New Jersey Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.

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