Don't judge me-or your clients


What you see is not always what you get. So don't assume an overweight person is unhealthy-or a ratty-looking client doesn't want the best for his pet.

I grew up as a chunky girl. As you probably know, our society is one in which chunky is most definitely not on the top of people's what-I-want-to-be list.

Because of my weight, people thought they knew me by just looking at me. That's why one of my favorite adages is "don't judge a book by its cover." The idea is that even though the cover of the book may be old, torn, or discolored, the book underneath might be the best story you've ever read. This philosophy applies to veterinary medicine. Let me explain by sharing a couple stories about myself.

Woeful workout

I could keep my weight down a bit by running every day, but even with that exercise, I was still heavy. So I decided to join a gym where I could get a workout more complete than just running. My new gym membership included a session with a trainer on my first visit. I was so excited for the opportunity to train with someone who could show me how to achieve the best workout for my body type.

Well, that's what I thought, anyway. Instead of encouraging me, the trainer was negative and continually commented on my weight. She assumed I didn't exercise at all (she never even asked me), and kept telling me that I had to stop eating the doughnuts (again, never asking me what I did eat). I wanted to slink into a hole by the end of the session. She sure judged me by my cover. And she lost business for her gym, because I never wanted to show my face there again.

Dreadful doctor

This same type of situation emerged when I injured my back years ago while picking up a Labrador retriever at work. (Yes, I was still a chunky monkey at that time.) The first orthopedic doctor I saw examined me briefly and told me my back pain was due to my weight problem.

I didn't retort like I should have. I just sat there with my mouth open wondering if I'd heard him correctly. I thought, "Yes, I'm overweight, but I run every morning. Feel my biceps. I'm strong. I picked up a big dog and my back went pop. That's why I have back pain." But I said nothing.

That doctor didn't order radiographs or an MRI. He just sent me on my way. I left with my head hanging and my mouth still hanging open. But don't worry about me. I went to another doctor who was wonderful. I had indeed popped a disc, and my back is fine now.

Neither of these professionals treated me with respect, kindness, or care. I share these stories to illustrate the importance of treating your veterinary clients without prejudice. Taking the time to see each of them for who they really are will benefit both your clients and your practice. Part of this is treating each pet owner with the same respect and kindness you'd expect.

Prejudice in practice

A client might come in smelling like sardines, wearing a dirty shirt and ripped shoes. But that doesn't mean he won't want the best medicine for his dog. So offer it to him, along with your respect.

After all, maybe he looks that way because he's dealing with a power outage and he couldn't shower. Maybe he's been camping. Or maybe he just doesn't believe in personal hygiene. Whatever the reason for his appearance, it doesn't matter. He still deserves your best treatment.

I've worked with many staff members throughout my years in this industry who've entered the profession pre-judging clients. They think the lady in the Mercedes won't argue about her bill, and they assume the sardine-smelling guy won't be able to afford anything. I always love the look on the newer employee's face when the sardine guy agrees to all recommended medical procedures without question.

The bottom line: Try not to pre-judge clients. Treat everyone with respect and kindness, and you'll be on the road to being the best veterinary employee—and person—you can be.

Kristine Suzsczynski is the hospital manager at Portland Veterinary Specialists in Portland, Maine.

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