Empathy and sympathy: A delicate dance in the exam room


Dr Ryane Englar returns to The Vet Blast Podcast to help veterinary professionals understand and navigate sympathy versus empathy

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On this week's episode of The Vet Blast Podcast, our host Adam Christman, DVM, MBA, joins Ryane E. Englar, DVM, DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice), a 2023 dvm360 Veterinary Hero award recipient, to learn more on the differences between empathy and sympathy, plus how better understanding a client's relationship with their pet can help teams provide comfort.

Below is a partial transcript.

Ryane E. Englar, DVM, DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice): I think that the most important takeaway, and hopefully the one thing that my students walk away from when they have our program here, but also other colleagues, too, is that grief journeys are unique, right? There's no specific timeline. Grief is something that when I was in vet school we didn't talk about, we really didn't even navigate it until we were faced with it in the clinical rotations, and then it was seen as a failure. Death was a failure. We couldn't save that one. And I think we need to reshape the view of how we navigate the topic. We do it every day but how do we actually accept and understand our clients are at different walks of life. Some will grieve 2 days, some will grieve 5 days, some will grieve for 10 days, then they seem fine. Then a year later, something happens. And I think what we all have to realize is that that calendar is unique to them, and to that bond, and that grief can renew.

So it's not just anniversaries of death. But we also have to think what those pets are to people as living links of things. And so, many times we experience this: a patient dies. It's not just the death of that patient; that patient might have been the last living link to a spouse, a partner, a brother, a sibling, someone in the family, a friend and so grief promotes more grief in many ways. And so sometimes, we don't know what to do with the reaction that our client has. We might think that's an overreaction and the reality is, we don't know the depth of what that bond was or what that animal meant. And so instead of putting that wall up—as we were talking about—being okay to sit with that, gain comfort with the discomfort , and say, 'tell me more about that.' And just sit there and listen. Sometimes the stories that will then be shared really help us to understand in that moment, why we're getting the reaction we are.

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