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I judge veterinary clients-and that's OK
I just dont let clients' socioeconomic status influence my first and best recommendations.
In my paranoid mind, I see it everywhere. Magazines. Facebook. Websites. YouTube. They all echo the same exhortation from the profession: “Don't judge clients!” It's so common that I'm starting to think it's directed specifically at me.
Well, the truth is that I do judge clients.
When the client says he's not going to do anything about an operable mass that's very concerning because, "After all, Doc, he's just a dog and frankly he's not worth it," I'm judging that client.
When a client brings up euthanasia because her cat has been peeing in the house and has a curable urinary tract infection, I'm judging that client.
When a client talks about an extravagant vacation and then says he can't afford a relatively inexpensive treatment, I'm silently judging.
However, I have another client you might think is a homeless alcoholic if you see him. His dog has multiple health problems. Yet he does everything I recommend and does an admirable job of compliance. I also judge him but in a favorable way.
Photo source: Getty Images
I'm not a saint. I pass judgment on others. And, if we're being honest, so does everyone. I think that people who warn against judging pet-owning clients are really warning us not to let your opinion of a client's socioeconomic status-or perceived status-influence your recommendations or care of their pet. Just make your best recommendation and go from there.
Although some situations call for only one option, I think we can sometimes be obstinate and insist on only the best recommendation. We shouldn't.
I've seen too many pets doomed to euthanasia because the client believes there aren't alternatives to the best option. I often offer alternatives for various reasons, and that's fine. However, clients always get my best recommendation initially.
...Lest you be judged
Here's the funny thing: Clients judge us all the time. And I'm often misjudged. This is evident in the differences between the two places where I work. One is a clinic I partly own. The other is a military veterinary clinic where I'm just an hourly employee. I can tell that clients see me as more honest at the second place, because pet owners don't view me as "in it for the money” as far as recommendations go.
I want to tell them, “Well, I actually am in it for the money. If they didn't pay me, I wouldn't be here.” At my own clinic, however, clients regard my recommendations with suspicion and ask if they're "really necessary" or if I made them just so I can "build that new wing" and name it after a client. Regardless of where I am, I make the same recommendations.
I've found that people who don't want to care for their pet span the spectrum of wealth. I've had people scrimp, scrape and borrow to get care of their pet. I've had people (some wealthier than I ever expect to be) reject the simplest of diagnostics due to expense. They say it's due to money, but I believe it's lack of caring. Yes, I judged them.
I also judged those people who genuinely cared for their pet and tried to do right within their limited means. Those people I try to help out, and I do more for them from a financial standpoint because of that positive judgment.
The people who lament the tragedy of their lives don't get much from me because I recognize that they're playing the sympathy card for a discount. I find that the people who have true need don't pull that gambit.
The Golden Rule
So, yes, we as veterinary professionals judge people. We all judge. And I know sometimes when I'm making a recommendation that the client likely won't be able to afford it. I still offer it. Sometimes, I'm pleasantly surprised.
Here's a promise: I'll stop judging clients when they stop judging me.
A graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Dean Scott has enjoyed 35 years in the veterinary profession, including five years with the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. He now practices small animal medicine at Animal Clinic of Brandon in Brandon, Florida.