Dr Ashley Bourgeois shared with attendees how a shocking diagnosis helped her be more empathetic toward her clients
When life-altering moments occur, we tend to remember the last time life felt normal to us. For Ashley Bourgeois, DVM, Dip ACVD, her moment was in April 2022. She was attending a professional soccer game with her family, and then flying out to a dermatology conference to reunite with friends and present lectures in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Prior to leaving for her trip, people started telling Bourgeois and her husband that their son, Carson, was looking a little pale. Because he was acting fine, they originally dismissed it as just being of Scandinavian and German heritage. However, they decided to get him checked out while she was attending the conference.
After the first day, she received the call that her son’s hemoglobin level was 5, when normal should be around 11. She jumped on a plane and went home to be with and care for her son before getting the news that he has acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“So in the blink of an eye, my life went from being normal, to rushing home, to finding out that my child has cancer, and you're just not prepared for something like that. You hear stories, you think of the scary pictures, [but] you just never really think that it can happen to you….We got diagnosed in April [and] May of last year was incredibly difficult. I was just getting back conference speaking, which people who know me know it's one of my biggest passions. I love to teach. I love to travel. [Going home] wasn't a hard decision to make, but it was a hard thing to go through. I knew that I had to be there for him so I didn't work for 6 weeks, just to get the induction phase,” Bourgeois shared with the audience.
During her keynote address on Day 2 of the Fetch dvm360 conference in Kansas City, Missouri, Bourgeois took that moment and all the moments after that with her son to try and be more understanding and compassionate for the circumstances her clients are facing before and after they enter her clinic. Through this mentality and her personal experiences, she has a better understanding that in life things happen, and showing compassion can go a long way.
Like other veterinary professionals, Bourgeois' clients would come in and bring up things that they Googled, or husbands would come into the clinic with a list of things that they needed to ask. Although originally this was something that Bourgeois found a little annoyance in, she now has a deeper understanding of why clients do things like this, primarily the visit to 'Dr Google.'
“What do you think I did when I found out my son had cancer? I Googled [it]... It was 2 AM because I couldn’t sleep,” explained Bourgeois.
“There is much information that's out there. Of course, I used reputable sources... but you better believe I Googled things. I was looking things up and I was trying to find out: What's the success rate? What could happen? What does this look like? Do I freak out about this?” she continued.
Bourgeois explained that clients are doing this because they are searching for a sense of community. They want to find people who are going through what they are, as well as support and success stories. This is a way to understand and better help themselves prepare for what is coming their way.
Clients who are late to appointments or send their significant others in may have no other choice. They might have to be somewhere with a sick family member, a job that they need to make ends meet, or anything of the sort. Showing them empathy by not being angry when they come in can be crucial to getting the pets the care that they need because clients who feel cared for and understood by the veterinary professionals they work with could be more inclined to come back, getting the pet the care that they need.
Bourgeois learned that giving people the benefit of the doubt can go a long way, people who take a step back and consider other variables of a situation can help get a better look at others while also themselves, and that we truly never know what others around us are going through. By showing some empathy and compassion, veterinary professionals can do their part to make their clients feel seen and supported, just like the community Bourgeois has surrounded herself with.
“I must say of everything, what I learned was that the veterinary community is so supportive. I mean, those first couple months, I don't know that we had many days without check-ins, I had so many credits on DoorDash it was crazy. [But} just so much support,” she shared.