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The veterinarian stuck on a soapbox

Article

The veterinary clinic isnt immune to election-year friction. But what happens when team members start to feel intimidated by one belligerent doctors expression of his political views?

We're totally convinced now! Photo: Shutterstock/ArtFamilyBy all accounts 2016 was a unique year in the world of politics. Very few people didn't have opinions about one of the most dynamic presidential elections of our time. And Dr. Silas Hobbs was one of them.

Dr. Hobbs is a passionate veterinarian. He's bright, committed, persistent and uncompromising. For 12 years, he's worked at Sunrise veterinary hospital, a six-veterinarian, 37-employee facility owned by Dr. Jim Bass.

Dr. Hobbs was vigorously supportive of one of the candidates and highly derogatory toward the other. At first, he vehemently expressed his opinions to coworkers during breaks and downtime. That progressed to discussions during surgical procedures and treatment-room functions.

Some team members told supervisors they felt uncomfortable when Dr. Hobbs questioned them about their political choices. In most cases, they were his subordinates and felt intimidated.

The confrontation

When these types of situations arise, Dr. Bass, the sole owner, takes responsibility. He prides his hospital on its positive work environment and believes it's his obligation to manage conflict resolution in his group of highly skilled team members.

Dr. Bass' first step was to schedule a meeting with Dr. Hobbs. He told Dr. Hobbs that although he was a valued member of the team, his continual fervent discussions of the presidential election had violated some workplace directives. Dr. Bass told Dr. Hobbs that his behavior led to the intimidation of several subordinate staff members.

Dr. Hobbs was incensed. He replied that the accusation was ridiculous and furthermore, it was his civic duty to discuss the workings of the electoral process with his coworkers. Denying him this opportunity was tantamount to a violation of his freedom of speech.

Dr. Bass let him finish. He told Dr. Hobbs that he understood how strongly he felt, but regardless, Dr. Hobbs had to follow the hospital's code of conduct. After all, he told Dr. Hobbs, he was an “at-will” employee.

Dr. Hobbs took a moment, silently fuming. He believed the decision was shortsighted, but he valued his job. Eventually, he agreed to follow Dr. Bass' order.

Should Dr. Bass have let this issue blow over with the conclusion of the election, or was he correct to respond to staff complaints?

Dr. Rosenberg's response:

The veterinary workplace is dynamic-and can even be volatile. Stress is an inevitable part of any veterinary practice. An annoying or opinionated coworkers are a fact of life. The true challenge for any owner or manager is the ability to discriminate between the ebb and flow of day-to-day stressors and behavior that begins to impact the ability of staff members to perform their duties. Dr. Bass felt that he had to shut down escalating unprofessional behavior by one of his doctors.

He used a time-honored stroke/slap technique. He told his staff member how valuable he was. He then laid out his objectionable behavior and the possible consequences of not correcting this behavior. The final decision was then left to the employee. In the end, Dr. Bass and Dr. Hobbs both did the right thing. They certainly get my vote! 

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. Although many of his scenarios in "The Dilemma" are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.

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