Opening Shots columnist Dr. Ernie Ward is an award-winning veterinarian, impact entrepreneur, book author and media personality. When he’s not with family or pet patients, Dr. Ward can be found contemplating solutions during endurance athletics and meditation and on his weekly podcast, “Veterinary Viewfinder.” Learn more at drernieward.com
If you have a question about practice life, personal well-being, leadership or veterinary careers, email firstname.lastname@example.orgRead Articles Written by Ernie Ward
Q: I have second thoughts after firing a client. I won’t go into the details, but the client unexpectedly left us a one-star review with a lengthy criticism and the words, “I’ll never go back.” When she called for an appointment about a month later, I told the receptionist to inform her to go elsewhere. The client later spoke with our practice manager and threatened to leave negative reviews everywhere. The manager pointed out that the client was a top spender at our practice. Should I reconsider?
A: I’m all for forgiveness, but this situation might be hard to reconcile. Regardless of the details and who’s right or wrong, the client showed no hesitation to punish you publicly. I’d bet my bottom dollar that she would treat you even worse if seen again. See where I’m going?
While the client looks like a goner, there are lessons to learn. First, assess your initial response. Did you offer to speak offline about the complaint? Did you send a written notice of the client needing a new veterinarian? Chances are you could have mitigated or perhaps repaired the relationship by acting sooner and more diplomatically.
What about your asking your receptionist to tell the client to get lost? Could it have been handled better or more professionally? Your manager ultimately got involved, so could you have avoided putting the receptionist in the middle of the dispute?
In addition, did you examine how you or your team potentially contributed to the complaint? I’ve long said, “Complaints can be camouflaged corrections.” Take every negative interaction as an opportunity to improve. Clients behave irrationally sometimes, but you should never miss a chance to grow, no matter how painful.
Finally, money can’t excuse a client’s bad behavior, at least not in my practice. I believe in giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, but once a client escalates a complaint to a threat, I end the relationship. It’s hard to put a price on the emotional toll of a client’s bad behavior. Remove client spending from your firing decisions and focus on whether you can (and should) heal the relationship and how you can learn from the unfortunate conflict.
Q: For the first time in my veterinary career, I’m in a new job and making a generous salary with excellent benefits. The problem is that the non-veterinarian practice manager is a micromanager. She constantly reviews my medical records, questions my SOAPs, and suggests additional diagnostics or treatments. As she scrutinizes my every move, I’m starting to doubt my proficiency as a veterinarian. Unfortunately, my co-workers aren’t supportive. Most have worked here for years and don’t seem interested in getting to know me outside of work. My mental health is declining, just as my income is soaring. Do I stick it out for the money or quit for a lower-paying position?
A: Your situation calls for thorough self-reflection. Sacrificing mental well-being for financial gain is never a wise decision. On the other hand, economic uncertainty can harm well-being, so immediately leaving might not be the best idea, either.
Consider evaluating what you gain and lose in your current job. Begin by listing the cons. For every negative element, ask yourself, “Can I live with this for another year?” Depending on your inventory, you might realize you can handle the negatives until you can find a high-paying job elsewhere. If your checklist feels overwhelming or discouraging, save yourself a lot of pain and move on.
However, don’t forget the positives. You’re making more money than ever. You have fabulous benefits. Can you identify other perks, such as learning new skills, that will benefit you in the future? With each pro on your tally sheet, ask yourself, “Can I find this in another job?” If the answer is “yes,” keep applying for jobs matching your wants and needs. Being patient in your job search could pay off if you identify enough positives.
Meanwhile, I suggest trying to improve things now. Maybe your manager isn’t aware of how she’s coming across. She might be dealing with anxiety or insecurity. Schedule a meeting and share that all the micromanaging makes you uneasy. Express your sincere desire to resolve the situation so that each of you can be more comfortable. That approach isn’t easy, but your manager will never know she’s making your job harder unless you speak up. Even if your boss is unresponsive, you’ll know what to look for in your next job search.
You’re right to seek a supportive work team. I applaud your efforts to connect with the clinic clique. If you still want to pursue a personal relationship with your co-workers, try again. If you’re unsuccessful, understand that you’ll have only superficial interactions with them, and that’s OK. Making peace with those relationships can improve your life in the long run, or at least until you find a better job.
Q: A practicing veterinarian for nearly five years, I don’t know if I can endure one more year. I fell in love with vet med in college and expected to enjoy a long and enjoyable career. Instead, it’s a lot of complaining clients, patient care compromises, endlessly begging my staff for help (or to show up), and dealing with a management interested only in making money. I feel like I’ve worked a week at the end of each shift. I thought I wouldn’t feel so exhausted if I did what I loved. What am I doing wrong?
A: One of the worst bits of advice I hear is, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’ve spent the last 30 years doing what I love. It’s hard work. Being a veterinarian is incredibly challenging and requires a commitment and dedication few other jobs demand. Loving what you do enables you to do the work necessary to succeed.
None of that, however, excuses poor management, harmful clients and unreliable co-workers. It’s a matter of managing your expectations and understanding the profession’s needs. I worry that veterinarians not exposed to the harsher side of veterinary medicine before they don the white coat have unrealistic expectations. Unfortunately, bad clients, money haggling, staff headaches and misguided management are part of our reality. I don’t love those parts of my job, but I still love my job.
I suggest writing down the positives and negatives of your current job. Work on the issues you control, and collaborate with those in charge of the others. Focus on your physical and mental health. Establish and communicate boundaries. Restorative sleep, diet, exercise, creative pursuits and a support network are essential for long-term success. Lagging in any of those necessities can impact your work performance and enjoyment.
I’ve tried to live by the 80-20 rule most times. In this case, I expect about 80% of my professional duties to be fulfilling and enjoyable. As for the remaining 20%, we’ll call them less than ideal, though they still provide growth opportunities. By anticipating (and preparing for) the tough times, I can remain present and bask in the good.
Hang in there. It gets better if you work on it. Doing what you love fuels your ability to do the hard work. See you in 25 years!