Mind Over Miller: R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find out what it means to new associates


Mind Over Miller: R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find out what it means to new associates

Sep 01, 2007

Robert M. Miller
After graduating from veterinary school, I spent a year doing relief work in Arizona. When I reported to my first job—a two-week hitch for a solo small-animal practitioner—the doctor came hurrying out of his home, which was connected to his clinic. He had his wife with him and some suitcases, and he handed me the key.

"It's my first vacation in seven years," he cried as he jumped into his car.

Except for this first job, all of my subsequent employers that year made a point to introduce me to their clientele. The scene often went like this:

  • "Mrs. Finney, this is Dr. Miller, who will be here while I am gone. He just graduated, so be patient with him."
  • "Allen, Dr. Miller. Dr. Miller will be taking care of my practice while I'm at the convention. He just graduated and is looking for some experience."

My second year, I moved to California and worked full-time for a good mixed-animal practice. The doctor had been practicing for 10 years, and I was his first associate. The first day he called me into the exam room and introduced me to an important client, a kennel owner and dog breeder.

"What do you think this is?" he asked me, pointing to a swelling between the dog's toes.

"Looks like an interdigital cyst," I said.

"What do you think caused it?"

"I don't know," I replied. "Maybe a puncture or a foreign body?"

"There's a foxtail in there," he said.

"A foxtail? What's a foxtail?" I asked.

He shared a laugh with the client. "Guess they didn't teach you about foxtail awns in Colorado," he said.

After that, the client refused to see me, even on the practice owner's day off. You see, the practice owner had demonstrated to her that I was an ignorant rookie. He failed to instill respect and confidence.

During my third year out of school, I opened my own practice. Without exception, every associate I hired established a loyal client following within a year. How did I do it? I introduced each doctor to my clientele, showing respect for that young doctor:

  • "This lump is a tumor of some kind. You know, I'd like one of my associates to see this just to get another opinion. Oh, Dr. Jones, would you mind taking a look at this mass?"
  • "Use this ointment in the eye three times daily. I'd like to have you come back Wednesday, so we can check it again. Please make your appointment with Dr. Kind—he's especially interested in eye problems."
  • "Buffy has a ruptured cruciate ligament, which can be repaired surgically. I'll go see if Dr. Peddie is available. He will be doing the surgery, and I want you to meet him."

It is simple to get an established clientele to accept new doctors but not if the senior doctor's ego disallows such tactics. In addition, some doctors don't want to show new doctors any respect because they fear that once new doctors are fully accepted by the clientele, they will open up practices of their own and steal clients.