Editors' Note: Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald's thoughts on clinical practice are featured in his weekly blog, Practice Makes Perfect, found at dvm360.com  (click on the Medicine section to read all his blogs and to leave your comments). We've selected these two blogs to give you a taste of what is available online.
GET A HOBBY May 19, 2008
Veterinary medicine is a harsh mistress. The rewards she grants are spectacular, but her price is high. We must stay current and must continue to grow, but it seems that we learn best from our mistakes. It is a new type of monastic life. We must constantly study, strive to absorb new facts, acquire new skills, and rededicate ourselves to our oath. Still, the gifts we receive are astounding, and the direction in which veterinary medicine may take our lives is fantastic. Last November, I was lucky enough to go with a group from the Denver Zoo to see the polar bears of Churchill, Manitoba. This February, I went with a group from the North American Veterinary Conference to observe the wildlife of Antarctica. I have been like Forrest Gump, in the right place at the right time.
It is a taxing life, but veterinarians that I have known to be the most successful all have a secret. They have a hobby that has nothing to do with veterinary medicine. They fish, play tennis, or play music. Some take photographs. Others paint. While they do their thing, no one is sick, no one is scared, no one is crying. It is their time, purely selfish and indulgent. It is time to recharge their batteries, rest, and regroup. I am older than a lot of you, younger than some others, but I can tell you this: Get a hobby. You'll be better for it (and so will your clients, patients, coworkers, and family). Work hard as always, yes, but breathe and live. Don't let them grind you down.
STAND BY YOUR STAFF July 28, 2008
The other day, a client arrived one hour before his scheduled appointment. When he was told that his doctor was finishing a procedure, the client became agitated and belligerent. Loud and unreasonable, he berated our front desk staff and was insulting and rude to them. He was so ugly to them that one of the young women was almost to the point of tears.
Who acts like this? How has this unacceptable behavior come to be the norm for this customer? Certainly, the customer is always right, but what if the customer is a bully or a drunk? What if the customer is emotionally unstable? Witnessing this exchange, I quickly asked the man into an exam room. Noticing on the jacket folder of his record where he worked, I complimented him for his company's reputation. I told him that I had heard only wonderful things about him and said that he must be having a particularly bad day. I told him that I liked and respected my co-workers and thanked him for now allowing me to work with them upset for the rest of the day. I told him that I would be at his place at 1 o'clock and that I would do my best to cause a scene and make his employees cry. I told him we would see him and his animal as quickly as we could and reminded him that he did show up 60 minutes early. The man left the room, apologized to the front desk personnel, and was a model citizen after that. I think that by speaking softly, calmly, and reasonably, we often can reach the angry customer.
Stand up for your staff. The front desk staff has the hardest job in the hospital. Always in the public eye, they are the first and last team members seen by the client. Support them, protect them, and nurture them. Compliment them when you see them doing something that you like. Nothing takes the wind out of their sails faster than when they are doing what you have instructed them to do and you take the customer's side, undercutting their position. There is a fine line here, but if they are right, support them in the face of the bully or the ugly-acting client. It is clear to me that the most successful hospitals have competent, talented staff members who are confident in the fact that their doctors respect, protect, support, and appreciate them. Every day, thank someone on your staff for the job they do. Watch the effect it has.
Kevin Fitzgerald, PhD, DVM, DABVP, practices at VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver. He has been featured on Animal Planet's Emergency Vets and E-Vet Interns and is an adjunct professor at the University of Denver.