What Will Make You Happy?
Treating the animal in front of us may be our job, but it is the client who we often answer to. Positive patient outcomes and client satisfaction may not be as interconnected as we'd like.
The success of our profession in meeting the needs and desires of our clients is often inextricably linked with our ability to optimize clinical outcomes. A successful outcome for a beloved pet is a happy outcome—or at least that is the perception. The more we aim for this high bar, it seems the more the bar gets raised. The financial cost of the success then gets measured and then the time it takes to get the success gets measured and then the convenience of what’s necessary to achieve success gets measured and so on. But what exactly do clients need, and what do they want from us? The bar that is client expectation is constantly being raised and we are expected to reach it as we strive each day in our jobs for animal welfare, professional satisfaction, appropriate compensation for our efforts, well-adjusted mental health, and an enjoyable workplace.
It is well accepted that a veterinarian’s ability to attend to their clients’ needs and expectations is integral to success in clinical practice. To identify these needs and expectations, a group in the U.K. and Australia performed a literature review of non-technical professional competencies in veterinarians, interviewed veterinary clients, and surveyed veterinarians.1 Six key categories of capabilities were identified as important to clients: commitment to animal welfare, commitment to quality and the profession, decision-making and problem-solving, professionalism, communication skills, and client relationships. In another study investigating non-technical competencies important to the success of graduate veterinarians, communication skills, empathy, relationship-centered care, business skills, awareness of limitations, critical thinking, and resilience were all on the resultant list.2 These all seem to be in line with what clients find important, with many clients prioritizing commitment to animal welfare over all other skills.
— Albert Camus
However, one of the key themes that emerged from the client survey was concern about veterinarians being motivated by money! As irritating as this is to hear, we have unfortunately heard it more and more recently from all manner of sources. No matter what non-technical skills we have, we are fighting a losing battle to please our clients if this is the prevalent mindset. Somehow we are not promoting our profession in the way it deserves, which in part is leading to a lack of respect for what it takes and costs to be the person committed to animal welfare. Appropriate charging is obviously critical for sustainable and high-quality patient care and client support, and so our professional organizations need to focus on educating clients appropriately about the costs of veterinary care.
There is a potential dissonance between what clients report they want and what they actually want. We are unfortunately not always going to be able to deduce what a client holds as a personal bias when judging our success, and so we should be comfortable defending ourselves as a means of educating clients on appropriate costs. This, however, could lead to ever-diminishing returns in the veterinarian-client relationship. So maybe until our profession better educates clients on the cost of what they actually want, we should focus on what it is that makes us happy—or we won’t stay long enough in this profession to care.
1Hughes K, Rhind SM, Mossop L, et al. ‘Care about my animal, know your stuff and take me seriously’: United Kingdom and Australian clients’ views on the capabilities most important in their veterinarians. Vet Rec 2018;183(17):534.
2Cake MA, Bell MA, Williams JC, et al. Which professional (non-technical) competencies are most important to the success of graduate veterinarians? A Best Evidence Medical Education (BEME) systematic review: BEME Guide No. 38. Med Teach 2016;38(6):550-63.