WWVD? Answering complicated personal questions in veterinary medicine
Here’s one of the best questions I get during the routine course of my working life: "What would you do if she were your pet?" Much as I appreciate the question, answering it honestly is always a tough call.
That’s because what I would do for my own pets is based on a very personal set of values you may not hold dear. It’s also –– let’s be honest –– because what I pay for veterinary services is not the same as what you would pay. And finally, because it’s extremely difficult to be asked to stand in my clients’ personal shoes.
In other words, offering my opinion might lead you astray from what’s right for you. And I would never want to do that … especially when it concerns life and death decisions like the ones that typically lead up to this line of questioning.
Nonetheless, I recognize that it’s a sign of trust and respect when they bring these über-direct queries to me. And while I don’t mind answering, I do so very guardedly, making sure that the client understands why my ultimate decision might be different than theirs –– and why it may even differ from my professional recommendation.
Yes, I know my clients are paying me for my professional opinion. Yes, I know they rely on me to be honest. Yes, some of them even expect my professional opinion to be largely informed by my personal point of view.
But that’s not the case with most veterinarians. That’s not how we were trained to practice. In fact, it’s considered unethical to offer up our what-would-we-do’s without a client’s permission. But it’s never wrong for YOU to ask for a more personal slant.
So next time you’re in the unenviable position of needing to know how someone you trust feels about your predicament just remember: ask nicely, acknowledge that you’re putting them in a potentially uncomfortable position, and then fire away. Not every veterinarian will want to answer, but most of us will do our best to help you see it from a veterinary caregiver’s point of view.
Dr. Patty Khuly