Have you ever fallen madly in love with a vet (professionally, of course) only to find that he’s up and gone to greener pastures? Finally you find out where he’s gone…six months later…after Fluffy’s cancer has finally claimed her life.

This is a big deal for a lot of clients. And a really big deal for most vets, whether we’re the one staying or going. Years past this wasn’t such an issue. Vets didn’t get pregnant, didn’t get fired and didn’t work for anyone else but themselves. Times have changed.

Whether a hospital undergoes a sea change in ownership or loses one of its key players, things get stressful. In the past, I’ve always been the one leaving. I’ve left for all of the reasons listed above. That is, I’ve left for childbirthing responsibilities (the day before the baby was born), I’ve also been fired (once) and I’ve left for scheduling, schooling and moving related issues.

Whatever the cause, the hospital gets stressed. What are they to tell their clients? It’s one thing when the vet’s belly looms larger and larger in anticipation of her inevitable departure. It’s quite another when things go bad between vets and one is forced out or leaves of his own accord. How do you explain that?

You can’t exactly say, “You may not have noticed but Dr. X was a serious diva and all the techs felt she was a poor clinician.”

You also can’t say, “Dr. X wanted a raise after five years on the job and that’s something we were unprepared to provide him.”

No, of course not. But what do you tell clients about where their beloved doctor has gone? Do you fess up and say he moved down the street and watch all your best clients go scampering out the door in search of her new digs? Or do you keep the information to yourself, going as far as to threaten receptionists with unemployment should they offer profit-damaging information on the vet’s whereabouts to your paying clients?

Although neither extreme reflects the norm, you might find it shocking to know that most hospitals choose to keep a lid on the new location of past associates. While they may understandably obfuscate to protect their business, a few will go so far as to offer outright lies. These are usually engineered to discourage or otherwise thwart your efforts to find your vet of choice at her new place of employment.

One hospital I worked at told my clients I decided to take some time off to take care of my child (a bald lie, though I did end up spending more time with my son as a result of getting canned). Another told them I was working very far away when indeed I was just up the street. More common (and less ethically challenged) is the tried-and-true, off-white lie: “We don’t know.”

One of our area’s best hospitals has recently undergone a painful change of staff. Its longtime stewards (a well-respected trio of vets) had worked it diligently for ten years in lieu of its absentee owner. The trio finally moved on to their own greener pastures when they opened a small hospital several miles away. But when you call their old place, the staff is trained to say (almost mechanically), “Check the Yellow Pages.”

Needless to say, the Yellow Pages is not updated with their new address. So the official answer to the average client is not likely to go over so well. By law, the trio can’t solicit their clients from the old hospital by telling them where they’ve gone. So everyone’s got their hands tied—except the ex-employer. Legally, he can say anything he wants as long as he doesn’t lie.

Were I this practice owner, I would hate to have my clients suffer the distress of knowing their most trusted adviser in their pets’ healthcare is now beyond their reach. While I’d be loath to see my good clients walk out the door in their wake, I’d have to assume my clients are smart enough to know if they’re being intentionally kept in the dark—by me.

So to my mind, there’s only one solution to the dilemma: tell clients the truth. Tell them, “Dr. X went to Y hospital. However, we value the relationship we have with your pet and we certainly hope you’ll stay with us.” 

In case you’re wondering how that old, well-respected hospital will stay in business, keep in mind…there’s always a risk when you choose to run a hospital and never set foot in it. The place has been a gold mine for the past ten-plus years. If its owner chose not to sell it to his trio of associates (presumably the case) then that’s how the cookie crumbles…

Most hospitals make associates sign non-compete agreements stipulating a certain distance in which they may not practice for a certain length of time after leaving a hospital. Usually it’s a couple of miles for a couple of years. This protects the hospital from having an ex-associate set up shop next door (that's considered very rude and unprofessional but I’ve seen vets do this).

But if clients are so enamored of their vet that they’re willing to travel a ways for the vet they prefer—I don’t think a hospital’s administration should stand in their way. Especially when you consider that the patients are ultimately the ones that suffer most.