How to say no to your vet: Rejecting claims of vet-imposed guilt
Yesterday was a tough day for this vet, news-wise. It was my day off and I’d been working on getting my ducks in a row for next week’s Thanksgiving festivities. Part of that necessarily includes prepping my future posts so that my holiday in New York isn’t unnecessarily fraught with last-minute Internet nightmares. This invariably includes scouring the news, interesting emails and other tidbits that come my way.
That’s how I found this infuriating article from Slate.com (reprinted in part in the Dallas Morning News on November 4th). The writer, one Emily Yoffe, scolds veterinarians for our willingness to impose our aggressive care tactics on pets who don’t need them and/or on pet owners who’d rather go without. Her title? "But, Doc, the dog's already dead. How to say no to your vet."
Floored. Insulted. Disgusted. Offended. There aren’t enough appropriate adjectives to describe my reaction to the news this writer brings us. She cites examples of an Akita owner too shy to decline CPR on his dog’s behalf, unwanted tests foisted on our clients via unethical guilt tactics, and, most outrageously, comparing her own daughter’s congenital heart murmur (for which she’s happy to forgo evaluation at her pediatrician’s behest) with our over-the-top cardiology recommendations.
Too bad she didn’t call me first. I could have clued her in to brain surgery, allergy vaccine protocols and root canals—all of which I’ve seen clients guilted into this week.
Exasperatingly, this person is a pet writer. In fact, she’s written a book on how she became a reluctant pet lover—will the ironies never cease! Note to self: back-shelf that publisher’s freebie. Clearly she has far to go when it comes to understanding the mentality of most pet lovers I know—not to mention the average vet’s position on the subject of client compliance and choice.
Sure, she makes an interesting point as to the psyche of pet owners and how easy it can be to feel cowed by the likes of any professional—especially one who wields a brand of specialized knowledge liable to intimidate the average person. Are there vets who take advantage of their clients’ guilt? Sure, ruthless, manipulative people abound in every profession. Ms. Yoffe’s approach to this issue, however, amounts to a wholesale condemnation of the modern veterinary service industry.
How would she have us offer our services? “I don’t want to make you feel guilty, but there’s this great treatment…”
Vets are trained to offer choices, a list that admittedly gets longer every year—so much so that clients often stop me dead in my tracks to ask: “What’s the best, Doc?” or “What’s the least expensive?” My clients aren’t shy on either front. When they express frustration at their inability to pay for the best (often) I support their choice by referencing “family responsibilities we all have.” Then I conclude with a hearty, “I respect your choice.”
So much for the Machiavellian vet in me.
In her effort to vent her obvious frustration, Ms. Yoffe’s not just wielding a wide brush, she’s brandishing the PowerPainter with wild abandon. Her language suggests that just because we vets have so much to offer, we’re invariably putting our clients in a bad spot. Her view isn’t just grievously myopic, it’s an unfair indictment of the complex and varied multi-expectation environment we have to practice in.
So the next time she decides to write a glib article with pithy observations and minimal references, I’d like to offer her myself as a worthy source. I’d inform her that most vets get into trouble when they offer too little, rather than too much. I’d cite the rising tide of lawsuits we’re treated to when we fail to inform our clients of all their options. I'd point to the legions of pets ill-treated by their owners who languish without care. These owners clearly know how to say no to their vet. And, sadly, they comprise the majority of this country's pet owners.
Finally, I’d invite her to read this blog, where she can get a taste of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” realities inherent in practicing modern veterinary medicine.