Last week was particularly rough for me. I considered the typical events known to depress my work-related morale, and realized we didn’t lose any patients, the hours I worked weren’t any longer than usual, and the cases I saw weren’t particularly difficult to manage. It seemed my bitter mood resulted from a few repetitive encounters with phrases I’ve deemed unworthy of saying to a veterinary oncologist (if you wish to keep them smiling and feeling good about their jobs).
Here are the top three I encountered last week, in no particular order:
- “I don’t know how you do what you do for a living. It must be so depressing.”
Yes — I get it. I work with animals diagnosed with cancer. It’s true, my days are not filled with rainbows, confetti, or smiling unicorns, but I would venture to guess that neither are those of 99.9% of the working population of the world.
Those of us who dedicate our lives towards diagnosing and treating cancer in animals know how serious our jobs are. We never deny mortality but we also do not dwell on the negatives. Our goals are to help our patients live longer lives, with minimal impact on their quality of life.
I became a veterinarian because I love animals and want to help them. I became a veterinary oncologist because managing cancer cases stimulates and intrigues my mind. I’m not here to torture animals, or make them sick, and I certainly respect their well being far more than I’m given credit for.
Even if my arguments do not seem clear, I would urge you to not use words like “depressing,” “horrible,” or “sad” to describe my chosen career. My best friend works in retail, and the stories she tells me about her daily interactions with people seem alarmingly more miserable than what I encounter in even a given month of work.
What to say instead: “I’ve never heard of that profession — can you tell me a little more about what you do?”
- “Thanks for all of that wonderful information about cancer. I’m going to talk things over with our breeder/rescue organization to hear their opinion.”
I know this will likely spark a great deal of controversy, but if your breeder/rescue organization/shelter manager/etc. did not graduate from veterinary school and does not possess a license to practice veterinary medicine, it is completely illegal for them to give medical advice. The goal of breeding pets is to maintain or produce specific desirable qualities and characteristics within the offspring. However, this does not mean your breeder knows more about the anatomy and physiology of your pet than a veterinarian.
It’s frustrating to hear an owner say their breeder said it isn’t a good idea to pursue surgery/radiation therapy/chemotherapy for their particular breed of dog because “they don’t tolerate it well,” or because “they know the treatment will be too hard” on that particular breed.
Perhaps the worst scenario occurs when a breeder suggests the diagnosis is incorrect because “they have never had a problem with cancer in their lines before.” Likewise, those who work in rescue organizations, though dedicated to their breed of choice, do not possess the medical knowledge or specialization to make decisions regarding the healthcare of animals.
I always encourage owners to discuss their pets’ diagnosis with their breeders or rescue organizations. I feel respectable breeders would want to know about any adverse health issues related to their puppies/kittens and would understand we never place the blame on them for the outcome of a particular animal. It’s completely inappropriate, however, for owners to discuss treatment recommendations with non-medically trained individuals who prey upon the emotional aspects of a diagnosis of cancer.
What to say instead: “Do you think my breeder would want to know about Fluffy’s diagnosis? Would you be willing to talk to him/her about what’s going on with him/her?”
- At the conclusion of an hour plus long consultation: “This is all great information. Would you mind calling my husband/wife/mom/dad/etc. now to go over everything once more?”
During a consult, I discuss a tremendous amount of information. I recognize that the breadth and depth of the material presented can be overwhelming, and I know the pets I’m working with are integral parts of large families, and multiple individuals will want to have input into their care.
I also recognize it is difficult for every family member to make time in their schedule to come to a consult. However, based on how my appointments are arranged, it is impossible for me to go over every piece of information covered during an initial consult twice in the same day, back to back.
What to say instead: “Would it be OK if we put my husband/wife/mom/dad on speakerphone during this appointment so they can listen in?” or, “Would it be OK if my husband/wife/mom/dad read through the summary you’ve provided and give you a call if they have any additional questions?”
It feels good to vent these frustrations in written form, and it’s a bit cathartic to recognize the irritating things that obstruct the flow of my day. In the end, I know my work is not depressing, I respect breeders very much, and I immensely appreciate the families surrounding my patients and all the care they provide to their pets.
I also can’t help but feel very grateful that I don’t work in retail, as I’ve heard that’s where the real “animals” are.
Dr. Joanne Intile