Choose your words wisely

Creating a culture of professionalism starts at the top
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Mar 01, 2006

9 a.m.
Monday at Fordham Animal Hospital

Joan Smithson went to the front desk to sign in. She was there several minutes early for her appointment for Fred an easygoing Boxer with epilepsy.

As she filled out her registration, she couldn't help but hear the receptionist and one of the assistants talking. What surprised her was the rough language and the mean spirited things she was hearing apparently about a co-worker and a client that had just left the premises. The intonations were muted, but the rough language came through clear enough for her to hear the verbiage as she took a seat in the waiting room.

After she had filled out the registration and walked back to the desk, the receptionist smiled momentarily and took the form without comment. Joan noticed that the receptionist did not wear a name badge and was chewing erratically on a piece of gum.

She looked at the Boxer as she took her seat. Once again, the language behind the desk deteriorated. It was obvious that the receptionist was either unaware that her voice carried further than anticipated or she was somehow unaware that her language was anything other than unusual.

Meanwhile in the back of the hospital, the 18-gauge needle accidentally connected with Dr. John Fordham as he tried to administer some fluids to a cat. He shook it off and finally bleated out an expletive that he certainly thought would make him feel better.

Standing next to him, June Jarvis, his surgical assistant, had become partially immune to the "on and off" potty-mouthed remarks that the doctor would make. She was used to certain language and even joined in at the opportune moments that felt like this type of language would be safe. Most of the staff would clean up their language a bit when Dr. Fordham's wife made appearances. She was considered somewhat of a "Carrie Nation" figure to some of the younger staff members who had more than a glimmer of recall of early 20th Century American history.

12:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Fordham Animal Hospital

Suzie Partlow and Kim Peters were laughing in the corner of the surgical prep area. While recalling the events of a party they had attended together, they had peppered the air with numerous four-letter words and racy innuendoes. These young ladies hadn't noticed the new hire in the corner of the next room cleaning instruments and preparing packs for the next day's surgeries. Jared Malone listened. He could hardly miss the tawdry discourse in the adjacent room.

Jared, a muscular 20-something student at the local university, was eager to learn the ropes in the veterinary clinic because he was preparing to enter veterinary school if his grades held up. He also wanted to fit in at the Fordham Animal Hospital. He especially wanted to get to know Suzie better. Suzie had been in one of his classes before she had graduated last year and took a full-time job with Dr. Fordham. Yet, here he was — being pleasantly startled to overhear the "interesting" use of phrases coming from both Jamie and Suzie.

10 a.m.
Wednesday, Fordham Animal Hospital

Jared pulled a bottle down to package a prescription for a waiting client. Smiling, Suzie walked over and said hello. She started to ask him a question. Jared, without a second thought, twisted his mouth in an elfish grin and proceeded to tell her an off-color joke he had been rehearsing for several days. He thought it was hilarious and had a difficult time repressing his gleeful alacrity as he approached the punch line.

She was mortified as the end of the joke arrived with its entire array of sexual overtones. Suzie's smile became horizontal and then partially returned. She did not know how to react, and she groped for an appropriate response. It never arrived. She stammered momentarily about an animal that needed medication in the back and left. Jared misinterpreted her weak smile as a form of acceptance.

Epilogue

Suzie would be in the line of fire for more of the same as the weeks wore on. Instead of complaining to her boss, she would soon leave to work at another veterinary hospital.