Achieve your goals in veterinary practice - DVM
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Achieve your goals in veterinary practice
Tips for maintaining your vision, attaining success in the profession


Don't second-guess a client's needs

The client came to you for a specific reason: your opinion.

Just by the mere fact of establishing an appointment, a basic level of trust has been established. That person understands that he or she is paying for your time and values your opinion. Meet that trust. Give an answer. Offer the best you can possibly do for the animal, and let the client decide without being judgmental about that decision or choice. Learn to be confident in your response to the client.

Exercise skills at not showing hesitation. Be confident in saying, "I don't know, but I will find out." Because clients want your opinion and understand how much data is out there, they understand that additional research might be necessary. Offer to do additional research for a price. Get a second opinion from other doctors in the practice, for a fee. All of these are options to showcase your expertise. The client appreciates that while you know your limitations, you can confidently give specific recommendations as to how best address the pet health problem identified.

Ten steps for exam room success

Many derivations exist on the following theme, variations that have been published elsewhere. In advance, I apologize for not giving due and specific credit to the unknown person who first authored such great guidelines. This is my own version evolved from many years of working with veterinary clients.

1. Introduce yourself. Make sure you wear a nametag or embroider your name on your examination coat. Make sure your examination coat is clean. Studies have shown that clients prefer doctors in white. Keep color preference in mind when deciding how you wish to present yourself as the authority. Because younger doctors can be confused with technicians and other animal healthcare assistants, white provides a better impact than later in life when you have some gray hair to show seniority.

2. Know and use the client's name in greetings. Use his or her name throughout the rest of the exam. Maintain the correct level of respect. Mrs., Mr. or Ms. is totally appropriate in most situations, even though modern American culture has resulted in a lot of first-name familiarity.

3. Talk to the pet or animal and touch the pet in greeting. Use the pet's name. Assure you know the pet's gender and use the correct pronoun. "He" or "she" is always preferable to "it."

4. Do something. Use a digital or aural thermometer, otoscope, stethoscope, while providing a brief explanation of findings. Use the opportunity to educate.

5. Ask something. Find out what the client has perceived to be abnormal or different about the pet. Leave questions open-ended rather than leading the client into an answer.

6. Say something. Explain your findings as you examine the pet. "The lymph nodes are normal ..., the abdomen palpates normally ..., the skin is slightly inflamed in her groin ...," etc.

7. Show something. Show the client what you have found. Show the client the dried tapeworm segments around the rectal area. Show them examples of heartworms. Show them parasite eggs and ear mites through the microscope. The new digital technology readily documents case progression so you can present comparisons of before and after results of treatment and procedures, such as dental prophylaxis.

8. Give something. The client should never leave without a piece of tangible information that pertains to his or her pet's situation. Exam room report cards summarizing the physical examination findings are a very useful educational piece that can be shared by the client at home with other family members.

9. Listen! Concentrate on hearing what the client says. Learning to hear with comprehension is a real art. Don't anticipate or interrupt except to ask pertinent questions. Maintain good eye contact. Valuable information is always there if you can take the time to hear it.

Remember: listening = bedside manner.

10. Compliment. End on a positive note. No matter how nasty the pet or grumpy the client, find something to compliment. Saying, "Ginger has the most expressive eyes!" might not be that far from the truth even if those eyes were expressing extreme antagonism toward you as the DVM!

Finally, my last word of advice is something that clicked many years ago after a very long day of clinics. It suddenly occurred to me that no matter how tired I was, if the focus could be maintained on the pet as being my own favorite animal ever, then I could find the energy and communication skills to tell the clients everything they needed to know to make decisions.

To this day, I recommend that doctors of all ages try to remember their favorite, closest animal companions. Pretend that your current patient is that favored pet. This one little tip will help you stay focused on making the best-possible recommendations and fulfilling the vision that inspired you to make application to veterinary school in the first place.

Dr. Heinke is owner of Marsha L. Heinke, CPA, Inc. and can be reached at (440) 926-3800 or via e-mail at


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