Art of communication - DVM
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Art of communication
Outline skills to establish future success in veterinary careers


Special situations

The first impression of your hospital or clinic can make or break a relationship with a client. Have a pleasant and clean environment that shows your abilities to provide exceptional care, equipment and good staff is essential. As important is the manner in which you and your staff communicate with your clients. Positive, understanding exchanges will make your patients feel welcomed and reassured that their animals are in good hands.

Advertise hospital policies and procedures on information brochures, wall displays, special condition brochures, immunization and other condition reminders, computer generated financial receipts and client satisfaction surveys.

Many clients are becoming more educated regarding treatments to their animals via the Internet and other sources. This will require veterinarians to provide more professional, rapid and comprehensive services. Unless you understand this, accept it and use it in a positive manner you may antagonize a client and lose his or her trust.

Clients must be provided adequate information regarding proposed treatments, risks, prognosis and alternatives that might be available. Provide a detailed list of charges with the written consent forms used to authorize treatment. This is a legal requirement to avoid malpractice. Never promise a successful outcome.

A recent study by the American Animal Hospital Association considered how well clients complied with the preventive and treatment regimes recommended by their veterinarians. Lack of compliance was found to be a major problem, resulting in a high percentage of animal patients not receiving ultimate care. Lack of good communications between veterinarians, staffs, clients and the public was a major factor in this problem.

Resolving differences and misunderstandings require communication. When it comes to complaining clients, grievances usually are financially based, and communication breakdowns almost always are involved. Most often, timely and clear communication will eliminate them. You don't always have to be right. If this is a repetitive problem with a client, consider whether you want him or her as a client. For new veterinarians, there should be a hospital policy on handling these problems that will be discussed during your mentoring period.

Financial constraints bring their own baggage. How do you tell a client that your practice cannot provide service if they cannot afford to pay? How do you, as an employee, reconcile your problem when you know that you could treat or save an animal but you can't because the client cannot afford the services? This can be difficult for the new graduate. Here again, hospital policy should be clear and established, and your mentor should have given you the direction you require.

There will be a time when you have to deliver bad news about a diagnosis or in the case of an accident to the animal. It is important that you understand the bond that exists between the client and their animals. All pet owners will go through a grieving process. How you handle this situation will be difficult but also can be a rewarding experience. Remember that you are not a psychologist, social worker, clergy member or suicide prevention counselor and should only offer support that includes referring the grieving person to those professionals. Your staff will be involved and often affected, especially in cases where a long-term hospitalization occurred.

Communication with employees/employers

Applications and resumes are your first written communication with your potential employer. Your resume should be a picture of you on paper that will make the reader want to meet you in person. It will be one of the most important communication devices you ever use.

The interview will be your first face-to-face communication with your potential employer. You will use your oral speaking skills and, most importantly, your listening skills. Your interview will also demonstrate your non-verbal communication skills and personal appearance. How you demonstrate these skills will be the message you give your prospective employer and will be much more important at that point than your abilities to diagnose and treat disease or do surgery. The interview should also serve as a means for the potential employer to communicate policies and procedures of the practice, salary and other pertinent information to the potential employee.

Employment reviews and performance appraisals should periodically give you the opportunity to discuss your employment with your employer. This review will usually be a face-to-face meeting. As in the interview process, speaking, listening and non-verbal skills will be important and might be judged by the reviewer along with your technical and medical skills.

Hopefully you will never need to experience a termination meeting, but should it occur, be aware that how you listen and learn from what is said and what you say in return will be important as you proceed to your next position.

Every practice should have a written policies and procedures manual that communicate job descriptions, job-related perks such as holidays, health insurance, pet animal care, sexual harassment policies, pregnancy while employed and other employment policies. A common complaint of new graduates after accepting their first position is that they didn't understand what they were getting into. During the interview process, request an opportunity to learn the practice's policies and procedures.

Communications between employees in a busy practice is often difficult and often non-existent. Periodic staff meetings allow the entire staff to discuss common problems. A well-organized and well-run staff meeting allows staff members to air grievances without fear of repercussion.

Mentoring to develop communications skills

As stated in the American Veterinary Medical Association's 2000 Megastudy, which looked at economics, "... there is also evidence that veterinarians and veterinary students lack some of the skills and aptitudes that result in economic success."

There appears to be a gap between education and practice that requires an additional step in the post-DVM education process. A mentoring program can help knock down these barriers.

New graduates tend to talk too much. They try to tell clients all they know about veterinary medicine to impress clients or to cover up a lack of specific knowledge, which can be confusing.

New graduates as well as established veterinarians don't like to charge money. In many practices it will be the veterinarian's responsibility to discuss and decide on the financial aspects of the patient's care. Mistakes like not charging for lab work or smaller services can be costly. New graduates too often put themselves on the other side of the table and decide what they would be willing to pay in that situation. New graduates also want to make decisions for clients and treat and cure every case even when the client can't afford it. They take too much time to process clients as well.

The successful outcome of everything you do, everyone you interact with and your personal satisfaction as a veterinarian will depend on how well you develop your communication skills.


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