As I stood in the waiting room and watched the client drive away, I asked myself how deeply this person's anger would affect
me. It's possible for me to let something like this wreck an entire weekend—especially when I'm so adept at devising creative
ways to blame myself for medical phenomena over which I have no control. As I pondered my role in this patient's condition,
two hard-learned lessons floated back to me:
1. You're never as good—or bad—as clients think you are. I once talked to a college professor about the reviews he got from students. He said that the key to taking feedback is to
remember that no matter what you do, 10 percent of people will think you walk on water and 10 percent will think you're the
worst person they've ever met. Neither group is right, so remove both from consideration and use the rest of the feedback
to improve what you're doing. He was right. Don't let the clients who love you or those who despise you control your self-image
2. Clients are clients, not friends or family. As a general rule, I like my clients. There are some clients I adore. I go the extra mile for them, check on them from time
to time and visit their homes if they want me to perform euthanasia in that setting. But they're not my friends or my family.
The difference between clients and friends is that friends don't pay me for my time during the majority of our interactions.
I say the majority because I do have friends who bring their pets to me. Secondly, clients have a nasty habit of substituting
entitlement for friendship and becoming very upset when they feel let down. And finally, while I accept the stress of family
and friends, I choose not to take the emotions and frustrations of clients home with me.
Obviously, I hold onto the positive energies that clients bring for as long as I can, and some experiences I simply can't
hang up with my white coat before clocking out. For the most part, I give my clients my best when I'm at work, I make sure
they know who to go to if problems arise before I return to the clinic, and then I go home, making sure to pick up ice cream
on the way.
Dr. Roark is an associate veterinarian in Leesburg, Va.