How rude! A nasty veterinary client and two ticked-off techs

How rude! A nasty veterinary client and two ticked-off techs

Is it the practice owner's job to put a stop to insulting client behavior directed toward his team?
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Jul 11, 2016

Oh, she did NOT just say that to me. Doctor, you need to CONTROL your CLIENT. (Illustration Getty Images)Dr. Sims has been practicing in an affluent California suburb for 16 years and knows the pros and cons of owning a suburban upscale practice. Pro: Clients have the means to provide necessary cutting-edge care for their pets. Con: Clients can be entitled, outspoken and demanding. Dr. Sims' employees—two associate veterinarians, six technicians and two receptionists—are pretty familiar with this clientele.

Enter Leah Kinney, a 20-year client of the practice. She's a retired sales executive in her late 70s who dotes on her two beloved cats. She provides them excellent medical care whenever necessary and never minces words in the exam room.

Recently, one of Ms. Kinney's cats, Susie, underwent leg surgery and has been receiving follow-up cold laser therapy twice a week. Susie's treatments are being administered by veterinary technicians Joyce and Randi. On several occasions Leah has told the technicians they’re putting on weight and those extra pounds aren’t attractive on young women. Recently she told Joyce her work scrubs were dirty and this was unprofessional for seeing clients. She also commented to Randi that more time in church and less time partying would help her find a guy. The technicians had finally had enough.

She told Joyce her scrubs were dirty and this was unprofessional. She commented that more time in church and less time partying would help her find a guy.

They confronted Dr. Sims and asked him to speak to Leah. Being insulted was not in their job description, they said. They went on in great detail about their frustration. Finally, they sat quietly and waited for Dr. Sims’ response. They expected the usual sage medical insight as well as good counsel on matters of a personal nature. Dr. Sims’ response was not what they expected.

He told Joyce and Randi that he clearly understood how upsetting this client's comments were. But, he continued, they were both adult professionals and it was not the boss’s responsibility to tell a client not to be rude. They were perfectly capable of telling Ms. Kinney that her comments were out of line and needed to stop. Dr. Sims went on to say that if a client threatened a staff member with bodily harm or made racial or ethnic slurs, he would intervene immediately. Other kinds of offensive client interactions, however, needed to be handled by the staff member him- or herself, just as they would if they encountered an offensive service person in any retail setting.

They had always believed that Dr. Sims had their back, but now they weren't so sure.

The technicians accepted the advice but were privately disappointed. They agreed together that it was a boss's job to protect them from being abused in the workplace. It didn't matter whether the abuser was a coworker or a client. They had always believed that Dr. Sims had their back, but now they weren't so sure.

Does Dr. Sims need to fight his employees' battles, or should they deal with their own client issues individually?

Rosenberg's response:

This is a professional work setting—Dr. Sims is not the father, and technicians aren't children. Often supervisors do intercede in these types of situations. Unfortunately, that leads to supervisors exerting more control and staff members surrendering their own control. Highly trained professional staff members must be allowed to make job-related decisions if they are to learn and improve. This applies to medical as well as personal interactions.

I agree with Dr. Sims. He didn't let his technicians down—he empowered them. The skills they will acquire by professionally dealing with this rude client will serve them and allow them to grow into the capable, high-functioning medical professionals they want to be.

Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. Although many of his scenarios in "The Dilemma" are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors and employees described are fictional.

I can agree that the staff

I can agree that the staff members are professional and should be able to tell the client that her comments were out of line and need to stop. My real question would be how the boss would react when the client inevitably decides that the staff members are being rude to her when they call her on her rudeness to them. In many clinics in which I have worked, the staff do not feel empowered to handle such rudeness "just as they would if they encountered an offensive service person in any retail setting" because the management (owner, practice manager, etc.) have made it clear by their actions that the clients' perceptions are all that matter when complaints are made. My guess is that these staff members were asking the boss to intervene because they weren't confident that the boss would back them up if they simply told Ms. Kinney that she was out of line and needed to stop making the rude comments.