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Experiencing veterinary medicine from the opposite side of the consult table

Posted in Client Service @ Nov 4th 2021 - By Dr Emma McConnell, Director, Platinum CPD
Experiencing Veterinary Medicine From The Opposite Side Of The Consult Table

When the veterinarian becomes the client....

The past 10 days have certainly been eventful, to say the least. Eye-opening? Definitely. Stressful? Absolutely. Thought-provoking? 100%. Why? Because just over a week ago, my 7-year-old Chihuahua Speedy, became non-weight bearing lame on his left hindlimb during a walk. Unsurprisingly, his lameness was associated with medial patella luxation, and after undergoing CT and radiography, he was taken straight through to surgery. Thanks to the amazing primary care, anaesthesia, diagnostic imaging and surgical teams, everything went very well; and after 36 hours in hospital, he was ready to be discharged.

Insight into the veterinary experience

In the grand scheme of things, this was a relatively straight-forward procedure, however it gave me some great insight into what the veterinary experience is actually like for our clients. Standing on the other side of the consult table during the initial examination, I was definitely worried. During the surgical consult, when the surgeon was explaining the imaging findings, the procedure and the aftercare that would be required, I could feel that adrenal squeeze. And waiting for the phone call letting me know he had recovered from surgery, was not the most pleasant experience. I have no doubt that our clients experience these exact feelings. But compared to our clients, was I more worried because I knew what could potentially go wrong? Or was I less worried because I had a deep understanding of the procedures and the risks associated?   

The importance of communication

Whilst waiting to be updated on Speedy’s progress overnight, I came to realise just how important that particular communication is. As a clinician, I always try my best to contact owners as soon as possible in the mornings, especially if their horse was admitted as an emergency overnight or is in a critical state; however, I can now appreciate that it isn’t just the owners of critically ill patients that are anxiously waiting for that phone call. Even owners of animals that have undergone relatively routine or elective procedures will likely have their phone close by them, volume turned up to ensure they don’t miss the call. It comes as no surprise that every owner views their pet as the priority; and although their views of urgency may not be the same as ours, we should still try to acknowledge and accommodate their feelings as best we can.

Then there was managing post-operative care...

Well it’s safe to say, my “vet as the client” experience didn’t end with Speedy’s hospital stay. There was still the post-operative care and strict exercise restrictions to deal with. So many things were going through my mind on the drive home!

How am I going to medicate him by myself when my husband is at work?

How is he going to eat and drink with his e-collar on?

How will I stop him from jumping on the bed (yes, he is one of those chihuahuas)?

How am I going to keep him confined for 12 weeks?

And what about Chubby Chiko, our other chihuahua? How is he going to deal with these changes?

These are highly likely to be the same thoughts our clients have in response to our discharge instructions; and having had this recent first-hand experience, I can clearly see how ensuring owner compliance can actually be quite challenging. It’s not that I (like our owners) don’t want to follow the instructions precisely, it’s just that complying with the recommendations will require some significant changes to our routine and a bit of effort too.

If I’m honest, before this experience, I can’t say I actively consider the impact my discharge instructions and recommendations might actually have on the owner. In their reality, how feasible is my advice? How easy will it be for the owner to adhere to my instructions? 

I can certainly say, experiencing veterinary medicine from the other side has been a stark reminder of how having a sick or injured pet can be quite a stressful, emotional and even challenging event. Whilst there is never an excuse for intolerable behaviour from our veterinary clients, I feel I do now have a better appreciation for how owners might be feeling when dealing with a hospitalised pet. And although I always knew my colleagues were superstars, I now have an even greater appreciation for the amazing work they do every day! 

This post was first published on the Platinum CPD Blog: Experiencing veterinary medicine from the opposite side of the consult table.

Footnote: Speedy has since made a complete recovery, much to the relief of his family. 

About Emma

Emma graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2006. Following two years in small animal and mixed practice, she undertook a 12-month internship in equine medicine and surgery at the Royal Veterinary College, London. Having developed a passion for equine medicine and critical care, Emma moved to South Africa to take up a position as Resident in Equine Internal Medicine at Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital, University of Pretoria. 

Emma has a Masters degree in Veterinary Medicine, and is a Registered Specialist in Equine Medicine and a Diplomate of the European College of Equine Internal Medicine. She currently works as Senior Lecturer in an equine academic referral hospital, where she takes great pride in providing an exceptional clinical service to her patients (foals and ponies especially). As the Co-founder and Director of Platinum CPD, Emma is a firm believer in making a commitment to lifelong learning; and takes great pride in the fact her company is able to provide veterinarians and veterinary nurses with excellent quality, boutique, continuing education, delivered in a variety of ways to facilitate the most positive and inspirational learning experience. 

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