You’re the Doctor, You Tell Me!

Posted on by Ari Zabell, DVM

I was only two to three years out of school when “Mr. M” said those words to me. I had just presented him with some treatment options for Wolfgang—his hypothyroid, obese, and allergic German Shorthair with infected ears. It stopped me in my tracks—and 15 years later, I still remember it. I was the doctor, and it was my responsibility to make sure that my patient got the care it needed. Leaving the decision to Mr. M to decide what was best for his family member on his own just wasn’t going to cut it. So I sucked it up and told him what I knew was the best thing for Wolfgang—all $500-plus worth of services including thyroid testing, allergy treatment, sedated ear cleaning and medications to go home. Mr. M didn’t laugh, yell or complain. Instead, not only did he sign the treatment plan, he hugged me and let me know how much he appreciated me and what I was doing for Wolfgang! He kept on coming in and requesting me every time he did. (And he also kept hugging me when he came in!).

This was a really important lesson for me as a young veterinarian. Clients don’t just come to us for a conversation about how to help their pet; they need someone to be the expert on medical care and help them really know and understand what is best for their pet—and why. I see it as my responsibility to make sure that clients really hear, and have a chance to understand what my best care recommendations are for their pet. It’s also important that I work with them to make sure they can provide that care for their pet—either over multiple visits, or maybe postponed for another visit if money is an issue. After all, the client is the expert on their own pet—knowing when their pet’s not quite right and knowing which approaches will and won’t work. But it is my responsibility as the doctor on the case to really make sure the client understands the value and importance of what I am trying to provide.

As time has progressed, I’ve worked on improving my skills as a veterinarian, but as well as my veterinary skills, I am very confident that my skills and ability to educate and explain medicine to my clients have grown tremendously. I no longer associate complicated medical cases with the fear of trying to get a client to agree to an expensive treatment plan. I break out the note paper and work to figure out what they need to understand about the disease their pet has so that they’ll hopefully understand and request the treatment their pet needs. It might seem like the same task, but changing the focus to educating my clients not only makes it more fun for me to do my job, it helps me to be more successful at it.

About Ari Zabell, DVM

Ari Zabell, DVM, has been with Banfield Pet Hospital since 1996. He has filled multiple roles including Hospital Director, Field Director, Medical Director and Coach Doctor in addition to a few different roles at Central Team Support. He is currently the Director of Client Advocate Support, helping to coach our field and hospital associates in their communications with clients. Dr. Zabell graduated from Cornell University in 1994, met his wife Michelle in 1997 and received his ABVP certification in 2003. He now lives with his wife, three kids, two dogs and eight chickens in Vancouver, Wash., where they prepare for the zombie apocalypse. View all posts by Ari Zabell, DVM →

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