Think about the educational events your clinic and the clinics around you host for pet owners. What are the topics? Puppy or kitten primers, perhaps? Maybe the occasional class on fleas or cat food or tooth brushing? If I had to bet on the single most common subject for these presentations, however, I would be shocked if it was not pet CPR. Just think about how much we love to trot out that dog CPR dummy!
Here’s the thing that makes me pause: CPR almost never works… and we know it. Honestly, the percentage of patients that make it back home after CPR — even when it’s performed in a veterinary clinic by trained medical professionals using specialized equipment and drugs — is small. According to criticalist Tony Johnson, DVM, DACEVCC, the odds of pets going home after getting CPR in an emergency clinic are in the single digits (about 9% for cats and 4% for dogs). Keep in mind this is an environment where we can get airway control. Yet we’re teaching pet owners to do CPR at home more than we’re teaching them any other skill?
Of course, if CPR saves just one life in a thousand at-home attempts, it’s worth it.
But I’m struck by my impression that this procedure with a tiny success rate seems to keep popping up as probably the most popular educational presentation veterinarians give. Why is that?
Well, because it packs the room.
In my travels, I attend A LOT of veterinary conferences and meetings, which allows me to see what’s trending all over North America. Just like I’m willing to wager that CPR is the most popular topic presented to pet owners, I’d bet that Emergency and Critical Care lectures average way more attendees at veterinary conferences than any other specialty.
Emergency medicine will always be popular because emergencies give us a chance to save the day. We want to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat; to recognize imminent death and intervene. There’s quite an allure to playing the hero. So we teach people chest compressions and we memorize epinephrine doses, fully aware that if we get to the point of needing either of these, we’re in big trouble.
I’m not saying emergency medicine isn’t important. It is — especially if you happen to work in, say, an emergency hospital. Still, I think we can probably agree that when it comes to what will help the majority of pets most, topics like dental health and weight management absolutely trump topics like CPR when it comes to extending the length and quality of pet life spans.
My goal in pointing this out is not to convince you to stop teaching CPR or attending talks on saving lives in emergency situations. I’ve taught this skill to pet owners and you’ll see me taking notes in these rooms at conferences. I bring it up because I think most of us know having the skills and knowledge to avoid emergency situations is far superior to having the knowledge and skills to attempt to fix them after emergencies arise. What I think many of us miss is that the same is true for every other aspect of practice as well.
Many of us read up on and attend talks about handling screaming staff members, coworkers and pet owners. We ask questions about firing clients, fighting off cyber bullies, and battling unethical competitors.
We all want to be able to pull a struggling practice back from the depths of frustration and despair, “fix” a toxic employee, and humble a client being abusive to our staff. These topics are exciting. When we have conflicts with pet owners or co-workers or bosses, we tend to focus on the emergent symptoms of the problem at the time of crisis and not their more mundane causes. But, just like on the medical side, a ton of skill in a critical situation is less valuable than a little bit of skill used much earlier to avoid the entire situation.
We should never stop seeking knowledge. We should, however, recognize the importance of the day-to-day both in medicine and in how we interact with our colleagues. Great teams, like great preventive care, are both boring and immeasurably valuable.
The best communication outcomes don’t involve swooping in to fix a disaster in the eleventh hour. They involve people just like you remembering why they do what they do, carefully hiring people who fit well and want to improve, and releasing those who don’t work out for skill or attitude reasons. They focus on relentlessly serving the clients that fit with their practice’s beliefs, and they let clients who don’t agree with those beliefs go elsewhere. They empathize with both pet owners and staff members. They pick people up, say “thank you,” and make the tough decisions early on rather than waiting until things get bad. They’re not driven to heroics, because when they treat others with respect and expect respect in return, heroics are rarely necessary.
Maybe it would behoove us all to refocus on the little things that make leaders, managers, technicians, and veterinarians great. The best scenario is one where nobody needs to be saved.