By Dr. Andy Roark DVM MS
The heartworm talk
The flea talk
The vaccine talk
The allergy talk
The dental talk
The weight talk
If you’ve been in small animal private practice for more than a year, you’ve probably lost track of the number of times you’ve had each of these talks. Many of us give every one of these “presentations” at least daily… and it might just be making us crazy.
In all seriousness, I’ve had more than one veterinarian tell me he or she left practice because they couldn’t stand to talk about flea prevention one more time. When we were in veterinary or technician school, most of us imagined ourselves saving lives, playing with kittens, and performing complex surgeries. Few of us salivated over the prospect of reviewing the lifecycle of the heartworm six times daily for our entire career. (Shout out to my colleagues in the Southeast!) I think most of us struggle with this monotony at some point.
Still, these repeated conversations are becoming increasingly important. As pet owners get more and more information from non-traditional and potentially unreliable sources (i.e. the Internet), we need not only to know basic healthcare information backwards and forwards, but to present it in a meaningful, engaging, and memorable way.
At some point, most of us ask ourselves, “How am I going to keep this up?”
When I started wondering that myself, I reached out to colleagues for advice. Generally when I survey people with a question like that I get a wide variety of tips and tricks on how to solve my problem. Here, however, that wasn’t the case. Everyone I talked to who had successfully dealt with this problem told me some variation on the exact same thing. Here it is:
Look past the conversation. Focus on your own goal.
Without exception, the people who had mastered the art of the repeat conversation advised me simply to remember why I got into this profession, then hold onto that. End of story.
I know it may sound trite, but I got into veterinary medicine to help people. I genuinely like people (and pets, of course), and I love that I get to help families. That’s what makes me feel good about what I do. It’s the part of our profession that I find the most rewarding.
So how does that knowledge help me not want to beat my head against the exam table while doing the flea talk for the 900th time?
It’s simple. Now, when I do the flea talk, I’m not talking about fleas. I’m talking about a family. Sure, fleas get discussed, but they’re not the whole point of the conversation. The real focus is the people in that exam room and how this talk will help them. That’s what I find rewarding. Reciting the life cycle of fleas or ticks or heartworms… not so much.
It’s amazing how the “why” behind our conversations can change the way we feel about them. When I launch into a talk with to pet owners about some vaccine or parasitic organism with the feeling that I’ve got to do it because I need to educate them or “it’s my job,” it just makes me feel tired. However, when I remind myself that I’m telling them all this because their dog is awesome and part of a family and I’m helping that family keep him safe, it’s easy — because I’m doing something important to me.
Pet owners feel this too. They recognize our intent when we engage with them. If they sense that our intention is to deliver a rote lesson about heartworms, their eyes are almost certain to glaze over. They’ll lose interest and begin to ponder subjects they believe will be more important in their everyday lives, like “What should I cook for dinner?” or “Is Jon Snow alive?” and “Who would win: Ronda Rousey or a tiger?”
Enthusiasm is contagious. If we show it in a real, heartfelt way to pet owners, they’re much more likely to pay attention and ask questions. Then the conversation become more enjoyable for everyone, on both sides of the table.
So the next time you are dreading having the same conversation AGAIN, ask yourself why you do this job… and then go talk about that.