Sarah Boston, DVM, DVSc, Dipl ACVS
Sarah Boston, DVM, DVSc, Dipl ACVS, ACVS Founding Fellow of Surgical Oncology

If you want to get everyone that works at your veterinary hospital to roll their eyes and get irritated with you fast, try this: tell them that you have a very rich/famous/influential client that needs to be seen ASAP and please give them the “VIP treatment”. This upsets people for several reasons. 1. Most veterinarians and veterinary staff bend over backwards for their clients and in fact, treat everyone like they are VIPs. 2. The people who call in to get this treatment and cut the real or perceived line are generally demanding and irritating and 3. It does not appeal to the sense of fairsy-sharesy, which is a core value to many veterinary professionals.

This happens on many levels. My email is part of the public domain, so many people feel that the best way to get an appointment with me is to email me directly. Often these emails are accompanied by several blurry photographs of a dog with a mass. This is actually the worst way to get an appointment with me. My inbox is a wasteland. The best way to get an appointment? Call the hospital and ask to book an appointment. BAM! You are in! It is that simple. Exclusive insider information right here in this blog.

Recently, I received an email from people who had been clients and donors in the past. The email had a lot of superfluous personal details about themselves and how they would be coming into town and that they would like an appointment for me to assess their dog that has a skin mass that “might be cancer”. They were still waiting for the cytology to come back from their family veterinarian. I got back to them through our service email (rather than my personal email) that I would be very happy to see them and I really appreciated their support and to give our office a call to book an appointment. Unfortunately, as it turns out, they wanted the appointment next week and they were only in town for 2 days, Thursday and Friday. We did not have appointments available because we book up 2 weeks in advance for non-urgent cases, and because we don’t see appointments on Thursdays (surgery day) and Fridays (emergency day).

I then received another long email, again on my personal account, this time from the husband. After two passive aggressive paragraphs, he went on to mansplain that he thought that I had “misunderstood his needs” because he wanted to be seen on one of the two specified dates. He then signed off with all of his credentials and some sort of fancy business seal for extra menacing effect.


I responded, again through our service email, and explained again how our schedule works (in case he misunderstood my needs). I thanked them again for their support and said that I hoped that they could find a way to come and see me on days when we saw appointments, and that I would be very happy to talk to their family veterinarian when they received the results of the cytology. I didn’t hear back. I am guessing the test results came back benign and they decided that they did not need to contact the Dean or President of the University to demand an ambush emergency appointment with a veterinary surgical oncologist to assess their dog’s benign skin mass.

Observation 1: the more someone pushes for VIP treatment and to be “squeezed in” when there are no appointments, the lower the chance that the dog actually has cancer or requires any sort of medical attention.

This is partly because we will always get animals in when their medical situation is urgent. We call these appointments urgent evaluations or emergencies. These evaluations are for dogs with broken legs or ones that can’t pee or poo, not for the clients who yell the loudest or are the most connected. Being a VIP is not an emergency.

Observation 2: The super famous people often don’t demand VIP treatment, they just act like regular people. (Tangential Observation 3: If you want to drive your mother crazy, tell her that you took care of a movie star’s dog but then refuse to tell her who due to client-patient confidentiality.)

So here is the thing: most veterinarians are already maxed out. We are already doing our professional best. At my practice, we have 10-20 dogs and cats on our waiting list at any given time. These animals have a confirmed cancer diagnosis and their owners will come to us on a moments notice if we have a cancellation. We also have a triage system for animals that are too sick to wait. This is all based solely on medical need.

When a VIP demands that we do things differently, create appointments that don’t exist, or bump other patients, they are either asking for more of me or more of my patients. Asking more of me is asking for part of my personal self or my personal time. We don’t have a lot of that. We don’t clock out. We stay until the work is done. Asking more of my patients is appropriating some of the professional time that I had set aside for the sick pets that waited their turn. Either way, you are taking from someone when you cut the line. There is only so much of us to go around.

I know that it’s complicated. The balance between a business and a medical institution is tricky, especially at a teaching hospital with the business-medical-teaching-donor-research-community-specialist center mandates all competing with one other. But for me, VIP stands for Very Important Patients or Very Important Pets. The People in VIP become important because of their pets, and every one of our patients deserves the star treatment.

140828_Boston_014BABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Boston is a veterinary surgical oncologist and public speaker. Sarah is also a cancer survivor and author of the best-selling, hilarious memoir, Lucky Dog: How Being a Veterinarian Saved my Life. Follow her on Twitter or find her on Facebook.