“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “otherwise you wouldn’t have come here.”
Every time I come across a “how to choose the best veterinary hospital” article, I read it, because it’s fascinating to me to see how different authors choose to guide you in this task. The articles exist, presumably, because not all hospitals are the same, therefore some are great and some, not so much. I think we can all agree this is probably the case. It’s like dating- lots of choices, but not all are a match.
Of course, the recommendations are pretty disparate, depending on how you define “good hospital.” Are you the holistic vet, the guy who’s dedicated his career to evidence based medicine and refutes anything without a journal article to back it up, the disgruntled owner who’s displeased with one bad experience and parlayed it into a major website, or the practice owner who’s looking to attract new clients? They all have different ideas of what makes a “good clinic,” to the point that one person’s perfect place is another person’s house of quacks and vice versa.
It’s good to know what your needs are, and good to know what a clinic provides. A client/vet mismatch is unpleasant for everyone. Like that girl in college who insisted that her jerk of a boyfriend who left his dirty socks in your living room was just misunderstood and refused to believe the stories of his drunken overtures to every girl on the dorm floor, some poor souls really have a hard time believing that most people just don’t change simply because you want them to.
Yes, we all know at least one vet who had a major epiphany mid-career and did a complete 180, but most don’t. And if you know one who did, it’s probably not due to you and the article you clipped out of a dog magazine you picked up at Whole Foods. I’ll be happy to look at it- heck, I probably already read it myself, I love Whole Foods- but please don’t be disappointed that I don’t change my entire medical perspective based on our 30 minute visit.
You’re paying me to give you my opinion, but if you don’t like it, well, we have decisions to make. While I’m happy to discuss my approach and how we might adjust it to your needs, it’s unlikely I’m going to completely change my medical perspective, because, well, I’m old enough now to be at least a little set in my ways. They’ve worked out pretty well for me. And if that thing I’m not into is that important to you, rather than getting really irritated with me for not changing, it’s probably easier for everyone if you cut your losses and find someone who’s a better match.
I like to make people happy. I will do everything I reasonably can to accommodate that. But at the end of the day, sometimes you and I- we just aren’t meant to be. And that’s OK. No matter what you’re into, from crystals and aromatherapy to a $30,000 kidney transplant assisted by a human nephrologist, there’s someone who can provide what you want.
Your Compatibility Score
There’s no match.com for vets (though hey, what an idea! who wants to help me develop that?) so you’re on your own for screening your vet for a potential match. You’re going to have to figure out your top couple of priorities and go from there. Here’s some things to consider:
- If you want an office open until 8 at night every day because you work, don’t go to a solo doctor office.
- If you want to see the same vet every time, don’t go to a huge office with enough staff to be open every day until 8 at night.
- If you harbor some deep down issue with blondes/men with mustaches/people with tattoos/some other random thing, don’t go to that vet out of some weird sense of guilt. They’d probably prefer you didn’t anyway. Life’s too short to spend it explaining to a relative stranger why you don’t like them. I can tell when someone doesn’t like me. I’ll survive.
- If you want a holistic vet, go to AHVMA and find one. Acupuncture is becoming very common, and a lot of places that practice mostly western medicine offer it, but if you want homeopathy or chiropractic, you’re going to have to look a little more. Most vets offer western medicine because that’s what most vet schools teach, that’s all.
- If you want a place with the best prices in town, don’t be mad when the doctor won’t answer your midnight emergency. If you want a doctor to answer your midnight emergency, don’t be mad when they don’t have the best prices in town. Same goes for fancy stuff like lasers and endoscopy.
If you ask me about Chinese herbs, I will tell you honestly I don’t know anything about them. You can go with what I do know, or I can help you find the guy down the street who studied them (I have one doctor in mind, and he’s great.) Forcing me to prescribe those unfamiliar drugs for you is not an option.
So here’s my one sole bit of advice for how to pick the best veterinary hospital:
Find the vet who’s already your own special brand of crazy, whatever that is.
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”
After a decade trying to be all things to all clients, I have finally embraced my own brand of crazy. While I am not your doc for orthopedic surgeries, just the other day I wore a client’s bathrobe and smeared cat food on my hands to help a nervous cat feel more comfortable. If I’m not that one for you, let’s break up so you can find your One True Vet Love.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
well said! Vets, like other medical professionals, are not a one sized-fits-all relationship. That said, I do think I have the best vets around!
Thank you! I try to tell our clients this and it’s strange the feelings of guilt I see sometimes. They’ve been seeing one of our doctors for years, but then they see another one on an emergency and they ask us, whispering, if it’s okay if they switch their pet’s regular care. I reassure them it’s okay and tell them about some of my experiences finding a vet prior to working in the field… dating is a perfect example….
Great post. I’m going to bring to my Vet office. The one that is not the cheapest in town but is open 7 days a week, will always squeeze my cats in, and can do most things in house. They are not for everybody, but I love them.
Thomas Dock says
Great post (as usual!!). As a practice manager of a busy 3 doctor practice, we have had our challenges getting some of the longer term clients to accept the “newer” docs, but we always try to roll with the flow. If they have a preference that we can accomodate, we do. If we can’t accomodate, we do a lot of reassuring that “Dr. X” has access to all of “Dr A’s” notes.
Interesting sidenote…both you and Dr. McKenzie (SkeptVet.com) touched on the same topic today!
Great post. It can be hard to find the right doctor of any type. And there are some people that will never be the right fit. I love my vet, he listens and will do what we can afford, but also keeps our cats pain free. If there is no or little hope of getting well he tells it like it is. We have a cat that has cancer, given 6 months, it’s now 15 months he’s doing good. There are days that he acts like a kitten, but most he acts like the 15 year old that he is. With his help we will do the right thing for the old man. Again great post. I love reading your post, especially your out of the country post. Keep up the good work.
So true. I <3 my clients who are my own special kind of crazy. (Mine is usually wants lots of handholding and super thorough explanations, but I love giving them that!). The vets at our practice can also usually identify clients who are each others kind of crazy and gently guide them to the right vet at our practice. It is also super nice having a holistic doctor at our practice.
For me, the front-desk staff and techs are also an important part of the equation. If they’re cold, unprofessional, or don’t fuss over my adorable pups, a great vet can’t make up for it….
Dr. V says
Lisa, that is such a great point. I’ve never understood a place that allowed unpleasant front desk staff, as they *vital* contributors to the experience. People who are treated poorly by their bosses tend to have a worse attitude and vice versa, so I see it as a reflection of the entire operation.
Totally true. Local Emergency Hospital to me has an AMAZING medical staff – doctors, technicians, the works! But their front desk staff makes my skin crawl, both as a client prior to being in the field, and now even more so that I work in a hospital. We have clients who flatly refuse to go to them, and will drive twice the distance to another Emergency/Specialty Hospital because of it…
Dr. V says
Wow. That’s horrible. I can’t imagine they don’t know how bad they are. What makes a hospital continue to let that slide?
Some clients are willing to gut it out and bear it to get to the medicine, others take the referring doc’s word that the medical staff there are the best. To a small extent they also have some of their clientele cornered because of locale and transportation. Otherwise, I can’t fathom the inner workings of the place, especially given the renown the place has… My guess is that because the place is so large, the Doctors aren’t actually the ones running the joint.
I’ve gutted it out 3 times with Xander, twice for specialist appointments since working in the field, and once on emergency prior (he swallowed a ball – I could have sent you that radiograph too…) and in my own experience the Doctors and Technicians have always made the experience worth it *for me*. But I completely understand when our clients ask us for any place to go that isn’t there….