Tell me about a time that you faced a challenge or obstacle in your career. What happened? (Maybe this challenge had to do with running your business, working with a client, or a side of veterinary care that you found particularly difficult — there are no wrong answers!)
During the third year of my equine surgery residency at WSU my service had a scheduled lameness exam on a breeding stallion. It was a beautiful eastern WA May afternoon and I had several 4th year students and an intern following me around outside as we looked at this nice Quarter Horse. The owner of the stallion was a late 50’s rancher who had been in the horse business for decades. I think I may have met him earlier in my residency when he brought in another horse, but he appeared not to remember me. Throughout the history taking and lameness exam he persisted in calling me variations of “honey,” “little lady,” “darlin’” and other such terms. I was dressed in typical receiving day apparel (pressed button-down shirt, new jeans, etc) with my nametag prominent. I could hear the 4th year students stifling giggles every time he called me darling and he was starting to get under my skin.
Tell me about what you did to overcome this obstacle.
The first thing I did was invent a reason to take a 10 minute break, just to gather my thoughts. I am not a conflict type of person, so coming right out and telling this guy he was being disrespectful was not going to happen. My impression was this was simply his way of speaking with any female younger than himself and probably some part of him felt he was complimenting me. He behaved in a respectful manner with regard to my knowledge and lameness exam, so it wasn’t as if I wanted to fire this client. Ultimately I decided to ‘aggressively’ use his first name. By aggressive I mean that I would sprinkle his name into the conversation (it was Henry, if you are wondering) as often as I could. My thinking was that by using his first name I might subtly push him into using my first name. Initially, it made me a little uncomfortable to be in this odd vocabulary battle with a client, but he actually started using my first name pretty quickly. He also started calling me “Doc,” which is annoying in its own way but is miles better than Darlin’. All in all, the exam and treatment went smoothly and we parted in a professional manner (from my perspective anyway).
After all of the cases were handled for the day, I took a few moments out of evening rounds with the senior students and intern to talk to them about that client. They all started chuckling again when I brought up his use of the various terms of endearment. One of the students said the client reminded him of his uncles and he didn’t really see there being a problem. The intern (female) said she would have come right out and asked the client not to call her little lady or any other variation (she was from the East Coast and a pretty forward individual – I could imagine her doing that). It was a great conversation and I think we all benefitted from hearing the other opinions. None of those students thought his behavior would have been tolerated if he was a student or employee of the university.
How did the whole experience make you feel? How did you feel after you overcame it?
I was proud of myself for not letting this guy drive me nuts in front of my students, but I also felt a bit silly for spending even a few minutes of time worrying about it.
What did you learn from your experience, and how do you apply these lessons in your career today?
Since my residency I have been called much worse things than “Honey.” I’ve learned to shut people down if they are truly being disrespectful, but to tune it out if they really want to call me “Doc” or some other variation. I have used the ‘aggressive first name’ calling technique several times and it often works, plus it helps me remember people better. Like so many other veterinarians, I can remember the patient name but not so much the client.
Based on this experience, what advice do you have for your fellow vets or aspiring veterinary students?
If you are having a problem with how a client is treating you, take 10. In our profession, there are many legitimate excuses to give yourself 10 minutes to gather your thoughts, walk around the building, stare into space, whatever. Those minutes may allow you some insight into the client (Is he/she actually trying to disrespect you?) as well as yourself (Is this really that important to me? Is this setting a good/bad example for anyone else? Am I going to interact with this client again and it would be better to hash this out now?).