Educating Pet Owners About Veterinary Medicine

Posted: Nov 26, 2013
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ABC's 20/20 recently ran a story about the "secret world" of veterinary medicine.

"The majority of veterinarians are money grubbing, no-ethics witch doctors who will recommend useless tests and procedures out of the interest of the bottom line."

I may be paraphrasing a bit... but that tends to happen when I get angry. This "story" in and of itself isn’t any new thinking for some pet owners. How many of us have had to stand in our hospital lobby, most of us making barely enough to cover our bills, putting our education and experience and knowledge and compassion and blood sweat and tears into someone’s pet, and have them tell us we’re "only in it for the money"? The vast majority of us will apologize and try to remain calm, and continue to do all we can to help their pet.

What’s different for me this time around is looking at this story in context with the veterinary technician licensing debate and the recent death of a dog in Colorado after having surgery on the dining room table (I can’t make this up. Seriously). In my opinion, what we have here is an issue with VERY few unethical veterinarians, but mostly it's an issue with the general public not understanding enough about veterinary medicine and what actually happens "in the back". If the public understood what questions to ask before they even took their pet to a veterinarian, we wouldn’t have NEARLY the sensational news stories about the "rampant money grubbing" happening in our profession.

We understand how important it is for us as to keep learning and attending CE and progressing with the research (AAHA vaccine guidelines anyone? AAHA fluid therapy guidelines?) but are we educating the pet owner about how much we are learning and keeping up with the changes? How many of your clients know, first of all, that your hospital is AAHA certified, and if they do know that how many understand what that means? What is the veterinary technician profession doing to educate the public on the importance of our role? How far away are we from a family knowing it’s not okay for a 16yr old to be monitoring anesthesia happening on the dining room table?

I’ve learned something from communication experiences with clients; that I cannot control their feelings or reactions, I can only control my own. That’s how I view this controversy over the news story. I can only continue to advocate for my profession and work to educate pet owners to ask. Do you have a licensed technician that will be monitoring anesthesia on my pet? Are you an AAHA certified hospital? Let’s focus on building trust and these “news” stories won’t be sensational anymore. The public will see them as ridiculous just like we do.

We have to start somewhere in this journey, and it starts will all of us getting involved. Get involved in NAVTA, get involved in your state and local technician associations. Get involved with the technician student populations if you can. Look at what it will take to get AAHA certified and get your entire hospital on board with that goal. If you are an AAHA hospital, tell your clients what that means and how proud you are of that accomplishment! It’s a long road ahead, but after reading the responses to the "news story" from colleagues, I’m proud to travel this road with all of you. 

Watch this short video with Julie Legred, NAVTA Interim Executive Director, of an interview I recently did with her: