If someone had told me in 2019 that I would be very soon offering “curbside” service as a veterinarian, I would have looked at them like they had three heads. I couldn’t even have guessed what portion of my job could even be performed alongside a curb.
But when the pandemic hit, “curbside” service was a necessary adjustment to our new lifestyle. It allowed us to come to work and maintain a modicum of safety when many of our friends and family were able to remain at home and work remotely.
But after two years, “curbside” is like a four letter word… or two of them put together, anyway. It’s inefficient, it’s impersonal, and it’s frustrating for clients and staff alike.
Not to mention the animals who have been whisked away from their owners at the front door.
With the advent of COVID vaccines, and the general re-opening of businesses, many of us have left curbside service at the… well, curb.
I’m relieved to be meeting with my clients in person again, examining dogs and cats with their owners sitting beside them. My staff is no longer shuttling animals back and forth, taking payments over the phone, and coordinating endless drop-offs, pick-ups, and the like.
Perhaps the happiest of all are my clients, who are thrilled to be back in the hospital, advocating for their pets in person.
I’ve spent the last two years thinking a lot about the client’s perspective of the veterinary hospital. I make every attempt to be transparent with my clients — but not many people know the inner workings of what we do.
What’s going on in there? What is a veterinary technician? What happens behind that treatment room door? Why does my dog put on the brakes when we walk into the front door — does he know something I don’t?
Perhaps it might be helpful to walk you through what happens to you and your pet from the time you walk into a typical veterinary hospital.
There, at the front desk, are our lovely receptionists. They have the hardest job in the hospital, and they do it all with a smile on their face.
They take appointments online, on the phone, and in person. Simultaneously, they are helping check out the appointment that is just finishing up, reviewing estimates with a procedure for next week, and they are getting you and Fifi checked in for your appointment.
The receptionists will ask you to confirm your contact information, which seems to be a subject of consternation among clients, but please do.
When we need to get a hold of you with lab work results or to confirm an appointment, we can’t possibly know if you have moved or gotten a new cell number without this information.
Then Fifi will get weighed, and this is also important information because we use the current weight to dose out medications. Weight loss is also sometimes the very first sign that something is amiss inside an animal’s body.
After this, you will be led into an exam room. A veterinary assistant, who may be a credentialed RVT (registered veterinary technician), will come in and take Fifi’s history.
We will need to know why she is here today, what are her symptoms and how long has she had them, what food is she eating, etc.
The assistant or technician will also ask if Fifi is on any medication, and again this seems to be a sticking point for many clients. Yes, we DO know what we prescribed last time, but we DON’T know if you are actually giving them, and if so, they are being given as we prescribed.
Next it will be time to see the doctor. Typically I will examine Fifi in the exam room, as we discuss the reason for your visit.
This is beneficial for numerous reasons, one being that Fifi will feel more comfortable with you present. It’s also much easier for you to physically point out the areas of concern, such as rashes, lumps, and so on. And it is much easier for me to point out my areas of concern, such as a broken tooth, an ear that looks red and inflamed, or other lesions that I have discovered during the examination.
Then it might be time for vaccines, diagnostics, or treatments. Most of the time, we will take Fifi into our treatment room for this.
The veterinary technician will perform many of these hands-on treatments. These hard-working, under-appreciated individuals have dedicated their lives to working with animals, and they simply don’t get the credit they deserve.
Many have completed years of training and schooling to become RVTs (called LVTs or CVTs in other states), which is the veterinary equivalent of a nurse.
They can become certified in many different subspecialties of veterinary practice, just as doctors can. And they are, in general, grossly underpaid for their knowledge, skill, and dedication to their work.
A critical shortage in veterinary staff has occurred since the pandemic began, so expect to see rising prices at vet hospitals so we can better compensate our staff to retain them.
Trust me, this is good for everyone including Fifi. You want highly trained, well-compensated and dedicated staff working on your pet. And so do I
Why, you might ask, does everything have to happen in the treatment area? There are both logistical and legal reasons we don’t have you, the owner, take part in the blood draws, or the administration of injections.
One is that pets are very wiggly, their veins are very tiny, and no offense, you just can’t hold them the way they need to be held for this procedure. They need to be stock still (if just for 20 seconds) and in just the right position to do this safely.
There is also the issue of liability, as we don’t want clients getting injured in the hospital.
Lastly, and I know you may not believe it, Fifi might be just a little bit better behaved when we take her away from you. Some animals become more amenable to a blood draw or an injection when they aren’t wiggling and squiggling trying to jump back into your arms.
We will complete these treatments as gently and calmly as possible, and then we will bring Fifi back as quickly as we can. Sometimes, if it’s too stressful, we might delay the treatments for a day when you can give an anxiety medication at home beforehand.
You will then be guided back to those lovely multi-tasking receptionists to check out, perhaps schedule a follow-up exam or collect medications. When you leave, I hope you will return the smile to the hardworking staff. It’s not always a glamorous job, and it certainly isn’t well understood by the general public, but be assured that we love what we do. We wouldn’t have stuck it out through the years of “curbside” service otherwise.
dr Hilary Quinn is a small animal veterinarian in Santa Barbara. She owns and operates Wilder Animal Hospital, and shares her own home with three humans (her husband and two kids) as well as two rowdy dogs, a very calm kitty, two fish, and six chickens. Contact here at [email protected]