Rochester vet Dr. Christine Vogel, thought it was time to speak out.
It wasn’t just the rudeness and bad behavior that veterinarians and receptionists at client veterinary clinics had to deal with, but it was the real harm it did to the industry.
“What I joke with a lot of people is essentially somewhere between social media and the idea that the customer is always right. “There are no rules.”
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As a result, Vogel reached out to Facebook earlier this month to ask for the rules for better behavior and accountability to be restored.
“Until we let people know that we as a community will not tolerate degrading and bellicose behavior, every customer service industry will continue to be understaffed and / or closed,” Vogel said in a post to the Facebook group Spotted in Rochester.
Stories of angry or rude customers and people at school board meetings, restaurants, and cafes have become commonplace in this era of pandemic, but understanding of the toll they have taken on the veterinary industry is less understood. Vogel wanted people to understand that.
“Employees are only mistreated for so long before they quit … and that’s exactly what happened,” she said in her post. “A large part of an already understaffed occupation is rising and quitting across the country.”
There are reasons the veterinary industry is uniquely exposed to the chaos wrought by customers who can be rude, ungrateful and demanding. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, veterinarians, vets and staff were operating in a stressful job with a high suicide rate. Most of them enter their job motivated by strong empathy. But they often end up in a job with low wages and high demands.
Dr. Christine Vogel stands for a portrait area in the waiting area Monday, October 18, 2021, at the Animal Health Care Veterinary Hospital in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Hospitals that treat people are usually large enough to offer a high level of specialization. Human hospitals have accounting, human resources, and custody departments. The doctors are supported by nurses and their auxiliaries.
In a veterinary clinic, all these tasks are under one roof and on a small staff.
“We should do everything, from the failed tooth to the failed eyeball to the spleen that has just exploded,” Vogel said of her animal patients. “We’re doing it (in) a tiny building. While it’s in the human industry, oh no, I just work on thumbs.”
Then the pandemic hit. And, to combat the loneliness and boredom of being locked up at home, people turned to pets for isolation. This in turn led to an explosive demand for veterinary services at a time when the clinics were already scarce.
Vogel dates the problematic and legitimate behavior her employees saw even before the pandemic. Customers arriving 20 minutes late for an appointment yelling at the front desk for missing their time at the vet. Customers who bring dogs who pounce on the staff, but the request to muzzle the animal is answered with expletive language by the owner.
“We bend over to please you,” Vogel said of late arriving customers. “We’re trying, but it wasn’t our problem. We didn’t do it.
Vet Mary Lane gives Leia a kiss when Dr. Beth Wohlert will examine her at the Animal Health Care Veterinary Hospital in Rochester on Monday, October 18, 2021. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Vogel said her clinic had sent letters to as many as seven customers in the past three years, ending their relationship with them because of bad behavior. That may not seem like much. But in 21 years as a vet, that’s a large number for an action that was rarely taken before.
“People are used to it and want immediate service, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to my clients, ‘This isn’t Jiffy Lube or Domino’s,'” she said.
Vogel said the crisis in the veterinary industry is reflected in the small number of resumes she has on her files. When she bought her practice in 2008, she had over 20 resumes to choose from when she needed to hire a veterinarian. Today the pool of qualified applicants has run dry. For the past two years, her clinic has advertised a certified veterinarian, but the position has remained unfilled.
When asked what triggered her decision to make a public plea for understanding, Vogel tells of her recent hiring. In contrast to most applicants who publish their résumé on the Internet, the woman submitted her résumé personally. When Vogel asked why she applied to her clinic, the woman said she was drawn to her mission statement – especially the mention of the appreciation and protection of employees.
“She said: ‘I’ve never seen that before’ and she says: ‘In my current practice I am regularly abused and I just have to endure it,'” said Vogel.
1/5: Dr. Sarah Muellner, together with technician Danyelle Anderson, examines a dog during a teeth cleaning at the Animal Health Care Veterinary Hospital in Rochester on Monday, October 18, 2021. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
2/5: Veterinarian Kori Hickey will clean a dog’s teeth on Monday October 18, 2021 at the Veterinary Hospital for Animal Health in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
3/5: Veterinarian Kori Hickey cleans a dog’s teeth while technician Danyelle Anderson takes care of her nails at the Animal Health Care Veterinary Hospital in Rochester on Monday, October 18, 2021. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
4th/5: Veterinarian Kori Hickey (left) will take x-rays of a dog with technician Danyelle Anderson at the Animal Health Care Veterinary Hospital in Rochester on Monday, October 18, 2021. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
5/5: Dr. Sarah Muellner examines x-rays on a dog at the Animal Health Care Veterinary Hospital in Rochester on Monday, October 18, 2021. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin