It wasn’t just the incivility and bad behavior that veterinary technicians and receptionists at veterinary clinics were facing from customers, it was the real damage it was doing to the industry.
“What I joke with a lot of people is basically between social media and the idea that the customer is always right, we’ve basically become like ‘Fight Club’ rules,” said Vogel, owner of the animal health care veterinary hospital in Rochester. . “There are no rules.”
So earlier this month, Vogel took to Facebook to advocate for a reinstatement of the rules for better behavior and accountability.
“Until we let people know that as a community we will not tolerate disparaging and belligerent behavior, every area of customer service will continue to be understaffed and / or closed,” Vogel said. in a post to the Facebook group called Spotted in Rochester.
Stories of angry or uncivilized customers and people at school board meetings, restaurants and cafes have become commonplace in this era of a pandemic, but understanding the toll it has taken on the veterinary industry is less understood. Vogel wanted people to understand this.
“Employees will only be abused for so long before they quit… that’s exactly what happened,” she said in her post. “Much of an already understaffed profession has resigned across the country.”
There are reasons the veterinary industry is particularly vulnerable to the ravages of customers who can be rude, ungrateful and demanding. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, veterinarians, veterinary technicians and staff were already operating in a very stressful job with a high suicide rate. Most enter the profession motivated by a strong sense of empathy. But they often end up with low-paying and demanding work.
Dr Christine Vogel represents a portrait area in the waiting room on Monday, October 18, 2021 at the Animal Health Care Veterinary Hospital in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Hospitals that treat humans are generally large enough to offer a high degree of specialization. Human hospitals claim billing, human resources, and on-call services. Doctors are supported by nurses and their support staff.
In a veterinary hospital, all of these responsibilities fall under one roof and with a small staff.
“We’re supposed to do everything, from your fallen tooth to your fallen eyeball to your just exploded spleen,” Vogel said, speaking of his animal patients. “We’re doing it (in) a small building. Whereas in human industry it’s, oh no, I only work on the thumbs.”
Then the pandemic struck. And people, to combat the loneliness and boredom of being locked up at home, have turned to pets to ease the isolation. This, in turn, created an explosion in demand for veterinary services at a time when clinics were already understaffed.
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Vogel dates the problematic and legitimate behavior its staff began to see even before the pandemic. Customers who show up 20 minutes late for an appointment and start yelling at the front desk for missing their time with the vet. Customers bringing dogs rush to staff but a request to muzzle the animal is greeted with profanity by the owner.
“We go out of our way to make things right for you,” Vogel said of customers arriving late. “We try, but it was not our problem. We did not do it.
Vet tech Mary Lane kisses Leia as Dr Beth Wohlert examines her on Monday, October 18, 2021 at Rochester Animal Health Veterinary Hospital. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Vogel said that over the past three years, his clinic has sent letters to seven clients ending their relationship with them due to bad behavior. That may not sound like a lot. But in 21 years as a vet, that’s a big number for an action that was once rarely taken.
“People are used to it and want instant service, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to customers, ‘it’s not Jiffy Lube or Domino’s’,” she said. .
Vogel said the crisis in the veterinary industry is reflected in the small batch of resumes she has on file. When she bought her practice in 2008, she had over 20 resumes to choose from when she needed to hire a veterinary technician. Today, the pool of qualified candidates has dried up. For the past two years, his clinic has advertised for a certified veterinary technician, but the position has gone vacant.
When asked what triggered her decision to make a public plea for understanding, Vogel tells the story of a hire she recently made. Unlike most candidates who post their resumes on the Internet, the woman hand-delivered hers. When Vogel asked why she applied to her clinic, the woman said she was drawn to its mission statement – specifically, its mention of valuing and protecting employees.
“She said, ‘I’ve never seen this,’ and she said, ‘In my current practice, I get abused on a regular basis and just have to put up with it,'” said Vogel.