By Dr. Jason Sweitzer
While I love what I do, and helping others, I have accumulated complaints over the last decade as a vet. Each complaint takes a very little piece of my determination and happiness from me but none of them does so like a board complaint.
I am fortunate that it took 10 years to receive my first board complaint. Many of my colleagues are not so lucky. Some might attribute it to how much I communicate. I frequently run over my 30 minute appointment slot talking to clients, listening to them, teaching them, and working with them. I give so much to every client and pride myself on my devotion and client service. A vast majority of clients appreciate my efforts and my job satisfaction reflects that. However, you cannot please all of the people all of the time. I have had complaints and all of them had a kernel of truth, an opportunity to improve from them, and something to be thankful for. Sometimes it takes deep searching but they are there.
Then came my board complaint. I was accused of not meeting standard of care when I hospitalized a case that was in end stage organ failure. I received the complaint nearly a year after the incident. Upon opening the complaint I couldn’t remember the case as I had seen well over 1,000 patients since then. I pulled open the chart and read my notes. My more than a page exam notes and client communication. I opened the signed form by the client that they took their animal home against medical advice (AMA), which I rarely ever use. I opened the notes were they declined all treatment I offered. I opened the communication notes where they spoke to many staff members over the next several days and declined all recommendations. I opened the notes where their animal had sadly passed and they were looking for someone to blame. I read through each, time and date stamped note, with each initialed message, and all essential information recorded including what was discussed, what options were given, and what the client planned/elected to do.
I printed out the 10+ pages of notes, explained any abbreviations, wrote a summary, and sent it off to my board. Now I wait months to years to hear back. I mentioned that every complaint has 1. a kernel of truth, 2. an opportunity to improve from them, and 3. something to be thankful for. So I forced myself to critique this complaint and find my three take aways from it.
1. I had indeed not met the standard of care - I was not allowed to due to the client declining all care I offered and leaving AMA.
2. I learned to gather my information before making a judgement. When I opened the letter my brain went to all of the dark possibilities and questioned myself and my medicine. I learned to trust myself and my staff to each do their jobs and to do the best they can within the restrictions from the owner. I learned that my first reaction to a complaint is often overly dramatic and not accurate. I learned I am trained how to handle life-threatening emergencies and that most things are not one, so take the time to do it right.
3. I am thankful for thorough records. I am thankful for my awesome staff who also made thorough records and showed compassion despite an emotionally trying struggle of having to support a case without being allowed to actually help. I am thankful for my amazing colleagues and coworkers, including my boss whose response, was “I’m sorry! How can I help?”
If you have been through a board complaint, a client complaint, or are struggling for any reason, or if you have some emotional reserves and want to support others who don’t have any reserves, please reach out to Not One More Vet, Inc. Everyone can help in some way. Please remember, You are not alone, we are ALLONE!
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.