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Causes, Impacts, & Management of Client Incivility

Tamara McArdle, DVM, DABVP (Canine & Feline Practice), Albuquerque Cat Clinic, Albuquerque, New Mexico

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In the literature

Irwin A, Hall D, Ellis H. Ruminating on rudeness: exploring veterinarians' experiences of client incivility. Vet Rec. 2022;190(4):e1078. doi:10.1002/vetr.1078


Veterinary client incivility (ie, rudeness) can cause clinician stress and burnout.1 

This study analyzed interviews of 18 clinicians in the United Kingdom who described specific experiences of client incivility and their thoughts about potential consequences. Interview responses were assessed by psychology researchers with focus on perceived causes, potential impacts, and management of incivility.

Perceived causes of incivility were lack of respect, finances, and concerns about patient health. Potential impacts on clinicians included long-term mental health effects (eg, diminished self-confidence, withdrawal), career change, and desire to leave the veterinary profession. Incivility directly targeting the clinician or their clinical abilities was particularly impactful, as it affected the clinician’s identity as a veterinary professional. Potential management included proactive client management (eg, using concise language to reduce the length of interaction), detailed discussion of concerns (eg, to prevent incivility motivated by worry), and issuing a verbal warning to unreasonable owners, as well as being empathetic, calm, and professional.

Reflection on potential causes of incivility and clinic policies, as well as a supportive clinic environment, helped clinicians manage negative interactions. Lack of support and time pressures had an adverse impact.


Key pearls to put into practice:


Considering the cause of incivility can help guide constructive responses, manage interactions, and minimize long-term personal impacts. Rudeness stemming from personality characteristics or a lack of respect may warrant establishment of firm boundaries (referred to as drawing a line in the study), whereas behaviors rooted in worry about the patient, financial concerns, or guilt warrant empathy, calmness, and professionalism. This author notes that prior trauma, pet loss, and negative veterinary experiences can also influence client behavior.


Clinics should encourage staff to discuss incidents to generate empathy and support from colleagues and consider implementing supportive protocols (eg, providing additional staff during certain appointments, allowing clinicians time to recover after an uncivil interaction).


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