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Making It Work: How Veterinarians Coped with COVID-19

Veterinary Trends

March 2022
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When COVID-19 hit the United States in March 2020, veterinary professionals found themselves in the unique role of being “essential” but without the same support structure afforded our human medical counterparts.

As the number of patients seemed to increase, supplies decreased. We covered shifts as colleagues quarantined. We stood in the rain and snow to discuss cancer diagnoses with clients through car windows. We did our best to preserve our client relationships and our team members’ health.

Now, two years later, we are honoring the strength and resilience of our veterinary profession by telling your stories, in your own words. Click through this 3-part series of curbside confessions.

Part 1

As COVID-19 introduced a new and uncertain landscape, stress levels rose for clients and veterinarians alike, adding new tensions to daily practice life.

Feeling connected with clients is really important to me. A lot of the good feelings I get from my job are generated from client satisfaction—dogs and cats can’t tell me if they were happy with their experience or not. It’s been challenging to keep my energy up because I couldn’t get that nonverbal information from clients over the phone.

—Relief veterinarian in San Diego

For some of my clients, they are the only person to take care of their pets. I’m thinking of one client in particular who told me, “If I die, there’s no one to take care of my dogs. So I can't die.” And I worry about my clients who live by themselves. They don’t see anybody but me, and if their cat were to die, then they wouldn’t even see me.

—House call veterinarian in DC metro

We’re seeing more negative interactions with clients. Everybody is doing the best they can. But clients are definitely more reactive, and we have also become more reactive, because we’re burned out, we’re exhausted, we’re emotionally raw.

—Practice owner in Florida

It seems like clients are less patient, and I think it’s because nobody is okay right now. Everybody's really stressed out, not just us veterinarians. Clients are experiencing stress in their own jobs, in their own family, and we're right there with them.

—Practice owner in Boston

What surprised me the most during the pandemic is people’s behavior. The rudeness, the entitlement. It floors me. Some clients I never expected to hear [something negative] from… like really, they said that?!

—Practice owner in Oklahoma

Although pet owners know what’s going on with supply chain issues in general, they are still not really understanding why they can’t get their dog’s therapeutic diet. Everything’s on back order.

—Practice owner in Boston

We got so much pushback when we first started letting people back inside the clinic with a mask policy. Constantly saying, “You need to wear a mask. And now pull it up over your nose. No, not on top of it…” It was the same thing over and over. Honestly, I give up. I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of the stress on my staff.

—Practice owner in Oklahoma

I wear a mask that nothing’s going to get through. Since things have gotten better, I give clients the choice to wear a mask. Some dogs are really uncomfortable with their owners wearing a mask, especially in the home. I have one client whose home I still have not been back inside—I treat her pets on the front porch.

—House call veterinarian in DC metro

We’re trained to communicate with clients face-to-face in an exam room with their pet present. Being curbside, I never once saw a client for a year and a half. Every single appointment was, “Here’s a pet, get on the phone, talk to the person.” There’s a lot of back and forth on the phone. Initially, it was really hard just to get people to answer their phones or have their phones on them. 

—Relief veterinarian in San Diego

I got tired of talking on the phone. I feel like I can gauge the interaction better in person than over the phone. It's so hard to “check this bump” on a dog with curbside.

—Practice owner in Oklahoma

Clients already feel isolated from their pets’ health because pets can’t communicate verbally. When communicating over the phone, the client can feel even more isolated, and they might even feel like their concerns are not being addressed or they are being taken advantage of. When clients don’t get to speak to anybody and never see the veterinarian, they might not see the value in an exam fee.

—Relief veterinarian in San Diego

Even when we were curbside, we let clients in for euthanasia. It was hard for me because if I put someone’s cat to sleep and I think the owner needs a hug, I offer a hug! We started using extension sets so we could stand 6 feet away. But then you have to push really hard and have extra flush and it doesn’t feel warm…you never want people to feel that way with a euthanasia. So that was hard.

—Veterinarian in a feline-only clinic in DC metro

Curbside took away all the niceties, all the pleasantries of the job. It became all business.

—Relief veterinarian in San Diego


Does your practice currently observe a mask policy (as of March 2022)?


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