April 2017

Today’s VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog is by guest blogger, Karen Schuder, Ed.D., M.Div., M.A.M. Here, she reviews the importance of communication skills in veterinary medicine. While many of us went into veterinary medicine “because we love animals,” we have to learn to love people too, as we deal with them all the time. If you can’t love them as much as their dog or cat, at least communicate with them well!

The importance of communication skills in veterinary medicine
Karen Schuder, Ed.D., M.Div., M.A.M.

When it comes to professional success, there are few things as important as the ability to communicate. As I consider feedback given by clients and staff about our veterinary practice, one thing is very clear: Good communication is critical to professional success. Responses such as “I really appreciate the friendly greeting” or “I would appreciate it if staff greeted each other” reflect communication experiences. Even in a profession focused on animals, the ability to communicate effectively is vital to client and staff relationships.

When we are busy and life is stressful it is easy to forget one very important reality: How we communicate can be louder than what we communicate. Generational, gender, and cultural differences increase the need for thoughtful communication. Taking the time to work on communication skills can have great payback by decreasing stress and increasing success.

Some communication tips include:

1) Listen: Good listening leads to better responding. More than just hearing others talk, listening means paying attention to what someone is saying. Try not to process your response while a person is talking, because this decreases what you actually hear. Truly listening requires being grounded in a healthy respect for others and a willingness to consider other perspectives.

2) Affirm what is right: Make sure you notice and mention the good things that are happening. Especially if you have to talk about a difficult subject, it is helpful to offer sincere affirmations along with what may be difficult to hear. For example, before approaching a client on lack of compliance, make note of the ways she/he has showed care for a pet.

3) Keep it clear and simple: No matter how detailed and complicated an explanation is, keep the final directives simple and easy to remember. People want to know their veterinarian or co-worker is smart, but also need to understand what is going on and what they need to do. Concluding statements of a conversation are going to be the most memorable, so end with what you want to be understood and remembered.

4) Engage in active listening: After listening to someone rephrase what you heard. This can clear up assumptions and misunderstandings. Make sure you give the other person an opportunity to respond to your rephrasing so she/he can correct misunderstandings.

5) Use positive statements: It is generally easier to follow positive directives so prescribe what a person is to do, rather than what they should not do.

6) Use I Statements: When we are frustrated or challenged it is easy to fall into patterns of blaming or denial, but this is not helpful. Using statements starting with “I” rather than “you” can be less offensive and more accurately reflect our perception.

7) Monitor your mood: Body language is loud and how we feel is easily communicated, so be attentive to your moods. When we are irritated, frustrated, tired, or just focused on a task and it comes through how we communicate, people may take it personally even though our mood has nothing to do with them. Be intentional about how to communicate especially when it is not easy being your ideal self. Take a deep breath, give yourself a positive thought, and allow yourself a calming moment when you need a mood adjustment. Simply doing this can prevent miscommunications and hurt feelings.

Good communication is integral to a successful and sustainable career. Being a Dr. Doolittle who can talk with the animals definitely helps, but so does being able to talk with the humans. So as you work on expanding surgical skill or learning about new medical interventions, remember to take time to work on communication, because that is what will help you and your team give life to those healing techniques.

About Karen Schuder, Ed.D., M.Div., M.A.M.
An avid animal and people lover, Karen has extensive experience leading organizations, as well as coaching and training leaders to help them function at their best. She and her husband, Steve Schuder D.V.M., own a veterinary hospital in Northern Minnesota. Her experience is supplemented by doctoral work looking at leadership, resilience, ethics, management, and organizational development. She is a licensed compassion fatigue professional who has spent most of her life in a variety of caregiving roles helping people deal with traumatic experiences. Her workshops include active learning and participation while providing practical strategies to promote personal growth and career sustainability. More information can be found at her website http://karenschuder.com.

  1. It will useful for me if you can send me the paper where you got this information.
    Thanks in advance

  2. Thank you for pointing out that it is important to communicate what needs to happen to the owner, so you must convey the complexity while still helping them understand. My sister is thinking about becoming a vet. She is so good with animals, especially horses. I wonder if she could get internships as she goes through school so that she can get an idea of what she wants!

  3. communication seems to be the most challenging aspect of vet med for me, keeping in mind these tips help me communicate more efficiently.

  4. I like to follow up with basic written instructions–vet visits may be stressful and the owner forgets verbal advice.

  5. Great article! I have a natural gift when it comes to building client rapport. Not everybody has that ability, and I am thankful to have it. I think this article shares wonderful advice that could help some people who struggle in this department

  6. This is very helpful to keep in mind. I always try to put myself in the clients shoes to better understand their feelings.
    My pet peeve is staff members not greeting each other when arriving at work. A simple hello can set the tone for your shift!

  7. This is so true and a good reminder. #7 monitor your mood, is really important and noticeable to others.

  8. Spot on in every area especially monitoring your mood because it does change and it’s on you to keep it in check.

  9. Every clinic needs to post this in a break room or somewhere to remind us all how important good communication skills are.

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