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Donna Solomon, DVM

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Selecting a Veterinarian

Posted: 09/12/2012 2:26 pm

For the last six months I've been searching for the perfect part-time veterinarian to join my current three doctor veterinary practice at Animal Medical Center of Chicago. During this time period, I've read over 50 resumes, personally interviewed over a dozen, and it was only yesterday that I found the right veterinarian to join my staff. Why has it taken me so long to find the right person? Well, it's because I care. I only want veterinarians on my team that I would feel comfortable taking my own pets to.

Not surprisingly, I believe that the traits that I looked for when hiring a new veterinarian should be the same traits that a pet owner considers when choosing their personal veterinarian. I think it is exceedingly important for pet owners to select their "chosen" veterinarian and not just settle on the nearest or cheapest veterinary clinic available. It is a crucial relationship that will enhance your pet's quality of life and hopefully last decades.

I'd like to share with you my top characteristics for selecting the right veterinarian:

1. Empathetic -- recognizes the importance of a pet owner's relationship with their pet. The veterinarian must not only be compassionate towards the pet but also the owner.

2. A life-long student and encourage clients to be knowledgeable about their pet's health care. I want a veterinarian who is excited about going to work everyday. Someone who likes to learn and share this information with his/her clients. Veterinary medicine is a professional career for some, but for the truly dedicated it is a passion. I want only passionate veterinarians on my team.

3. Know his/her own limitations. Be a team player. No one knows everything but it is imperative that your chosen veterinarian knows what his/her strengths and limitations are -- know when to seek help when he/she may need it. I want a veterinarian that feels comfortable referring challenging cases to the experts. In addition, I do not want a veterinarian that is offended when a second opinion is sought, but supports it. I love when I see a doctor and they say to me, "I don't know the answer but I will find someone who does."

4. A good listener and observant. Our patients do not talk to us but their owners do. It is amazing what they observe. I think it is essential for a good veterinarian not only to be a good listener but also to be a good detective and ask questions. Frequently, the history I get from my clients gives me the diagnosis.

5. Be a good diagnostician -- have a wide grasp of veterinary medicine. Do a complete physical on each pet during each visit. I like a veterinarian that looks at the whole pet, from head to tail, before making any diagnostic or treatment plans. If a patient comes in with an ear infection, I want them to palpate the entire body to make sure that all is well before dispensing ear medication. What a tragedy it would be if a tumor were quietly sitting in the abdomen only to be missed because the doctor only addressed the client's concern of an ear infection. In addition to being thorough, I want the veterinarian to clearly state my pet's problems, list diagnostic activity that may be necessary to obtain a diagnosis, formulate a treatment plan and give me an educated guess on the success of this outcome.

6. Be a strong advisor. Be strong enough to tell me when it's time to say good-bye to my best friend or when the veterinarian gives me choices on how to proceed with my pet's illness, tell me how he/she would do under this situation. I think it is ridiculous when you ask a doctor what they would do under this medical situation and they say, "Well, I'm not you, and it's your decision." What I am really asking is for his/her professional advice based on his/her veterinary medical knowledge and years of experience. I know that nothing is 100 percent predictable, nor is there a money back guarantee, but at least tell me what you think is the best decision for this given situation with your knowledge. In addition, I appreciate when the veterinarian tells me the likely odds of success or failure based on their own professional experiences and years of study.

7. An intelligent veterinarian. Don't be fooled by a nice smile or friendly presence. I'm not looking for a friend to take care of my pet. I once, mistakenly, hired a veterinarian for one week at my practice years ago. This veterinarian was charming and graduated from a distinguished school but just didn't know how to apply the knowledge he acquired from school to real life medical situations. Clients loved him, but my staff and I knew better. I dismissed him. I just couldn't go to sleep at night knowing that a veterinarian at my office was not practicing the quality of medicine that I demand for my other associates. His fatal character flaw was that he thought he knew everything but really did not. So, if your veterinarian's diagnosis just doesn't feel right, seek a second opinion. Trust your gut instinct -- it's probably right.

How do you know if the veterinarian you have selected fulfills your needs especially before you have had the opportunity to have them tested? The tragedy is that you may never know until that unfortunate crisis time. However, to minimize choosing the wrong veterinarian, ask fellow pet owners whom they see. The best referral is from a fellow known pet owner. What has their past experience with their veterinarian been like? Does their veterinarian actively engage in a dialogue with the client in a respectful way? Or, does their veterinarian roll their eyes when they tell him/her about what they found on the Internet? Again, you want someone nice and empathetic, but competent to handle a crisis in your pet's life and be proactive with his/her health care. Does your veterinarian practice quality, progressive medicine and surround himself/herself with a polished, educated staff? Don't wait till your pet has an emergency before you recognize that your current veterinarian is not practicing at the level that you desire for your pet's care.

Be proactive and find your pet's best veterinarian. Just like pet owners, veterinarians have different skills and personalities. Choose one that best fits with your personality and best for your pet's health. Hopefully, this relationship will last 15-20 years!

And finally, for this week's adoptable pet, Bam Bam. Bam Bam is a 5-year-old Poodle mix. His owners no longer wanted him because they were "moving," so they left him at Animal Welfare League. Can you imagine being with a family for five years and then they no longer want you? He was heartbroken and confused until ALIVE Rescue came along. Now he's getting a lot of love while he waits for his new forever home. Bam Bam is great with older children, and he gets along with other dogs and cats. For more information, visit www.aliverescue.org.

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