A Pandemic Year for Veterinarians

The District Vet

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For everyone 2020 presented numerous challenges and even some opportunities. Daily routines were rapidly altered, creating a new reality. The practice of veterinary medicine was not immune to 2020, and was at the forefront of these challenges.

As quarantines and stay at home orders progressed, those in the animal care profession were considered essential workers and continued to provide care, despite risks. There was no break and paradoxically, the amount of work for veterinary professionals has significantly increased over the past year. In addition to the stress of living in a pandemic world, their workplace was not a sanctuary, as they were being asked to do more while having to embrace a new practice paradigm.

A number of factors combined to upend veterinary practice over the past ten months. First was the sudden change to curbside practice. Veterinary staff work in close proximity to each other, frequently directly face to face when treating patients. Within the walls of a veterinary facility, it is difficult to social distance–it simply can’t happen all the time. I

n order to reduce the risk of transmission from outside the practice, curbside practice was initiated, where clients remained outside the walls of the building. Within a day direct communication with clients changed to brief in-person interactions and extended telephone or email communication.

Veterinary medicine is a personal profession where trust is built upon communication, therefore conversations were awkward and tensions ran high. This has also led to difficulties elucidating what was the client’s true issue with the pet.

With time and experience, the staff and practice learned to adapt. Clients were asked to submit a history sheet in advance of their appointment, they became accustomed to the new world of curbside everything, and everyone understood that we are doing our best to keep our staff safe and the hospital open.

Second, it appeared that every resident of the city without a dog or cat sought out a new companion. Dogs and cats are our friends–when stuck at home, many people saw the opportunity to welcome a new four-legged family member. Shelters were emptied. There were fights and bidding contests at breeders. And then there was a crush of new clients needing veterinary care.

Third, now that many clients were telecommuting, they had more time to see the veterinarian for wellness care and chronic problems with their pets. While being at home all day, it is much easier to notice that the dog is limping when walking, or that the cat is not eating as well as in the past. To the vet the clients wanted to go.

The continuation of curbside care, increased phone calls (150%+ increase), influx of new patients, and increased demand for examination of existing patients, has led to a backlog of appointments and increased stress in the veterinary hospital and community. It must be remembered that this is coupled with the fact that we ourselves need to practice COVID protection within our walls and at home. The social responsibility of the staff is immense; we work close together and a staff member with COVID has the strong potential to spread the virus to others.

It is difficult to put into words the appreciation that many clients have given to the staff and doctors. I consider the staff to be unsung heroes: they are tasked with keeping your pets healthy and happy, therefore providing you joy and your friends comfort, during these dark and distanced times.

As surely as the anal gland stinks, 2020 will end, the pandemic will subside, and we will again open to a more personalized service, which clients have come to expect. This will take patience. This will take work. This will happen. For the hope of 2021, hold on a bit longer, spring is around the corner, and we will see you in our exam rooms once again.

Dan Teich, DVM, Medical Director, District Veterinary Hospital. www.districtvet.com