Archive for the ‘Compassion’ Category

The Cookie Thief!

December 18, 2011

I have the good fortune of lecturing professionally, and what I most enjoy presenting is the topic of communication between veterinarians and their clients. In every communication lecture I emphasize the importance of empathy. This involves veterinarians putting aside any preconceived notions and judgments about their clients so they can better recognize how their clients are feeling and what they are truly needing. In order to drive this point home during my presentation, I usually recite a poem I adore called, “The Cookie Thief.” While preparing a lecture earlier this week, it dawned on me that you might like this poem as well. Enjoy!

The Cookie Thief

A woman was waiting at an airport one night, with several long hours before her flight. She hunted for a book in the airport shops, bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.

She was engrossed in her book but happened to see, that the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be. . .grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between, which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.

So she munched the cookies and watched the clock, as the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock. She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by, thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”

With each cookie she took, he took one too, when only one was left, she wondered what he would do. With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh, he took the last cookie and broke it in half.

He offered her half, as he ate the other, she snatched it from him and thought… oooh, brother. This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude, why he didn’t even show any gratitude!

She had never known when she had been so galled, and sighed with relief when her flight was called. She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate, refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.

She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat, then she sought her book, which was almost complete. As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise, there was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.

If mine are here, she moaned in despair, the others were his, and he tried to share. Too late to apologize, she realized with grief, that she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.

Have your preconceived notions about someone ever been completely upended? Do you think your veterinarian has preconceived notions about you?

Happy holidays to you and your loved ones,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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Communicating About Communication

November 8, 2010

I’ve just returned from the International Conference on Communications in Veterinary Medicine (http://www.iccvm.com).  This was a gathering of folks from all around the world eager to share their research, report their observations, and learn more about communication in the world of veterinary medicine.  The majority of information shared at this meeting pertained directly to how veterinarians communicate with their clients.  From my perspective, this is such exciting news! As little as a decade ago, barely a trace of research existed on the topic of client communication in veterinary medicine.  Now there are a reasonable number of studies underway, many of which are geared towards figuring out the best ways to incorporate and teach client communication within veterinary school curricula.  While the Canadian veterinary colleges seem to really be leading the charge in this research, what’s clear is that more and more veterinary school faculty around the world are grasping just how important it is to teach client communication skills to their students.  Hurray!

I was asked to provide a lecture/workshop for this meeting and chose, “The Internet and the Vet: How the Worldwide Web is Changing the Way We Communicate”.  I presented the data about email communication between veterinarians and their clients that you were privy to via this blog a couple of months ago (http://speakingforspot.com/blog/?p=1363). We also discussed how to interact with clients who do Internet research pertaining to their pet’s health (These days, who doesn’t do this?). We did some role-playing to try to identify ways to make our clients feel more comfortable when discussing their Internet research.  We all agreed that most clients are a bit bashful when broaching this topic- by doing so they fear that they may be conveying mistrust in their veterinarians.

Take home points emphasized repeatedly at this meeting were the importance of empathic communication (delivered verbally and nonverbally) and relationship centered care- the communication style that emphasizes collaboration between veterinarians and their clients. The payoff for utilizing this style of communication is greater job satisfaction for the veterinarian and greater client satisfaction with the services received.  I feel wonderfully fortunate to be practicing veterinary medicine at a time when a conference about communication in veterinary medicine exists. 

Over the years have you perceived ways that communication between you and your veterinarian are changing? If so, I would love to hear from you.

Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health.  

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller. 

Free Christmas or Chanukah guft wrap with books purchased between now and December 25th (www.speakingforspot.com/purchase.html).

Frankly Speaking

December 6, 2009

In 2001, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association stated, “Veterinarians’ responsibilities have expanded to include the mental health and well-being of their clients as well as their clients’ pets.”  For me, this came as no great surprise.  Having graduated from veterinary school in 1982, I’d already learned that if I wasn’t taking good care of my clients’ emotional needs, it was far more difficult to take good care of my patients’ health needs.  Admittedly, it took me a few years to catch on to this notion.  During my formative years, I recall thinking that good client communication would be a “slam dunk”.  After all, I fancied myself to be a good teacher and a nice person.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that the “medicine part” was becoming a whole lot easier than the “client part.”

Thus began my avid interest in the art and science of client communication.  I read whatever I could get my hands on (not much in the veterinary literature at that time) and attended communication workshops. I began studying my clients, trying new tactics and techniques, and asking questions of them not necessarily directly related to their dog or cat (Kleenex consumption increased exponentially).  I founded and continue to facilitate a community Client Support Group (talk about a front row seat in terms of understanding what is going on in our clients’ minds) and have enjoyed teaching client communication skills to local and national audiences.

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that few veterinary colleges provide any formal client communication training to their students- doesn’t make much sense does it?  One of the schools that doesn’t overlook this important subject is Colorado State University.  Here veterinary students receive fabulous communication training via the Argus Institute (www.argusinstitute.colostate.edu).  This organization’s stated mission is “to strengthen veterinarian-client-patient communication and support relationships between people and their companion animals.” In addition to providing formal client communication training to CSU veterinary students, the Argus Institute also makes communication training available to veterinarians.  These workshops are called FRANK (based on the notion of “frank” communication), and the emphasis is on relationship-centered care, an approach that emphasizes collaboration and shared decision-making between veterinarian and client.  Pfizer Animal Health was involved in the creation of FRANK in 2007 and continues to generously fund this program.

I just completed my first FRANK training workshop- what a fabulous experience.  I left the program feeling invigorated, renewed, and eager to apply what I had learned. The majority of the workshop time was spent in small groups within simulated exam rooms.  Professional actors played “the client,” each getting in character with their assigned emotional agendas (they were awesome and totally believable).  Everyone took turns as “the veterinarian” during these mock office visits.   The interactions were videotaped after which respectful, constructive critique was offered within the small group setting. We worked on several communication skills including delivery of empathetic statements, maintaining focus on the “common ground” (the well being of the patient), reflective listening, facilitating silent pauses (time for clients to gather their thoughts), disclosure (sharing stories of our own that might parallel what the client is emotionally experiencing), and asking open-ended questions (allows the client greater opportunity to share their stories).

A veterinarian can be a sensational surgeon or a dandy diagnostician, but such skills may wither on the vine if he or she is not a successful communicator.  More than ever before, people are becoming savvy consumers of veterinary medicine and better effective medical advocates for their pets.   My sense is that these wonderful trends will drive the awareness that client communication training for veterinarians is profoundly important.   Frankly speaking, I think it’s about time!

Wishing you and your four-legged family members a joyful and healthy holidays season.

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Order  a copy of Speaking for Spot personally signed by Dr. Kay – http://www.speakingforspot.com/purchase.html

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Differing Perspectives on the Same Observations

September 13, 2009

I’ve received many wonderful emails in response to my interviews on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. The stories I’ve heard about peoples’ pets run the gamut from delightful to heart wrenching. Many listeners described crying while driving- I certainly hope Terry and I were not responsible for creating any collisions!

I’ve also received emails from a handful of folks who were put off by the Fresh Air interviews. The content of Anne’s comments (printed below with her permission) is representative of what these disgruntled listeners had to say:

“I’m annoyed at how dogs have become soooo important over the past 10 years or so. They’re just pets! Just animals. Clearly all this elevation of dogs is a by-product of a society in trouble. Never would I have imagined that dogs would be referred to as ‘family members’ or ‘surrogate children.’ NEVER!! Back in the day, the dog was just the ‘family dog’, not ‘the dog family member.’ It was like, ‘Yeah, there’s the dog, so what?’ No thought was given to brushing its teeth, worrying about dog cancer, or feeling guilty if we went on vacation and left the dog at home with a neighbor to look after it. I recently read a book about an African village, and the hard life they have, and the poverty. I found it so shameful that they live like that, while America’s dogs are often dressed in designer clothes, waited on hand and foot, given the best medical care, the best food, cooed over, etc. What the hell has happened to Americans? We’ve gone nutty! Dogs are just dogs, driven by selfish instinct to look after its own interests.”

As easy as it would be to ignore such “fan mail,” I truly believe that Anne’s comments are worthy of consideration. Given what I do for a living, I have certainly grappled with what I believe Anne is questioning. Is it reasonable to invest so much, emotionally and financially, in our pets when there is so much human suffering in the world? After all, the amount of money spent on one of our four-legged family members during the course of a year would represent a fortune to someone who is impoverished. Wouldn’t “shut in” senior citizens relish the affection and attention we lavish upon our pets?

While I agree with Anne’s observations- yes, many people consider their pets to be “family members” and yes, there is a great deal of human suffering in the world- I disagree with her notion that doting on our pets detracts from our willingness and ability to give of ourselves to others. I contend that the opposite is true. Many studies have documented that the human-animal bond positively impacts peoples’ psychological well-being. People whose “emotional bellies” are full rather than empty are more inspired and capable of giving their time, energy, and financial resources to others in need. One need not be a scientist to know that pets bestow a unique brand of sweetness and joy upon our lives; they keep us grounded even when insanity abounds. As I state in the introduction of Speaking for Spot, “Today the human-animal bond is stronger than ever. Perhaps, the more tumultuous the world around us, the tighter we cling to our beloved pets. They soothe us with their predictability and unconditional love, and they consistently give in excess of what they receive.”

Loving our pets does not make them more important than humans, nor does it “replace” our ability to tend to the needy. Rather, opening our homes and our hearts to animals makes our own humanity more accessible. Temple Grandin got it just right when she titled her newest book, “Animals Make Us Human.” Our love of animals doesn’t fill up our hearts- it makes our hearts grow bigger.

Wishing you and your four-legged family members good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay

Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross –

Back By Popular Demand- Dr. Nancy Kay on Fresh Air with Terry Gross!

August 30, 2009

“A Veterinarian Advises How to Speak for Spot”

Monday, August 31, 2009

This week will be “Animal Week” on the popular NPR show, Fresh Air with Terry Gross.  The lead interview will feature Dr. Nancy Kay and her book, Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life.  This interview originally aired in March and earned the #1 spot on NPR’s “most recommended” list.

Dr. Kay’s interview will be broadcast on August 31st by your local NPR station and streamed via the NPR website (http://freshair.npr.org).  In the future you can readily access the interview as a Fresh Air archived podcast and via ITunes. 

Visit http://www.npr.org/audiohelp/progstream.html to access links for each of these options. 

Please feel free to share this information with friends and relatives along with any organizations devoted to the well being of animals.

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross

If I Were a Philadelphia Eagles Fan…..

August 18, 2009

Michael Vick’s reentry into professional football, the latest update in his life story, has me wondering how I would feel if I happened to be an ardent Philadelphia Eagle fan. Honestly, I’m not altogether sure. Would I believe that everyone is deserving of a second chance? Would I boycott the games, or choose to watch but cheer every time Michael Vick fumbled the ball or threw an interception? Would I hate Michael Vick for his heinous actions, or could I muster up compassion for a guy whose upbringing allowed him to think that treating living creatures in such a horrifying fashion was perfectly okay?

As a resident of California with no real interest in professional football, I’m thankful that I don’t have to decide how to support my home team. However, as someone who devotes a significant portion of her life to the wellbeing of animals, I certainly feel conflicted. Here is my strategy. I’m going to try to temper any outrage and anger with hope for the goodness that might arise from the Michael Vick saga. Yes, I do believe there is some potential for some sweetness in this sour situation. Dog fighting has made it to center stage in terms of media attention. This increased awareness will hopefully be accompanied by greater action to vilify and stop such ugly exploitation of animals. Vick now has phenomenal opportunities to utilize his celebrity stature for the benefit of animals. I hope he will become a sincere (I’ll settle simply for believable) high profile champion of organizations, activities, and legislation that support the welfare of animals. Michael Vick cannot undo what’s been done, but he certainly holds much positive potential in his hands, above and beyond merely a football. Michael Vick now has the opportunity to change his legacy. For the sake of animals everywhere, I hope he does exactly that.

Now, here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members much good health!

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross

If I Were a Philadelphia Eagles Fan…..

August 18, 2009

Michael Vick’s reentry into professional football, the latest update in his life story, has me wondering how I would feel if I happened to be an ardent Philadelphia Eagle fan. Honestly, I’m not altogether sure. Would I believe that everyone is deserving of a second chance? Would I boycott the games, or choose to watch but cheer every time Michael Vick fumbled the ball or threw an interception? Would I hate Michael Vick for his heinous actions, or could I muster up compassion for a guy whose upbringing allowed him to think that treating living creatures in such a horrifying fashion was perfectly okay?

As a resident of California with no real interest in professional football, I’m thankful that I don’t have to decide how to support my home team. However, as someone who devotes a significant portion of her life to the wellbeing of animals, I certainly feel conflicted. Here is my strategy. I’m going to try to temper any outrage and anger with hope for the goodness that might arise from the Michael Vick saga. Yes, I do believe there is some potential for some sweetness in this sour situation. Dog fighting has made it to center stage in terms of media attention. This increased awareness will hopefully be accompanied by greater action to vilify and stop such ugly exploitation of animals. Vick now has phenomenal opportunities to utilize his celebrity stature for the benefit of animals. I hope he will become a sincere (I’ll settle simply for believable) high profile champion of organizations, activities, and legislation that support the welfare of animals. Michael Vick cannot undo what’s been done, but he certainly holds much positive potential in his hands, above and beyond merely a football. Michael Vick now has the opportunity to change his legacy. For the sake of animals everywhere, I hope he does exactly that.

Now, here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members much good health!

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

Join our email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for us on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross