"He's just so itchy, see, look!" said my client, gesturing for my attention. I was part of a team of about six people, variously veterinary students and undergraduate students, all helping with the office visit for this family and their four pets at Mercer Clinic. I was assigned to the itchy pet in question. From the record and from my physical exam, even though I’m still in training as a clinician, I had a pretty good idea what was causing the itching. We were only waiting for my overseeing DVM to come and discuss the case with me, and write out the appropriate prescriptions. I was getting a little concerned, though, because this was the fifth time that the client had pointed out the itching episodes that we were, hopefully, going to have a cure for very soon. I was concerned that I hadn’t done enough to communicate with the client, to understand his observations and to communicate what we were going to do for his itchy best friend. With their minimal means, our clients manage to get to our monthly clinic with their pets, and often wait for hours so that their animals can be seen. I feel honored by their trust, and I want to honor their care for their pets, by providing them with my very best service. It concerns me if there’s any sign of miscommunication or misunderstanding during a visit, so I was doing my best to understand whether anything had gone wrong.
When the volunteer DVM overseeing our team began examining my itchy patient, he repeated his concern to the vet, “Look, he’s just so itchy!” as the dog started happily scratching away again. I had been hearing my client’s words, but only then did I truly understand their meaning. He was not expressing frustration with how things were going, or doubt about my team’s ability to take care of the problem. It was a little vague to me at first, but my client was actually expressing something very positive with his metronomic reminders about his dog’s condition: the thing that he was expressing, was care.
Veterinary students practice communication in labs and scenarios, but the entirety of our professional communication cannot be summed up between the start and stop of an office visit or a phone call. We need to broaden our view. We should realize that clients who walk into our clinics with their four-footed best friends in tow, in that very act, are communicating a profound kind of trust in our profession. They are placing the health of family members into the capable care of veterinary professionals and paraprofessionals. At a charity clinic like Mercer, the fact that people are willing to wait patiently all morning and most of the day to get care for their pets, shows the respect and value that they place on the service we provide. It also communicates the care and effort that they put into their animals’ wellbeing every day, as all good pet owners do. On the other side of the exam table, vet students who do their best with every assignment and every clinical encounter – who even volunteer extra time to care for the pets affected by disasters such as the wildfires this summer, as many of my peers did – communicate just how passionate they are about caring, how dedicated they are to a lifestyle of humankindness.
All these things – inspirational peers, dedicated mentors, and clients who are doing their very best for their animals – surround me with hope and confidence in the field of veterinary medicine. Pets can bring out the best in us, and pet care is a nexus where very different people can share their best with one another through their mutual interest in nurturing our animal companions.
As we wrapped up our visit, our itchy friend was already looking more comfortable, and his concerned caregiver was unambiguously relieved. Their family was one of the last groups seen by the clinic that Saturday. Not only were they some of the most patient clients of the day, but they were also some of the most grateful. Our medical team saw four pets, addressed nine health concerns among them, and sent away one big, happy family at the end of the day. That’s the kind of day that inspires a person like myself to keep doing one’s best in his or her training and career development. It’s fuel for another day and another year. For me, it’s what made 2018 a wonderful year to be a part of Mercer Clinic.
Thank you to everyone – volunteers, donors, internet friends, clients, and pets – who were involved with Mercer Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless in 2018. You all make this amazing experience possible. Happy Holidays, and many blessings in the coming year!
by Russ-Erik Darnell
DVM Candidate, UCD School of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2021
Mercer Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless Webmaster and Historian