Setting Boundaries with Clients

Most veterinarians experience positive connections with their clients – especially those who have entrusted the veterinarian with the care of their animals over a long period. However, many veterinarians – along with caregivers and first responders in other fields – have reported a shift in the dynamic between themselves and some clients during the pandemic.

The recently released AVMA Trust 2022 Trend Report: U.S. Veterinarians’ Work-Life Experience1 reveals that 71% of surveyed veterinarians often deal with clients who can be difficult. In some rare cases, clients have been reported to have become hostile, angry, and even verbally abusive. In one veterinarian’s case, a client demanded that her pet be seen during dangerous winter weather, which ultimately caused the veterinarian to fall, break her arm, and undergo major surgery.

While most cases of demanding clients don’t escalate to that degree, it is possible to prepare for, avoid, and de-escalate difficult client interactions by setting appropriate boundaries. Some of the most common boundaries that veterinarians reported setting is the refusal to give out their private phone number or email, “firing” clients who are abusive to the veterinary staff, and not feeling guilty for the way a client treats their animal.

Listed below are some of the responses pulled from veterinarian’s advice that was featured in the AVMA Trust 2022 Trend Report: U.S. Veterinarians’ Work-Life Experience.

“When at work, I've learned to just try to prepare clients well in advance of the wait time; not apologize so much for it, but instead thank them for their patience, which shifts their perspective from one of blaming us (like we have something to apologize for) to one of congratulating themselves for being patient.” 

“Disengage from clients [who] are over-demanding and those [who] are rude and do not respect you or your staff. Do not allow any client to disrespect your down time.”

“Learn to say ‘no’ and not feel bad about it.”

“Never tolerate client abuse to yourself or your staff.”

“Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to clients who are notoriously rude.”

“Learn to let go and not take responsibility for the poor decisions clients make.”

“Set boundaries. ‘I don’t know’ is a valid answer.”

“It is okay to charge for your knowledge and service and make a profit.”

“Set boundaries with clients who want access to you 24/7.”

“You are the expert in the room.”

For additional resources on addressing rudeness and increasing civility in the workplace, consider taking one of the AVMA Axon Wellbeing Courses. All courses are free to AVMA members, and many courses provide for CE credit.

1The AVMA Trust 2022 Trend Report: U.S. Veterinarians’ Work-Life Experience is based on a national survey conducted in fall 2021. N=2,553 Practicing Physicians. N=327 Retired Veterinarians. 95% confidence, ± 3% margin of error.