There’s more to being an emergency and critical care vet than treating sick pets.

That was the message hammered home to our latest intake of Cutting Edge vets at a special course on effective client communication techniques.

The event was hosted by the Veterinary Defence Society and designed to help our new recruits deal with difficult situations.

“In emergency practice, clients are often distressed because of what has happened to their pet, so it’s really important that all of our vets can communicate well and put client care at the heart of what they do,” explained head of Edge programmes Aoife Reid.

“One important communication skill our vets must possess is empathy. They must also be able to communicate simply and clearly so clients can understand what the plan is for their pet and what their options are.”

The VDS run a day course in communication during the Cutting Edge programme.

For the uninitiated, Cutting Edge is a comprehensive 10-week induction which was drawn up by ECC diplomate Amanda Boag and is aimed at vets who are keen to work in ECC but who would like to build up their skills and confidence before taking sole charge.

It incorporates lectures from leading ECC specialists, along with practical and experiential learning, and also mentored work in Vets Now’s network of 55 clinics and three emergency and specialty hospitals.

Twelve Cutting Edge vets and four interns from Vets Now’s emergency and specialty hospital in Glasgow took part in the communications day.

In one session, they were asked to describe the vet/client situations they feel most uncomfortable with and then guided through “real life” scenarios with a trained actor to learn and practice more effective communication skills.

Christine Magrath, director of communications training at the VDS, said this form of training was vital for all vets, but particularly those who work out of hours as they may not have an established relationship with the client. She said: “No one in business relishes the prospect of dealing with difficult situations and vets are no different. Complaints can have a profound and destructive effect on team morale, and ultimately the business.

“Difficult situations can arise from a variety of sources and require speedy and efficient management. Handled appropriately, some disillusioned and disgruntled clients can even be converted into firm advocates for the practice.”

While Christine acknowledges that role play can strike fear into the hearts of many, she is adamant it is the most effective means of training vets to deal with difficult situations.

She added: “Participants are often intimidated by role play, but it’s not about being judgemental. It’s about practising things that we may have found challenging in the past – and it’s about having fun as well.

“We know from research that experiential learning changes behaviour. We’re not looking at personalities; we’re working within individual personality frames and trying to isolate the skills so that people can take them back to their practices and use them when things are difficult.

“It’s essential for all vets to get this type of training because it makes for more effective client consultations, but this is particularly the case for out-of-hours vets who are often faced with difficult situations with clients they may not have met before.”

During the communications day, participants tackled a whole gamut of uncomfortable situations, such as learning how to diffuse a client’s anger, delivering bad news to an emotional client, and overcoming a client’s opinion of how their pet should be treated.

One of the Cutting Edge vets on the course, Diana Koziol, said: “I was very nervous beforehand, but I enjoyed the day and learned so much. I now realise I must try to speak in simple language, as technical veterinary terms can be confusing for a client that’s upset.”

Fellow Cutting Edger Jenna Montgomery said she’d experience of dealing with difficult client situations in previous roles, but that the VDS training had reminded her how important it is to be empathetic.

She said: “It’s important to learn effective communication because it’s a skill you can lose over time. As vets, we often think we have to get all the information we can from the client quickly. But, in reality, it’s a lot more effective to take our time and ask the right questions.

“This training will really help us when we go out into the clinics.” The VDS communication training is not exclusive to Cutting Edge vets. Vets Now works in partnership with the VDS to release potential across the business, offering training to vets and vet nurses at all levels.

The next intake for Cutting Edge is January, and places are filling up fast. We are also recruiting more experienced vets for Refresh your Edge. If you, or any vets you know, are interested in applying- please call the Vets Now recruitment team for more information on 01383 841181 or click here.