As someone who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Art History, I never imagined that I’d find myself working in a vet clinic. What use would my creative skills be in place that’s so, well, clinical? I always thought being a receptionist was about pushing paper and answering phones, but I quickly learnt that the job I found myself responsible for was far more dynamic than just that.
When I tell people what I do to fund my life, their reactions are more or less the same. They’ll usually say how wonderful it must be to work in an environment where I’m surrounded by animals. They’re not wrong. I could think of a fair few worse ways to spend my days. While this is undeniably one of the most enjoyable parts of my job, it’s not all puppies and kittens. No two days are the same, and each brings a new challenge in the world of animal healthcare, not only for our team overall, but for each of us individually, too.
Let’s set the scene:
It’s Monday morning. On one phone line I’ve got a client asking me what they should do about their dog’s raging skin condition, and on the other, I’m swarmed by a myriad of questions from someone who is looking to desex their kitten. Did I mention the queue of people forming at the front desk? Some of them are checking their pets in for surgical or medical procedures. Others just want to pick-up some food, arrange a repeat prescription for ongoing medication, or seek advice about flea treatment. Naturally, some of our clients grow impatient with the hustle and bustle. One was due to see the vet at half-past eight, and it’s now creeping closer to quarter-to nine. There’s a delay because a hit-by-car dog was rushed in, and now the vet has to prioritise their patients by matter of urgency. I can tell the client is annoyed as they mutter under their breath about how they’re going to be late for work. I do my best to politely explain the situation at hand and apologise for the hold-up, but truthfully, I feel powerless against the unpredictable nature of this industry. Eventually, the Monday morning madness winds down, and we’re back to the hum-drum of clinic life.
Finally, I can breathe.
So, sure, I get stressed at times. As soon as I answer that phone and a conversation begins, I’m navigating my thoughts, trying to find the words to provide the most accurate advice possible, from a mind that has received no formal veterinary-based training. There’s always this underlying fear that I’ll say the wrong thing, or make a mistake, or forget something important. On the not-so-good days, these internal and external frustrations make me feel like crying. But I don’t, even when I’m watching you say goodbye to your best friend with tears in your eyes, and let me tell you, that doesn’t get any easier, no matter how many times you bear witness to it. The whole point of being front and centre is to remain calm, composed and to do everything, within reason, with a smile on your face. In spite of these anxieties regarding decorum, it’s certainly not impossible to hold it together when you consider the bigger picture.
There is something incredibly exhilarating about the rush of clinic life. The fast pace can switch even the idlest of minds into gear, and it’s pretty incredible to see the respective outcomes produced by a team of like-minded individuals. I’ve been guilty of belittling my role amongst the network of vets and vet nurses who are largely responsible for the hands-on work. In the last two years, I’ve learnt that I’m anything but “just a receptionist,” as I have previously claimed myself to be. I play a vital part in ensuring that I’m supporting my team by freeing up their time to do what they do best and provide that line of communication between them and our clients. If anything, my ability to retain and understand information, coupled with a knack for communicating effectively has been hugely beneficial in allowing me to take on this role, not only with confidence, but with pride.
I do a damn good job at ensuring that everyone who comes through that front door is acknowledged. I remember most of their names, and if not theirs, their pets. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about seeing a client’s face light up after they’ve been recognised that has to be good for the soul. You can bet that I’m overcome with that warm, fuzzy feeling when that acknowledgment is reciprocated, because I’m not just an animal-person, I’m a people-person, and if you think you can do this job by only being one or the other, you’re wrong. For the most part, our clients, to me, feel like an extended part of our family. We know each other, we care about each other, and it’s our love for the wellbeing of animals that ultimately gives us common ground to stand on. After all, we wouldn’t be here otherwise.
People tend to ask me if I see myself working in the veterinary industry forever. Well, no, to be fair, I can hardly handle the sight of blood at the best of times! I’m a creative person who studied the Arts, and at the end of the day, I’m driven to find out how this will transpire into a career. Having said that, I can’t deny how fundamental this job has been insofar as my professional and personal development is concerned. My capacity for empathy, compassion and understanding both humans and animals alike has increased tenfold, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.
Belinda is (not just a) receptionist at a small animal clinic in Auckland, New Zealand.