What Would Shawn Do? Confronting a Disrespectful Associate Doctor


Help! I need some advice. Our entire staff is extremely intimidated by the associate veterinarian at our practice. Several members truly need to have a difficult conversation with her to explain the way she makes them feel. We tried to do this recently, and it didn’t go well.

I arranged for the two staff members and the associate doctor to meet after one particularly bad incident that they complained to me about. They requested that I stay to mediate because the technician had tried to have a conversation with the doctor before, but the doctor always made it out to be the employee’s problem.

I started the conversation by saying, “Doc, these ladies have a concern about how they were treated and would like to talk to you about it.” Everyone was fine with talking. The employees gave specific examples of “When you do this, it makes me/us feel like this.” The doctor reflected and said, “You need me to be more respectful with how I ask for things.”

The doctor said she had specifically asked the technician, in confidence, if she had any issues or concerns with her directly, and the technician had told her no. The employee stated that conflict is really hard for her and that she didn’t have the confidence to do it. But she had participated in this meeting, and that was a start. I wrapped up the meeting by stating that I know the doctor deeply respects the staff and that we all appreciate one another. I thought everything went very well.

The doctor told me later that day that she felt that I did not handle the meeting well at all. The doc could not get past the feeling that she had been lied to and feels that her behavior should not be questioned because she is a top producer. The next day, the owner-doctor informed me that I am not to say anything else to that doctor because he needs her to stay.

But my actions were exactly what he said he wanted–the direction he wants me to take the practice. I am using the conflict-management skills that we learned from you. What should I do?



I am sorry you had such a frustrating experience! Pull the owner-doctor aside and say that you are just following the guidelines he gave you and using the conflict-management skills the two of you learned together, and that you did not handle it incorrectly.

Give him your opinion that the associate veterinarian is not handling the conflict well and that if he chooses to placate her rather than insisting that she participate that you cannot be responsible for the fallout. Tell him that the result of him not paying attention to the core values of the hospital is that it demoralizes you. Assure him that you can work through this, but that he needs to let you do just that.

Good luck!

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