Many veterinary colleges have a ‘grateful client’ program in their hospital. Often it is simply a set of communications between the college development director and hospital clients who may want to give back.
At OSU, the Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH) does it differently by placing emphasis on client support through their Client Relations Advocate. Tammy Barr has held that position for two years. “My primary goal is to build relationships with hospital clients,” she says. “I really care about them; that is why I come to work.”
Retired in 2012 from a thirty-year career at OSU, Barr now works on Mondays and Fridays from a desk in the small animal hospital waiting room, where she dispenses dog biscuits, human candy, orange bandanas, and lots of sympathy. As a long-time pet lover, whose own pets have visited the VTH, Barr knows how stressful it can be to sit and wait while your furry friend is getting intensive medical care. “I am there to listen and be a friend,” she says. “Sometimes clients have a long wait by themselves, so I keep them company, learn their stories, and offer support.” She also facilitates communication between hospital employees and clients. “Some clients are worried, and it helps relieve their anxiety if I go back into the hospital and check on their pet’s progress,” she says.
Barr manages the Client Relations Program for CVM Development Director Kelley Marchbanks. She also supervises four volunteers who work on the days she is not on site. “Several of the volunteers live as far away as Cottage Grove and Lincoln City. They come a long way because they love this work,” says Barr. Jeanine Preston volunteers on Tuesdays; Joan and Terry Ferguson volunteer on Wednesdays; and Reed Walter volunteers on Thursdays.
All four volunteers are former hospital clients who are grateful for the excellent care their pets received and want to give back. Other clients choose to give back by making blankets for the ICU, buying pizza for students who work long hours, or helping to purchase a needed piece of equipment.
In her off-site hours, Barr contacts clients to get feedback on their experience at the hospital. She created a set of cards called ‘Tail Wags’ which she fills out and uses to share positive feedback from clients with doctors, technicians, and students.
Several times a year, Barr goes on the road with Marchbanks and college Dean Susan Tornquist to visit hospital clients at home. Dean Tornquist appreciates the opportunity to meet them in person with their pets. “When we visit VTH clients at home, it gives us a glimpse into the role pets play in their lives, and we can see the importance of our services — both medical and emotional — for these families. They are uniformly enthusiastic and thankful for the services they’ve gotten, and the people they’ve met at the VTH. It’s fun to see their pets being happy and healthy at home,” she says.
Because Barr has built her position from scratch, and because it is unique for a university veterinary hospital, she has been asked to speak at the Association of Veterinary Advancement Professionals conference in August. She will describe the program, how it was implemented, and how it is funded. “This position is unique because it is funded primarily by donors,” says Barr. “This is their way of giving back.”
Whether measured in the number of Tail Wags that brighten a doctor’s day, or in the amount of money raised for hospital equipment, the Client Relations Program has been a big success. “It is the best program in the nation,” says Marchbanks. For Barr it is more personal: “I feel like I make a difference in the lives of people and their pets.”