Finding the right veterinarian takes some effort. You probably took some time to research the best veterinarian in your area. Now it's the moment of truth--the first visit to the vet's practice. Take a look around. Listen. Breathe in.
Does your favorite veterinary center, animal clinic, or animal hospital measure up to the standard? Can you put your pet's health in their hands? Here are the signs of a great veterinary clinic:
The building and entrance should be clearly marked with the name, phone number and hours of the clinic. The area around the entrance should be clean and neat. The entrance should be easily accessible. Parking should be convenient if possible.
Upon entering, you should notice that the lobby is clean, well-organized and relatively odorless. Noise and chaos are generally not good signs (but are occasionally unavoidable in an animal clinic). Staff members should greet you and your pet warmly upon arrival. Bonus points if they greet you and your pet by name (if you have been to that clinic multiple times before). Either way, you should get the feeling they are happy to see you.
Waiting to See the Vet
Seating should be available and relatively comfortable, but it shouldn't matter because the wait should not be very long (if you have an appointment and arrived on time). For any brief waiting time, there should be coffee and water available at the very least. In general, you should be seen within a few minutes of your appointment time. Note: wait time can be affected by emergencies through no fault of the vet and staff, but repeat instances of waiting or very long wait times are not good signs.
Any staff members you encounter (veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants, receptionists, kennel assistants, veterinarians) should greet you and your pet warmly. Staff members should appear caring, calm, competent and courteous. Everyone should be willing and able to communicate with you effectively about your pet. Staff should make sure all of your questions have been answered.
When meeting the veterinarian, make sure that she or he also has all of the signs of a great vet.
Taking a Tour
If possible, you should ask for a tour of the animal clinic. Unless there is an emergency or an extremely fractious pet in the back, the staff should have no problem showing you around. However, it is an animal clinic, so there may be times when a tour is not feasible (in which case, staff should set up a better time for you to take a tour.)
During your tour, you should notice that the facility is clean, organized and free of strong, unpleasant odors. Pets should be in clean cages that are appropriately sized. Note that many pets are very anxious at the vet's office, so some vocalizing and nervousness is to be expected. However, no pets should seem like they are in great distress (this could easily be misinterpreted, so ask questions before you make assumptions). Ideally, there will be separate areas for different species (so it's less stressful for the pets).
Staff should always be seen handling pets gently and with compassion. Medical staff should be knowledgable, confident and eager to answer your questions.
If your pet needs testing or treatments performed, the vet and staff should communicate clearly with you about the expectations and costs. In the case of a large or involved procedure, the vet or staff should present an estimate (sometimes called a treatment plan or care management plan). You should always feel comfortable about asking for an estimate of fees, no matter how small a procedure seems. Many owners feel taken by surprise about the vet bill at the end. Communication between you and the staff can help you avoid this problem. However, if you have concerns about the bill or anything else that occurred during your visit, you should ask to speak to appropriate person (usually a manager or the vet).
When you leave your animal clinic, you should leave feeling happy, satisfied and well-cared for. If you don't you should definitely talk to a manager.