Written by: Heather Ann Scott RVT, LVT, VTSECC
The “Fear-less” Beginning
Being a new face at a growing practice can be tremendously intimidating. The fears of the unknown are a reality all too familiar for me. Even after 27 years in the field and one specialty under my belt, I knew the journey ahead was no small task. However, I’m always ready for challenges, the biggest one being personal & educational growth.
My position as the “Technician Learning and Development Specialist” is a developing role within Ethos, and new role to VERC. One of the first responsibilities I was asked to do when entering this new position was to help our hospital become a “Fear Free” practice. This turned into the perfect opportunity for me because I had always heard about the Fear Free program and wanted to learn more about it.
What is Fear Free Certification? Read our blog article to learn more.
My Fear Free Training for Emergency Veterinary Medicine
I was introduced to Fear Free during the San Francisco SPCA Fear Free Symposium in February 2021. Shortly after this, Ethos offered the first twenty spots to VERC team members to complete online training. The response from the team was overwhelming and within hours all the spots were taken. I was one of the lucky first few and I soon completed my Fear Free Veterinary Professional certification.
Is Fear Free worth it for Emergency vets?
From my experience being an emergency and critical care technician, my first thought was that small primary care practices would benefit more from being a Fear Free practice. They typically see repeat clients and emergencies tend to be rare. Knowing the realities of emergency medicine, I initially had the feeling that the ideals of Fear Free seemed unrealistic given the unpredictable and high-intensity nature of our work. I was not alone in this feeling at all.
With an open and curious mind, I started asking questions to experts who had experience utilizing Fear Free in emergency, critical care, and referral practices. Just like I had chuckled at the idea of using Fear Free principles in our emergency environment, these experts (politely) chuckled at my reluctance and concern. They directed me to further CE that addressed my specific concerns with data supported by science—now they were speaking my language!
CE and Training Modules
I followed up with additional educational training modules provided through Fear Free which specifically addressed emergency, critical care, and referral medicine practices. I quickly began to realize that not only was the application of these principles possible, but that it was medically necessary. I started to reevaluate my mindset, my patient handling, and our hospital’s overall practices. I saw opportunities for improvement; the reality that we could do better became even more evident when my own cat fell ill. Suddenly I became a client.
Being in a position where my emotions were heightened (and with my newfound knowledge fresh in my mind), I understood more clearly that there could be ways to improve the comfort level of patient-client experience at our hospital. I realized that while we are all very caring and compassionate in our practice, there was room for improvement with the tools we use to extend empathy toward our furry patients in ways that are meaningful to them.
Disclaimer: It’s not that simple.
Fear Free is very feasible, however, it is not simple. It involves changing the narrative by educating all team members.
For example, no “CAUTION/WILL BITE” stickers. That’s right–you don’t put “caution” or “will bite” on those cages. Instead, you would place something called an “FAS Score” (Fear, Anxiety, and Stress) on them. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But a colleague who is involved in the Fear Free initiative helped me understand that by changing the narrative, we change the team members’ perception of the patient. Instead of seeing a patient who is fractious and will bite, we learn to see a patient with a high level of fear, stress, and anxiety. When we view a patient as afraid and therefore likely to be reactive, our body language, behavior, and approach changes. This means we are more likely to have a positive and successful interaction outcome.
Fear Free advocates for things like:
- Less stressful physical restraint techniques (i.e. restraining cats without scruffing),
- The use of chemical restraint when needed
- Calming pheromones
- Distraction techniques
- Pet owner involvement with calming the pet when appropriate
Fear Free also provides education on pain management and identifying signs of pain in patients. In turn, this can help you notice signs your own pet is displaying. I even began to notice signs related to osteoarthritis pain with my own pet.
My Current Status: Fear Free Certified Professional
Having newfound knowledge is always my favorite thing. I always feel like I have a new pack of sharpened pencils when this happens! Yep–I’m that nerd. When a patient was vocalizing and panting, I noticed myself looking at him differently than I would have previously. I thought about how I could use the Fear Free tools that I have learned to help him with what he was going through.
Twenty of our team members at VERC are now Fear Free certified or are in process of receiving certification with the initial Fear Free modules. We have more training and certification coming on the horizon, and we have started implementing Fear Free techniques into practice. We have been using:
- Calming music for the anxious patients
- Anti-anxiety and pain medications (with doctors support)
- Decrease in staff injuries
- Yummy treats for distractions
patient case where we used a fear free technique
A fun but powerful example involved peanut butter! We had a patient with a significant amount of FAS related to restraint–especially touching his feet. This was not helping the fact that he needed his IVC replaced. To help the team members during this struggle, I asked if he was allowed treats. After some confusion on their faces and the doctors approval, I returned with frozen peanut-butter treats to be used as a distraction. They were able to place the IVC in him while he enjoyed the delicious treats. He was so excited about the peanut butter that he didn’t even notice them shaving his leg or even placing the IVC.
One of my team members said, “You mean to tell me all it took was peanut butter?” I smiled with joy and said, “Yep! Guys, this is Fear Free!” Being the Marketing Content Liaison at VERC, I started to receive photos of team members using this technique on anxious patients…all with success stories. While we can’t always do this for every patient, the treat-motivated patients who can have food do very well. There are many more examples—this initiative is amazing!
Fear Free & Beyond at Ethos
The training and continued specialized CE provided by Fear Free makes this comprehensive program very worthwhile. Implementing Fear Free is an all-encompassing task that requires team cooperation along with new tools. I can already see how much our patients, clients, and team members have benefited so far from Fear Free! Thinking about VERC’s new location that is being constructed, a Fear Free facility development is a goal for this new building. It is great to see Ethos striving to incorporate Fear Free network-wide.