This week, with the large amount of family time we suddenly have available, my kids and I all sat down and re-watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy. At the very end, when Frodo saved the world and he and Sam were about to be consumed by lava, Gandalf swept in on eagles and carried them off to safety.

My son turned to me and asked the age-old question all people do at some point: “Why didn’t he just fly them to the volcano in the first place?”

And the answer is this: that’s not the way good stories work. Frodo is the hero, and he has to go on a big journey to solve the problem. Gandalf’s just there to help- a significant role, and they couldn’t do it without him- but he’s not the hero. He is the guide.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been talking about how storytelling can help us understand our role in the eyes of our clients. It was an academic question at first; once you understood your role as a guide perhaps you might change how you brand your clinic. It was never a matter of survival, until now.

Storytelling can save veterinary medicine.

The basic structure of the hero’s journey is as follows:

The hero has a problem. The guide helps them solve it.

That relationship is the most important part. The guide gives the hero a plan, and if they do it correctly, you get a happy ending.

For most of our careers, we’ve been so focused on the plan we recommend that we forget the primary driver in the story is the relationship. Your value in your clients’ lives is in giving them good information so they can do the right thing. That information might be, “come in so we can take x-rays.” It might be, “go straight to the ER.” It might be, “let’s extend that treatment one more week.” Our value is in giving trustworthy advice. That IS the service, as much as the lab work, the surgeries, the medications.

Our time is our service.

We give it away for free all the time, for no real good reason. And with a pandemic where clients are no longer able to come in to clinics for anything but the most emergent situations, veterinary clinics find themselves scrambling to find alternative solutions such as telemedicine and worrying about the fate of their businesses. There’s no time to overthink this the way we usually would. All we can do is take a best guess as to what will work and go.

In the last week, I’ve made 2000 new friends in the veterinary space talking about telehealth and telemedicine in the Veterinary Telemedicine Facebook group. Some are new to the idea; some have been doing it for years. Those who have been doing it for years will tell you these things:

  • Clients are happy to pay for your advice
  • They want telemedicine, but not from just anyone. They want it from you. Why? Because they trust you.

Because they trust you.

That relationship will allow their pets to get what they need during this pandemic. They need you to guide them to wherever they need to go. We are in the middle of unprecedented times where that path is really unclear, and it’s scary because the people we usually turn to for leadership have no idea where it goes either.

It goes forward. We aren’t going to survive by staying where we are.

The client has a problem. You help them solve it. That situation hasn’t changed.

What has changed is the problem. The problem is now, “My pet is sick and so am I.” Or, “My pet is due for a heartworm test but we’re on a lockdown.” Or, “My dog has a hot spot and I know you’re closed. Do I go to the ER?”

How you help them solve it has also changed. You have all sorts of tools at your disposal you’ve never had before. Remote consults. The ability to charge for your time and advice through an app. Live video visits.

Instead of worrying about how some other vet might mess up using these tools, or that someone else might try and poach your clients with them, we have to focus on the main thing that’s about to change here:

How will you help solve the problems of your current clients.

Gandalf used what was in front of him: his wizard staff, his magic, his eagles. When the shizz hit the fan he didn’t wait for the other wizards to chime in, he just did what he had to do. He’s a badass. So are you.

Because of him, Frodo saved the world.

There has never been a time more than now when we have to take risks, leaps of faith, and trust that we know what we’re doing. Veterinarians have always been ingenious. Let’s go.

Be like Gandalf.