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Newest Hospital Specialist Provides Care for People

Specialists at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital can handle almost every imaginable animal health problem. But who’s there when the animal owner needs help?

Owners may be overwhelmed by grief and worry about a beloved pet’s illness. Having to choose among complicated diagnosis and treatment options may add to their stress.

Recognizing owners’ need for support, the Veterinary Teaching Hospital recently added Elizabeth Kennedy to its staff as a client counselor specialist. Kennedy, a licensed clinical social worker with a master’s in social work from Ohio State University, says, “I see my job as being the liaison between the client and the entire hospital staff.”

[client counselor specialist Elizabeth Kennedy]For example, when an animal is in a restricted treatment area, Kennedy can bring news of its status to anxious owners in the lobby—and return with information useful to clinicians. She has calmed distraught clients, helped make sure owners understand what the doctors have said, and been a comforting presence during euthanasia.

“It’s important to open the lines of communication,” she says. “My main job is just to listen.”

Kennedy brings insights and experience gained from two and a half years doing similar work in a busy Columbus, Ohio, human hospital emergency room. She says everything she learned in that position has applications in the veterinary setting. Here as there, she charts her activities in the patient’s medical record and is on-call during off hours.

In addition to experience, Kennedy brings an ability to empathize with clients’ intense love of their pets. She says she and her husband, a second-year surgery resident at the hospital, have “two children of the four-legged variety.”

About 80 percent of Kennedy’s time will be in direct service to clients. She will also teach the bereavement class for first- and second-year students who volunteer with the College’s CARE pet loss helpline. Many veterinary students, residents, and hospital staff members have sought her counsel in dealing with the emotional aspects of their work.

Kennedy believes students will benefit from seeing her in action. “If I can help them understand the ‘bond-centered’ practice,” she says, “they will have clients who never leave them.”

Clinicians attest to the benefits she brings their clients.

“Liz is having an incredible impact as a grief and stress counselor for our small animal clients,” says Dr. Steve Marks, section head for small animal medicine. “I know this program will soon set the standard for veterinary schools around the country.”

Dr. Barbara Kitchell, veterinary oncologist, agrees: “I was not really convinced we needed someone like her, but seeing her work with distraught clients has made a believer of me. She brings a great level of professionalism, clarity, and skill in communication that has made my life easier. Also, she is actively teaching the students to help them better deal with the psychosocial issues involved in veterinary practice.”

Ultimately, Kennedy is serving clients in a way that clinicians often can’t: “The tears start and the doctor says ‘I have to go.’ That’s when I come in,” she says.

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