Vet Teams IRL: Jorey Fergerson, veterinary receptionist
It’s 4:00 pm on a Friday and all the phone lines are lit up. The woman from Room 3 has come up to pay her bill. The Chihuahua from yesterday’s surgery who isn’t eating is holding on Line 1. And Mrs. Anderson is calling again to check if her cat’s biopsy is back yet. There are a few people in the middle of it all, keeping things moving and under control: the front desk staff.
This month we chat with one of them: Jorey Fergerson a veterinary receptionist at VEG’s South Loop Chicago location.
Tasha McNerney (TMc): How long have you worked in vet medicine? What drew you to this work?
Jorey Fergerson (JF): I’ve worked in vet medicine for around a year and a half, and I like to think I fell gracefully into this line of work, despite a lack of experience in the field.
I’ve worked in customer service for 14 years and in various positions in the restaurant industry before I started as a receptionist for the Veterinary Emergency Group. After losing my job during the pandemic and spending some time away from restaurants I decided to shift focus because I wanted to do customer service in a way that had a more positive impact on my community.
I have always loved animals, and I was very taken with our hospital's model of openness and keeping people and their pets together throughout the entire treatment process. Everything about the job felt exciting to me as both a lifelong pet owner and a person who understands how important it is to create a positive and supportive experience for people in potentially pivotal moments of their life.
TMc: Why do you think it's important for vet offices to have a front desk staff? How does that first interaction with the client impact on the pet's visit?
JF: As the first person a client sees when they come to the hospital, I feel responsible for setting the tone for their visit. I want everyone who comes in to know their pet is going to be well cared for in the hands of compassionate, trustworthy people.
The way we embody togetherness plays a big role in building that trust by making pet care a collaborative effort and allowing people to see and even assist in their pet’s care. There is so much value in seeing firsthand how your pet is being treated!
I then get to build on that by greeting people and pets with compassion, creating banter with owners, or bringing snacks or blankets to make them comfortable while they wait. These seemingly small gestures that go beyond the normal idea of what “front desk staff does” to help show clients that I see their humanity and am here to support them.
Then of course the doctors and nursing team follow that up with amazing care and transparency. Ultimately, I think if we can help pet owners feel calm and assured, their animal companions will notice and hopefully feel more comfortable too.
Receptionists play a vital role in supporting both the customers and the nursing staff because we take on the sensitive tasks of going over after-life care options with owners, collecting payments, and many other nonmedical tasks that allow other staff more time and energy to focus on what drives them—helping pets feel better.
In turn, we are maximizing the client’s time at the vet so they can get back to their day—hopefully with a sense of relief and a pet on the mend.
TMc: How do you feel about being on the frontlines when it comes to clients and being the person they can lean on for support and communication?
JF: I’m proud of the role I play in the clients’ experience! It’s important to me to make sure people don’t feel like just another customer paying for a service. People come to us in vulnerable moments, often sad or anxious about their situation, and I want to be empathetic to that.
Having open conversations where I show interest in the client and give them room to voice their concerns can go a long way in building trust. My goal is for everyone to understand that I genuinely care about how they're doing. I don’t want anyone to feel hesitant to ask for support if they need it, especially in an emergency where the fast pace of everything can be overwhelming.
TMc: Do you have any memorable cases from your time as a veterinary receptionist? Ones that you played a vital role?
JF: The cases that stand out to me are the ones where I got to step outside of the typical role of receptionist and go to great lengths to help people when they really needed it.
I once took a call from a very distraught woman whose dog got stuck in her couch, and she couldn’t get the fire department or any neighbors to help her get him out. Because we are empowered to go above and beyond and find ways to say yes to helping, I grabbed a few nurses and some bolt cutters and we went to free her dog!
We got him out safely and his mom was so grateful for our help. It was so wonderful and exciting to be part of that hero moment. Still, even with stand-out stories like that now and then, the most meaningful cases have been ones where clients tell me the compassion I showed them over the phone compelled them to bring in their pet. It speaks volumes to how vital that first impression is, and I always feel so grateful to know I’ve played a part in helping someone’s pet receive the care they need—without having to poke them with a needle.
Photos courtesy of Jorey Fergerson
Tasha McNerney BS, CVT, CVPP, VTS (Anesthesia and Analgesia) is a certified veterinary technician and certified veterinary pain practitioner who works closely with the IVAPM to educate the public about animal pain awareness. McNerney has authored numerous articles on anesthesia and analgesia topics for veterinary professionals and pet owners.
Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.