By Carrie Jurney DVM, DACVIM (Neurology), CCFP
Over the last four years of moderating this group, I've seen a lot of people talk about difficult work environments and I have seen a lot of casual advice to "leave that job". And I don't think that advice is always wrong. In fact, I think a lot of times a change of scenery can help us.
But there are two places where I see that advice fall down:
1) The actual reality of life is more complicated than that. Yes, there are lots of jobs available for veterinarians- but maybe there aren't any in your hometown. Maybe your spouse has a great job that they don't want to leave. Maybe you have kids that are very settled in the community. Maybe you have family or hobbies or other things that tie you strongly to that place. Sometimes the reality of life means we decide to accept imperfect situations because on balance that's what works for our life.
2) That moment doesn't really take any ownership of the situation at hand. Look, there are very rarely heroes and villains in real life. There are really usually just imperfect people doing their best in an imperfect world. Before we nope out of a situation, I think it's pretty important that we do an unemotional inventory of our part in the situation.
That inventory is so freaking hard. It's hard to step out of the exhaustion and the hurt and say "yeah, I could have done that better". But if we want to grow, if we want to find balance and happiness, we have to take on the responsibility of that analysis. And sometimes that growth takes a lot of difficult conversations with the people we surround ourselves in. Personal growth is not often comfortable.
So, when we are thinking of bailing on a job, you gotta do some adulting. You gotta make the list of pros and cons of this job vs. the other job. And you gotta be really really real about the part of the situation that's still going to be there in the other job, and that's you and your quirks, behaviors and weaknesses. Because nothing sucks more than to go through the struggle of finding a new job, only to find out that what really needed to change was you. And please believe, I have been guilty of that. In hindsight, I left my first job for the wrong reasons. I put the blame of my overwork, my burnout on them, when the reality was it was my boundaries that needed tending. I blamed them for working hours that were under my control. My perfectionism was making me stay far later than any work schedule. And I put myself in a situation that was actually worse for me because I didn't do an honest inventory of what was wrong. It took burning out a second time to really get the slap across the face I needed to get real about my contribution to my own burnout.
All of that being said, there are a few things I learned I will not tolerate in a job anymore:
1) I am not a slave. I deserve and require time off. You cannot expect me to work for you 24/7/365. I'm happy to be accommodating. I'm happy to discuss schedule changes, and try to be flexible. But deviation from our agreements is a two way discussion, not an order. My time off is my own. That includes answering my phone. If you breach in to my personal time, it should be rare and truly an emergency.
2) If we are having a business discussion, it's a business discussion. Personal attacks and emotional or manipulative language have no place there.
3) Contracts protect everyone, and when we are making them, they should be a mutual agreement. There should be give and take, and there should be clarity. If someone resists that, proceed with caution.
Finally, I want to tell you the most empowering thing I ever took to heart for my balance: This is a job. Just a job. When you elevate it to something sacred like a calling, you run the risk of martyring yourself. You can still be an excellent compassionate doctor who does tremendous good without crucifying yourself on the altar of veterinary medicine. In fact, I think I'm actually a better doctor because I've gotten a little space and perspective on this. Objectivity is far more helpful than passion when you are problem solving around difficult situations.
You can be proud of your job. You can work hard. But at the end of the day you deserve to be more than just a veterinarian. It can be an important part of who you are, but it shouldn't be the total of it. Be a friend, a spouse, a parent, an artist, an athlete, an amateur basket weaver- it doesn't really matter what else, but it needs to be something. Because the reality is, at some point our job is going to kick you square in the teeth, and it's really crucial that you have some other parts of your life to fall back when that happens.
Dr. Carrie Jurney DACVIM
We’ve all had that moment when the client says something that makes you do the internal eye roll. Something like, “He’s had trouble walking for three months, and has been vomiting every day for weeks, but he was perfectly healthy until he collapsed this morning.” Something that is so obviously false, when, clearly, they’ve made some very bad decisions that have led to a less than ideal situation.
I had the opportunity last week to be that client.
I fell down the stairs on vacation a month ago. Let me be clear. I’ve never been graceful. I am known in my family for “tripping on air.” This was a bad fall. Gave myself a black eye, had a good knot on my head, bruises everywhere. My foot hurt. I thought I sprained it, maybe broke a toe. But you don’t fix toes, so I figured I would just try to take it easy. At the time I injured this, I was training for a marathon. So, my version of taking it easy was swapping some run workouts for bike workouts, skipping a half marathon and “only” running a 10k on it, even though I knew it was still injured.
After a month, it wasn’t healing. I went to the doctor. We were talking about the person who referred me, also a veterinarian and marathon runner, so the doctor knew what I did both professionally and as an athlete. She took off my shoe and looked at it. “It’s really swollen.”
And I swear to god, it’s like the doctor part of my brain finally, after a month, engaged. “Huh, yeah, I guess it is.”
Incredulously she asked, “And you’ve been running on this?”
I, the doctor who authored a three-page handout on the importance of cage rest, a doctor who gives out advice on the importance of rest literally every day of my professional career, had to sheepishly nod and say “Yeah, but only like 10 miles a week.” She gave me the look. You know the one. You’ve given it to someone before. The one that says, “You are so incredibly stupid and professionalism is all that is keeping me from slapping some sense in to you right now.”
I can tell you the multitude of excuses for why I did what I did. How running is so important to my mental health, how I didn’t think it was that bad, how I was so excited to run a race with my work team. How I had cut back so much! But let’s get real: They are all terrible excuses. Just as bad as when my clients tell me that their dog “hates the crate” or “needs his exercise.” But none of them matter and I should have known better. But I’m human. I thought it wasn’t a big deal. I ignored things I shouldn’t have ignored, and now I’m going to pay the price for it.
I appreciate that doctor for her patience with me. And I’m taking the lesson to heart. Sometimes very smart, well-intentioned people make bad decisions and stupid choices. Life is busy, and we are all a little too good at soldiering on through pain and inconvenience. It’s easy to just sink in to a routine, to just clean up the vomit or ignore that limp every day and not think too deeply about what it means.
We’re all human. Adaptability is one of our greatest traits, but it can also be one of our greatest weaknesses. So, the next time one of my clients tells me about all those symptoms they’ve been ignoring for months, I’m going to remember my foot, and how I nearly PRed a 10k when I should have been resting.
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.