Abby Whiting, DVM
As long as I can remember I have been fascinated by lighthouses. I am drawn to the ocean. I have framed photos, statues, and paintings of lighthouses in all of my favorite spaces. I love the imagery of seeing the violent ocean waves crashing against the quiet peaceful tower of unwavering light. The thoughts of sailors trapped by ferocious winds and storms, seeing the glow of the lighthouse in the distance and knowing their lives will be spared. The idea that the light goes on, unchanged by the chaos surrounding it is inspiring to me.
Whenever I get to talk to people who are thinking about veterinary medicine as a career I am always a bit surprised when I ask them why. Many people say “because I love animals”. I love animals too; but for me I went into vet med because I love people. I am a companion animal general practitioner by breed. In my daily practice I get to work with all kinds of animals, but not without working with their people. In reality I help people with their pet’s problems. At the end of the day my business centers around the humans I help.
There are days when I wish Fluffy came waltzing in with a note on her collar and a credit card…no human attached…but that isn’t my reality, and it shouldn’t be. Yes I have had my fair share of challenging or let’s say difficult, clients. Yes I have had true frustration, hurt, disdain, and sadness as a result.
I have had the benefit of working as full service GP and as an emergency DVM in busy multi doctor practices. What holds true throughout is the impact I get to make on the pet and their people. One of the greatest super powers that we vets have, and yes we are super heroes...absolutely, is the ability to be the light house in the storm on someone’s worst day. To be trusted in those frightening and difficult moments that life throws at you, or to be consulted for one’s valued opinion…that’s truly an honor. In ER I generally see people in bad situations, perhaps the worst pet situation they have ever been in. Many of them are near losing or are losing their beloved friend and companion. This level of loss stretches the human psyche. Not all of us can be graceful or kind when we are under the level of pressure. I enjoy these interactions. I like to meet you in the middle of the night on emergency. I like to tell you we can do something about it…no matter what the clinical outcome of the case is, I get to be the hero for that family when they needed someone the most. In many cases I am the hero the pet desperately needed too. I get to triage, stabilize, educate, give options, counsel, console, help, hug, laugh, cry. It is such an honor to be trusted by someone who is at a time of need. Instead of letting these heavy interactions sap my energy and drain my bucket, I have reframed them to refill my soul. I am always happy to have been that person. When you see yourself more as the lighthouse and less of the victim of a client’s inability to respond with emotional intelligence or grace, you start to see the profound impact you have on people.
I think the same is true of our colleagues here in vet med land who are struggling. If you have the opportunity to be a lighthouse for them, take it! All of us need help in one way or another at different times in our lives and our careers. This is what I admire most about NOMV. The ability of a stranger to post a comment that flickers the light on the horizon for someone in pain. Or a message to the admin team that initiates a reach out, a private message from one likeminded heart to another from miles away, or an emergency services call when the need arises.
There is great beauty here in vet med land if we choose to look for it. We are blessed in many ways to be able to see the healing forces of the universe as focused through the lens of science, medicine, surgery, and human compassion. To continue to be the lighthouse I aspire to be, I must maintain my strong foundation. I have to work on it, up keep it, rest it. No tower can withstand constant storms, or unyielding pressure. That too is what NOMV has taught me. To be who I want to be I need boundaries, time off, self-care, exercise, rest, laughs, and perhaps the occasional margarita! Without proper maintenance my tower will crumble.
In my career I am learning to let things go, and not take certain interactions personally. Rarely are they actually about me, they are generally about human suffering and inability to cope with heavy emotion. I am learning to recognize stress, exhaustion, and burn out in myself at earlier stages. I am trying to provide routine maintenance to my tower. I, along with many others, are trying to restructure veterinary medicine. We are making it a healthier, happier place to live and work.
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.