By now you all know I love veterinary medicine…I love the science, the clients, the pets, the agriculture…I love it all. Those who really know me understand that, while I adore helping animals, my real joy is in helping people with their animal’s problems. After all, isn’t that what most of private practice is? If we look at the number of veterinarians in the US, a big majority of us are in clinical practice, so why have so many of us fallen victim to the “us versus them” mentality? That in some way we are opposing forces fighting each other?
Every day I hear concerns from frustrated vets, - complaints and judgments from exhausted veterinary staff and doctors about clients. And, sure all people in service industries are naturally going to gripe about certain client interactions, its human nature…but have we taken it too far? Do we actually see them, the clients, as our enemy?
These frustrations and concerns are understandable. Veterinary medicine is a challenging profession. It requires knowledge, empathy, emotional intelligence, and physical stamina. Practice can drain you of each of those things; sometimes simultaneously. But I still have to ask: Aren’t we – veterinarians, staff, and clients – all in this together? I know my paycheck is signed by the practice owner every month, but I earn it from the clients I serve. Relationships I build provide better care for pets, celebration of the human animal bond, and builds the practice. So, in truth, how can they, with whom I must partner for the care of their pet, be my enemy?
Anyone with access to the news knows the United States and the world more generally are divided and, at least so it seems, increasingly so. Could it be that this trend toward tribalism in the culture at large is causing our cultural divide in veterinary medicine to grow deeper? Are we influenced towards judgment, blame, and disdain to those who are “not like us”? Does the current lack of civility and increasing cultural anger encourage us towards professional anger and resentment? I would submit, it’s an idea at least worth consideration.
As a community we need to support each other and further encourage each one of us to build our own emotional intelligence. We need to step back and realize our clients are often hurting people who are not rational, fair, or kind…and that is rarely a reflection on us as people or professionals.
It can be exceedingly difficult to not respond in kind when we are mistreated. When I have a particularly challenging or negative experience with a client, I try very hard to stop myself and ask where I could have gone differently. Could I have explained something in a different way? Was my tone appropriate, was I wearing my resting bitch face? Did I close them off? Should I have stepped out and brought someone else in? It was so easy for a while to just join in the bandwagon, grab a pitch fork and declare they make my life hell. But…that made me burnt out, angry, sad, and lost. Yes, I still get mad,. Yes, I still complain, and yes I’m rude sometimes. But centering myself back to a place of empathy helps. I am learning to understand that the folks who attack me in person or on social media likely come from a place of true pain all of their own, separate from me. I have given myself permission to have my own self value, self-worth, and esteem regardless of the judgment of others. This has made practice more enjoyable, and while still just as demanding as before, it is sustainable. So long as I remember to practice self-care, I can have a long career. But the most important self-care begins inside my own head as I learn to respond positively and view my clients not as opponents, but as members of the team.
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.