For those of who know me, know I am obsessed with the 10,000 hour rule. A theory I learned about from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. To simplify: it states humans require 10,000 hours of exposure or practice to become proficient at anything…proficient meaning within the middle of the bell curve, or in middle school terms; a C average.. Those who know me also know I am fascinated by the far right of the bell curve…the top 2%: The “Outliers”: the Beatles, the Bill Gates, the Phil Jackson...the beyond expert level dots on the graph.
I was not always a super hero vet. In my former life (IE my twenties) I was in entertainment management. Now when I say that, it has no real meaning for most people…but most assume I was an actress, a singer, or a rock star. Far from true. I managed logistics and people for entertainment ventures like plays, Broadway style musicals, operas, Shakespeare shows, rock and roll, country music etc. I worked “behind the scenes”. The job sounds really romantic and fabulous…it was a fun job…but not glamorous or exciting as it sounds. But it was my training grounds. It was the location of my first 10,000 hours.
What I know for sure: I know that it takes 10,000 hours for any of us to begin to become really good at anything…and that When God giveth he can also taketh away. I have had the pleasure of working with some truly gifted and talented artists, directors, producers, and musicians over the years. I have seen firsthand, how when you are truly gifted at one area of your life, there is a good chance you truly struggle in another. For example some of the amazing people I worked with lacked completely in social skills, or self-management, or discipline, or impulse control. They would be defined in my current language as, “Difficult or Challenging Clients”. They were demanding, judgmental, entitled, and emotionally overcharged. This is where I became an outlier when it comes to working with hard clients, or tough coworkers.
I was working a music show for a big name…big venue holding 10,000 ticket buying fans one night when in the middle of the first song the star left the stage and locked themselves in the dressing room. They went on to tell me how disrespectful the audience was and how they were not going to perform. Meanwhile on the cell phone: the producer and the sponsors are advising me I work for them, as does the star, and the star has already been paid for the performance and I had better find a way to get them back to playing nice, and they had better put on a show worthy of the ticket price. No problem, right?
The problem with the audience? Well the bathroom entrances and hallways had been covered with hanging black curtains, that billowed when someone walked through, thus letting the fluorescent light shine into the auditorium. “How dare a human use the restroom during a show…how dare they not realize how important I am”. ….Right….I see how you’re feeling says my mouth as I struggle not to slap someone. Moments later my assistant comes running up to me. “ I quit” he says…The star threw the entire glass vase of 24 long stem roses at him and it hit the wall right next to his head…that kid was done. And I gotta say I can’t blame him…we were on an irrational and emotional nonsense ride.
The end of the story is as non glamorous as any other: After letting the star talk and vent and letting them know I understood and I had compassion and empathy…and redirecting them to remember their priorities, commitments and reputation…off to the stage they went. We blamed it on “technical difficulties” (my all-time favorite excuse). To date I don’t think the audience was upset at all…or even realized drama was unfolding. I was exhausted but proud of myself. I demonstrated my communication skills are pliable, fluid, and solid. I had learned how not to give someone else my sanity, or permission to ruin my mental state.
When people find out I am a 2nd career vet they always ask what my first career was…and then launch backward in shock as they truly think one has nothing to do with the other. But I attest…they are similar in some ways. I am a companion animal DVM…I work primarily with people and their “family pets”. These pets are precious to them. Which means in reality I work with “challenging clients”… a lot. As a matter of fact in my practice we have a saying: “This is a Whiting client”. It doesn’t mean I have a relationship with them, it means others find it hard to communicate with them and therefore I’m the pinch hitter, and I’m up. Usually I do rather well with them, and I come out feeling OK…not angry, not disrespected, not frustrated.
I attribute that to my training. I have learned how to communicate with the overly emotional, the irrational, and the emotional terrorists if you will: With the frightened, the insecure, the misunderstood. I have spent countless hours not only practicing my communication in these situations, but also my internal reaction to it. I have trained my brain not to attribute these struggles to myself. Not to see it has an opportunity to let my imposter syndrome take hold. These events are not about me being an inadequate vet, or person …they are about a client in crisis. They do not reflect on me in any way unless I let them. I have learned not to give these emotional terrorists permission to influence my self-worth or my happiness. I have learned not to judge others for their emotions under stress.
I am now just passed 6 years or so in practice full time: I have just crossed my 10,000 hours in practice, and sure enough I am feeling more and more like a functional, and even good doctor. I have a ways to go…but I am wondering if we all could benefit from 10,000 hours in personal wellness and appreciation?
Abby Whiting, DVM
Good morning, NOMV Nation!
I’m back at NOMV World Headquarters @ NOMV Plaza after a great time at the VMX Conference, where I managed to consume, uh *learn*, a great deal. Marshall Tucker is asking me if “I can see” as I write a brief synopsis. Here in the Land of the Fucked, there remains much reason for hope.
1. The power of Community. Everywhere I went I saw people I knew. We talked and laughed and watched the super bowl. We lost our voice from screaming. (I for one got a bruise on my right bicep from it being grabbed every time the Eagles scored.) We are wired by God and evolution to be with others. We are like overgrown meerkats. Even introverts need company at times, before we scurry back into our burrows.
2. The power of a hug. I was hugged more times than I can count with my shoes on. Touch is one of my “love languages”. I’m like my daughter’s dog, Bentley. Bentley is a basset lab cross or something. He looks like his legs are on backwards, with his feet pointed at a 40 degree angle to his direction of travel, but he *has* to be touching you. Hugs are great therapy, whether from dogs or people, but people hugs rock.
3. The power of sharing coffee or a refreshing adult beverage. More than once I spent a few minutes or hours over a hot or cold drink talking and learning about my friends and they me. In learning, we can anticipate and or respond to the needs of our friends.
I’m just a dog doctor, but if I know anything from dogs it’s we need to spend time with people so we know when they need something. Like needing to pee. To learn to read their body language. Some are more obvious than others. Some just quietly stand at the door as if to say “notice me”. We need to learn to *notice* those we know and love.
4. You’ll be hearing more in coming months about the statistics of depression and wellbeing in veterinary medicine. Whatever the stats tell us, behind them are people. People who have their story. Listen to their story. Tell yours. There is bonding over shared stories and in them we realize we are the same. Broken and beautiful. Imaginative and infuriating. In turn, sad and sanguine.
NOMV Nation is now roughly 15,000 strong. Roughly the size of the town in which I practiced. Spread out though we are, we are a community who likes, loves, needs, wants, and cares for one another. We are ALLONE, as my good friend Jason reminds us. We are not a replacement for personal friendships, therapy, or anything else, but perhaps we are a springboard for those things. In fact my life is immeasurably richer because of you.
This is what I learned this week. More important to me than a few credits of CE.
Love alone is worth the fight,
This is my first blog about mental health, and to be frank, it is quite a daunting molehill to climb. I’ve written blogs for clinics I have worked at, some of my favorites called ‘Tick Talk’ with the title being a deliberate play on the sound of time passing. Those blogs were easy to do. Easy to plan. Easy to write. Easy to post.
This one? This is a whole different beast of a blog. I know how to be detached, medical, scientific, sterile. Or as my counselor tells me at almost every visit, I’m ‘really quite great at compartmentalizing’. I’ve had to be able to euthanize a patient in one room, wash my hands (it allows me a moment to wash off the emotions/stress/grief), and move on to a family with their first puppy in the next room. After a day full of extreme highs and lows, taking responsibility for it all, making hundreds of life and death decisions in a split second I go home and leave it all at work. Actually, I found myself leaving it all in the car ride home. Those 20 to 30 minutes became the key time for my brain to unwind and to switch from being the one making all the decisions to being ‘just’ a human again. After all, it’s healthy to take off the superhero cape and the all the weight associated with it.
That was my life. The one I had dreamed of and strived towards for as long as I have memories. I’m sure many of you can relate… We veterinarians tend to be a breed set apart from the muggles, yet so like one another.
One day, 2 years ago, I hit my head. In a freak accident. It should never have happened, but there is no point thinking about the coulda woulda shouldas.
Since then, my world has been dumped upside down and wrung inside out.
There are many sequelae that do their best to suck my soul. However, among the worst offenders is the Isolation. I spend hours and hours alone. From 630am until 630pm my partner is away from our home. He also sleeps from 930pm until 545am. That means that I get, at most, 3 evening hours around him where we are awake. In those hours we eat dinner, clean up the kitchen and by that point I am usually so exhausted/painful/symptomatic that I need to lay down. I can’t carry on conversation coherently any more. It’s cruel, because I want to be able to communicate yet I can barely focus long enough to remember the beginning of his sentence never mind the thread of the conversation.
I have one local friend. She is in her 70s, and we do a short walk together once a week. All the others have fallen away as it became clear my symptoms weren’t going to improve in what they perceived to be a tolerable amount of time.
I have no local family. Our parents and siblings all live a 2.5 hour ferry ride plus a 10 hour drive away. I can’t handle that amount of travel, and they are all too busy to visit me.
I do interact with medical professionals during my menagerie of appointments. I see neurologists, physiatrists, pain clinic occupational therapists, massage therapists, physiotherapists, kinesiologists, a counselor, general practitioners and the list goes on. They see me for 10 minutes or so, and then move on to the next one. I’m quickly a blip in their rear-view mirror.
There are 5 people who still check in regularly with me through various messenger apps.
I share this so that you can see I spend a lot of time Isolated. So Alone. Soul suckingly alone. I share this with you not to be all ‘woe is me’, but rather to make you think. Is there someone with chronic health issues that has fallen off your radar? Sending a text may take you 20 seconds but may well be the highlight of their afternoon/day/week. Reach out. Keep asking people to attend social stuff who have previously had to cancel due to their health. They may not be able to but will appreciate being asked. If you plan to go out for coffee with them and they end up not being able to that day, bring them a coffee instead. Or ask if you can bring them something else. Don’t forget them and add to their Isolation. Make an effort. It may save their life.
But that’s a blog for another day…
Dr. M. Brink
by Carrie Jurney DVM DACVIM (Neuro)
I wanted to give you a heads up about an awesome opportunity to donate to NOMV for free!
The kind folks over at Trupanion have offered to donate a $100.00 to NOMV for any hospital that signs up to for Vet Direct Pay with Trupanion at VMX. We use direct pay at my hospital, and I can tell you it takes a lot of drama out of the tough financial conversations. Clients don't need to pay a huge deposit. You get to save money on credit card fees. You get quick approval and know that 90% of the bill is covered. It's a win/win. The service is free for vets. They just need to get your hospital set up!
NOMV uses these donations to fund things like our grant program- where we help veterinarians in trouble get back on their feet- and our mentors program- where we are developing educational programs to help make us all stronger so we can lift each other up. So we can't tell you how much it means to us to have Trupanion help us out.
So head over to the Trupanion booth at VMX and get signed up. Thanks guys- Have an awesome conference and don't forget our reception on Monday night 5:30-7:30 at the Hyatt!
And thank again Trupanion, for being a leader in wellness in the veterinary community and supporting us at NOMV.
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.