Here’s a common situation veterinarians will find themselves in:
I’m a new graduate and I got a job offer. The money is just OK and I know there’s better practices out there, but it’s near where I want to live and, well, if I don’t accept the offer, what if I don’t get any other offers.
6 months later… I used to love veterinary medicine but now I hate it. I dread coming to work and I really don’t get along with some of the other vets because they expect me to do things I don’t feel are right. But I don’t know if I should leave. I’ll feel like a failure if I quit. Why can other people handle this and I can’t? What’s wrong with me?
My first job was one of those overworked, underpaid, zero life outside of work, physically exhausting ones that also challenged my ethical beliefs and practice standards (small town mixed practice). My boss was great but I was clearly not meant to be there. It actually took a really good sit down between me and my boss with a mutual agreement to this fact, and I am grateful to her that she respected me (and the health of her practice) enough to help me.
I didn’t know what I was supposed to do otherwise but I knew I wanted to go back to the ocean and hadn’t seen my family in such a long time, so those values took priority.
During my transition I sat down and wrote a list of "my practice philosophy". It was about how I believed I should practice medicine, how I felt my clients and patients should be treated and how I felt I should be treated. A little like when you've been single awhile and make a dreams and deal-breakers list. Only you make this list with lots of consideration for yourself and don't drink a bunch of wine first. And never make it out of anger. I promised that for my job search this would be my guiding light.
My next job was really great. All of the vets practiced to such a standard that I would feel comfortable letting them do anything with my pets if they were in trouble and I couldn't be reached. I also felt comfortable leaving my patients with them when needed. The support staff were great. What made the difference was that I went into that set of interviews with that paper of my practice philosophy in my hand and I pretty much interviewed them. It helped that they had a defined set of goals and standards themselves.
I left that job for family reasons, plus I realized I couldn't be on call any longer and stay healthy, but that 7 years made me a better vet because it was a good environment medicine-wise. There were a few hierarchical things that went on and now that experience has added to my new practice philosophy to treat the younger vets well.
I would encourage any vet, no matter of what type of practice, to take some time through this exercise. You can wing it and speak from the heart, or you can look for processes that others have developed (I’ve created Desire Maps in the past). We take jobs based on pay or just the fact that someone wanting us makes our imposter syndrome slightly less evident, but we would never make a major investment like this anywhere else in life without a list of values. I even had a deal breakers list for buying a new car that took more consideration than when I found my first vet job.
I've been feeling for a long time that our profession is broken. I have my theories on why, and I'm sure some of you do as well. Maybe if we value ourselves enough and choose our work for the right reasons we can have a future that I like to call "humane treatment of vets". Now that I'm in a position of interviewing vets (although I'm not owner) I make it clear what the clinics philosophy is and try to get deeper into the vets I'm interviewing.
As a manager, I’ve never yet held a job interview with a prospective veterinarian who had a solid set of values. I always ask the question though, and inevitably catch them off guard. We discuss it and the biggest thing that comes out for it for me is how much I learn, if I listen (that’s the trick). Skills can be taught, values are innate. The values will be the reason why people stay, leave, or open a successful practice down the road from mine. These values also teach me what kind of human I’m going to be spending my time with, passing my cases on to, and leading to future success. They remind me that the DVM and piece of paper sitting in front of me is actually human and it creates more respect. Most of all, they remind me of why I chose this career in the first place since sometimes that gets lost in the stress of it all.
I would encourage every veterinarian to write a practice philosophy on your CV or cover letter. It will make you stand out, make the employer think about this when they are meeting you (and anyone else) and allow you to create value that you are more than just a DVM and a heartbeat. You are a caring, life-saving, motivated, hard-working, amazing human being, who also needs to care for yourself!
We all have values, we can’t be too scared to express them. Being human and setting standards is a strength, and trust me, if people don’t want to hear about your values, they’re not worth your time.
Link to The Desire Map:
By Dr. Heather James
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.