by Carrie Jurney DVM DACVIM (Neuro)
Yesterday, one of our members, Dani McVety, posted a video. She has given permission for me to discuss it here. For NOMV members it is accessible through that link. We will never discuss anything you say on NOMV without your express permission.
She was inspired after a conversation with a friend and a recent conference of pet industry innovators to share her perspective on a few things.
It was something posted with entirely good intention, but it caused quite a discussion on the board. So I want to take the time to break that down and talk about things a bit.
Yes- Dani was driving during the video. Many people have expressed just concerns about that, myself included, but that's not what we're talking about here right now. What we are discussing is the content of Dani's message- a call for veterinarians to take control of their perception of certain issues (for instance dealing with client's financial limitations) and a broader statement that a change to this mindset allows us to interact with not only our client better, but also the larger pet industry as a whole. Several members expressed that they thought that Dani's message did not realistically address the problems in veterinary medicine as a whole. So, first things first: What are our problems?
I'm an obsessive list maker and categorizer. When I am faced with a problem, I chunk it in to big groups to make the problem seem manageable. There are three things that cause seizures, and I think we have three types of issues in veterinary medicine currently. I will say that my examples are mostly from a clinician's perspective, as that is what I am. I invite our industry and other non-clinical vets to respond with their analysis of their respective fields in the profession:
1) Systemic Professional Issues: These are things like debt to income ratios in the United States. It is a problem for which a solution is not immediately available, and the solution will require systemic action at a professional level.
2) Situational Issues: These are problems, while common, can be addressed at a local level. Now some of these problems are so pervasive that they seem almost a systemic issue. However, when you you start to think of solutions, the power to act on them is something you do have control over. You cannot as a sole member of the profession change how much the required education costs, that's a systemic issue. However, you do have some control over where you work. If you decide you want to have an actual lunch hour everyday, and your practice owner wants you to work through lunch, the solution might include finding a new job. So the action for changing the situation may not be simple, but it is within your power to change. It also may be that in the balance of your life, the solution is not actually the right choice for you. Maybe you have ill family members, and to care for them you need to stay local. This is the only job that is local, so you accept the trade that lunch is not included in this solution, but it solves the bigger problem of being near family. I think it's helpful to when considering the challenges in your life to realize which problems you are consciously accepting as a necessary part of the overall picture of your life. Regardless, situational problems are things you can change with your own actions.
3) Perception issues: There are struggles that are inherent to the job that are unlikely to change. This can include situational issues that you have decided not to change and now must deal with. Medicine is stressful. Clients are emotional. Mistakes are made. Even when mistakes aren't made, patients die. Imposter syndrome is rampant. Our only control over these problems is how we mentally process them. We had an incredibly busy couple of days this week. My nurses were completely overworked, so was I. They made some mistakes, and a few times got there was griping and grumbling and few instances of serious attitude problems. I have every objective right to be mad at them. I could have written them up. My chosen perception: this is a good team who has been pushed by circumstances and we have found their fault line. So, instead I bought them dinner at the local Mexican joint, thanked them for working hard, and next week when it's not so busy we're going to train harder on making estimates and checking treatment sheets.
When I look at Dani's video, I think she is addressing #3. When I look at our members who object to her statements, I mostly see people who have say that this statement ignores all of the real problems that exist in 1 and 2. Now, in her enthusiasm, Dani is also expanding on how this has allowed her to look to other problems within 1 and 2 as well, but at it's core, this is a message about controlling your perception.
In my role as an admin of this site, I have been consuming a steady diet of self-help content. Some of it is bullshit, but like all things- you have to find your truth in the world. And the more I read and listen, the more I take in that this is at least one person's path to happiness and that in and of itself is worth consideration. I will also say that some of that stuff that set off my "bullshit sensor" initially turns out to be based on real science, and works. Regardless, regular workouts, gratitude exercises, eating healthy and meditating - stuff we talk about on this blog for instance- will not solve all of the problems in the world or even in veterinary medicine. However, it does help a person who is struggling deal with those struggles on a more even keel. Come on guys- you can't tell me that you make better decisions and have steadier emotions on two hours sleep and a diet of diet coke and Doritos. And on the flip side eating a kale salad for lunch does not mean you can stop taking your antidepressants today. Changing your perception of your clients and their financial struggles will not make your loan balance change nor your hours better, but if it makes those cases 20% easier for you mentally isn't that worth a shot?
When someone who has come through a struggle similar to ours has found a solution, it behoves us all to listen to them. Take a moment, let your gut reaction (your bullshit sensor if you will) settle down and evaluate it. Can this solution fit in to your life? If not, why not?
I think there is also an excellent cautionary tale in here for people who are trying to give advice. We have to remember, in our quest to inspire and help others, we should also strive not to minimize the struggles of others and alienate our audience. This is true in the exam room, and it is certainly true on NOMV. The best communications training I ever received focused on empathic listening. Listen to the other person, hear what they have to say, and try to understand where it is coming from before you formulate your response.
Change is hard. Internal change is even harder. It takes discipline and practice, and you are allowed to not get it right 100% of the time. Some people are not ready to change. Some days, you cannot manage the stress of change on top of everything else. Some days you just need to vent, and commiserate and be with people who understand. I get that too, but I would encourage you to not let that become every day.
Happiness is not an end goal my friends. You do not struggle up miserable mountain and retire in bliss at happy village. Happy is about your experience on the journey. Happiness is not about never having sad feelings, or never having struggles. It's about being able to experience those things without having them make you miserable after the fact, so you can experience and focus on the joyful stuff when it happens. So my friends, I hope that we can continue to have discussions on NOMV that help us all find happiness in our journey through this profession.
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.