If you are not familiar with the book Eat, Pray, Love, the premise revolves around the main character traveling and finding her joy again in life after experiencing struggles and loss.
Struggles and loss sound familiar these days. In fact, even prior to the pandemic, many veterinarians surveyed expressed their regret over pursuing the degree. That is the entire reason I started sharing my story as a veterinarian.
The truth is none of us have it easy, but I promise you can find joy in this profession. Let us share with one another the lessons we have learned about ourselves, our passions, our abilities, and the culture that allows us to achieve success AND enjoy being a veterinary professional.
After 11 years in practice, I do still love being a veterinarian.
No, I am not just “lucky”.
No, I am not naïve about the difficulties we endure.
No, I am not a glutton for punishment.
I have put in the 60-80 hour weeks as an equine intern and equine ambulatory vet. I have worked 21 days in a row in both GP and ER practices. I have stayed three hours after my emergency shift was supposed to end to do a surgery or finish records. I have been yelled at by clients and abusive staff members. I have gone above and beyond for a client, only to have them complain and refuse to pay me.
I have lived the harshness and the reality that is veterinary medicine.
But, I still love my job. I still feel called to show up each day for my clients and my patients. I still love my work family and the culture we have created. I love being a veterinarian.
In 11 years working as an equine vet, relief vet, small animal GP, and ER veterinarian I have learned a few things that have guided me to this place of contentment, and I want to share them with you.
I have learned:
• That you can prioritize your family and still have a 25+ year, profitable veterinary practice. I currently work at that exact model and can thank Dr. Epperson for showing me this truth. He taught me that there is always another veterinarian who can help the pet… but there is not another wife, mother, sister, or daughter in your family’s eyes. Show up for them. You matter.
• That saying “No” gets easier and easier as you experience the positive benefit of it. This happens when you value yourself, your time, and can set boundaries. Empowering yourself and saying “no” is the main way to prevent burnout.
• That you can train clients just like you train pets. Isn’t it exhausting when clients expect you to bend over backward for them, and in return do not respect you enough to pay you for the work? Guess what? By using positive reinforcement and setting clear expectations you can procure the clients you want. No shock collars needed.
• That you can float 14 horses’ teeth while 38 weeks pregnant in the Texas summer heat and survive. You just need a large cheese pizza to yourself to do it. The physical limitations of your body will be tested in this profession. Take care of your body.
• That an effective internship can teach you how strong you are and make you a better veterinarian. The keyword is effective. Even with the long nights, low pay, and taxing experience that was my equine internship I left prepared to work alone in a truck and pursue my passion.
• That leaving your coffee on the counter during an anal gland expression is never a good idea. Murphy’s Law is always in effect in these cases.
• That some clients will never be happy and that is their problem and not yours. Do not let a client make you believe something about yourself that is NOT true. You won’t make everyone happy, and that’s that. Determine if what they’re saying about you is trash or truth.
• That what I do has meaning and purpose.
• That “creative scheduling” can be a great way to find that elusive work-life cohesiveness. I have heard of practices that have vets working longer shifts, and fewer days. Practices that are hiring two part-time vets versus one full time. Personally, I negotiated a schedule that allows me to pick my elementary daughter up 3 days a week from school. It has allowed me to be a better mom and veterinarian.
• That some days will be hard, but I will survive them.
• That learning to be grateful and focus on the positive is a skill you can develop. By visualizing and listing three things daily you are grateful for, it has been scientifically proven you can rewire your brain to focus on the positive. Just this week I helped almost 100 pets, however, one client was frustrated and difficult due to curbside protocols. In the past, that would have been the focus of my week. Now I can “let it go” and enjoy the other wins I experienced instead.
• That recognizing and empowering your support staff helps raise profits and efficiency more than punishing and belittling them. Each of my support staff members has individual skills that when encouraged and embraced, add to our practice culture. Some help with social media posting. Others are pursuing advanced imaging certification and Fear Free™ training.
• That one negative team member can poison your entire staff, so hire slow and fire fast. This is a concept my husband, a seasoned business owner, taught me. Take your time with hiring, because it will be beneficial in the long run. And if a staff member is bringing negative energy to your workplace, don’t hesitate to let them go.
• That a pizza party was a good reward for reading in first grade, not so much as a veterinary hospital. Enough said.
• That there is no room for racism in our profession. None. In fact, studies have shown that having a more diverse team allows you to reach a broader clientele and be more profitable. If you want more information please visit the Multicultural Veterinary Medicine Association website.
• That there are too many wonderful practices out there looking for staff….You do not have to stay in a toxic one. Hear me on this. Do not stay at a practice that does not support you and equip you not just to survive, but to also thrive.
• That the next generation of veterinary professionals do practice “differently”, and we can learn a lot from them and their values. I have had the pleasure of speaking to, and more importantly listening to, veterinary students and new grads. They are currently experiencing a new “normal” for both schools and in practice. One in which I am unsure I would have thrived. They need us during this time. They need encouragement and guidance. Please be available to them.
• That veterinary medicine is an essential service. You are essential. I am essential. What we do matters.
• That I can survive a pandemic… well, I guess that one is still to be determined.
As a veterinarian I have been known by many things; Dr. Crocker, Doc, Tannetje’, the girl vet, and even Dr. Crockett from those who are hard of hearing.
The question is not how I am known… but what I want to be remembered for.
I want to be remembered for caring, even when the client did not deserve it. I want to be remembered for giving my team a leader they can be proud of. I want to be remembered for encouraging the next generation of veterinarians to find their voice and joy in this profession. I want to be remembered for shining a light on the darker parts of our profession and bringing us to a better, more inclusive community.
Right now you may be just trying to survive day to day. You may be physically, emotionally, and mentally worn out. I am here to tell you that is normal and you are not alone. In fact, many of your colleagues are in the trenches with you.
I encourage you to write down three people’s names you want to connect with next month. Write them down. Reach out. Check on one another. We are all in this together.
The lessons I have learned have shaped my career path. Working in a positive culture where I am supported and feel valued by my support staff and clients is my key to this profession.
What have you learned so far in your veterinary journey? Are you happy? Can you get back to that place? I believe you can.