For too many of us veterinarians, the situation is this: one on one, DVM to pet, we are incredibly adept and skilled. But one on one, vet to client, or vet to practice owner, and we're falling apart. We don't voice concerns. We don't stand up for ourselves. We are victims of abuse in our own places of work and we don't provide ourselves a short-term, long term or even a differential plan to improve it. We are abysmal doctors in caring for ourselves.
A very good friend and associate described her struggles with her emotional well-being in her previous practice this way: "I knew I was in need of help. I called the State Board and was told they couldn't do anything. I called a lawyer to ask for help with my abusive boss. She told me it sounded awful and that she was sure she could assist and then asked me if I had $400 per hour to pay for her help. I didn't know where to go. So I moved from one bad practice to another."
Sounds like so many of us who get stuck in bad relationships, doesn't it? Why do vets allow themselves to be miserable and torn down and bullied? Studies show the reason is that we feel:
> Trapped and out of control. People will die internally or kill themselves if they feel trapped. Chew your paw off to get out of a trap. Put animals in a cage too small, deny them love, stimuli and a healthy happy environment and they'll unravel. We are no different.
> Conflicted. We are asked, expected or ordered to do things we don't agree with. Add a pathetic patient whose fate literally lies in our hands into the mix, and you've got a recipe for self loathing and emotional heartbreak.
> Exhausted. We have this ludicrous idea that our self worth is directly proportional to our self-destructive, obsessive work ethic that denies and promotes not eating, not sleeping and not using the bathroom. In less civilized times, they called this "slavery." Who wants an exhausted doctor?
> Financially bound. OK, we're in debt up to our eyeballs. Some are drowning, all because they absolutely <i>had</i> to go to vet school. (Starting to see a pattern of self-perpetuating stubborn behavior here?).
It's time to find out what's holding you back. Let's dig deeper ...
Is it finances and debt?
If so, is working harder and sacrificing the balance that keeps you healthy really worth it? If you always feel tied to money and the bottom line, you'll inevitably make poor decisions and perhaps even cost your patients the options that might cost them their lives. I know associates who are asked to maintain a hard-and-fast minimum average client transaction. Client options include those above the ACT or euthanasia.
Is it a boss or co-worker making your life hell?
Do you just take it? Do you ever ask yourself if you need to? I'll be the first to admit I live at the other extreme. I'm that cat in the cage who chooses to hiss, claw and fight. But I realize there are Cocker Spaniels out there.
Everyone loves a Cocker Spaniel. We vets expect that their lowered ears and cowering submissive tail wag all say, "Please go away. I'm afraid, but too paralyzed to do anything about it. ... Oops, I think I just piddled on the floor." You're exhausted and trapped. Cats haul ass for a new home or claw your eyes out. Be the cat.
You wanted to be the healer, and the lack of options to you in private practice has taken its toll. I argue that this is a myth. I'm living proof. I can't explain to you exactly how it happened, but at some point I decided I was going to live true to who I am. I save from suffering, I protect and provide happy healthy lives. You are conflicted.
If we're so adept at identifying medical problems and making diagnoses, then can't we fix our own problems?
Try to see yourself as the person you want to be. How can you get there? Is compasstionate behavior modification needed? (It works for puppies!) Do you need a trainer, mentor or secret Facebook friend/group to help you muster the courage to keep yourself alive?
It may sound corny, but try some of these tips or mantras or resolutions and actions in this handout. Print it out and share it. Keep it close. These things help me.