Give up the guilt

Give up the guilt

Want to enjoy a happy, fruitful career in veterinary medicine? Start by leaving your angst at the door.
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Jul 01, 2005


Dr. Craig Woloshyn
I believe there's one area where we're ahead of all our brethren in other professions. We corner the market on feeling badly for things that we didn't do and don't control. What a distinction!

Too often, we writhe with guilt when we haven't done anything wrong. Don't agree? How often have you said:

"If I charge what I should for this (fill in the blank), no one will do it."

"There are too many strays in the world, and we're the only ones who can fix that."

"My clients can get this product cheaper at the drug store. I'll lower my price."

Why are we the guiltiest-feeling profession? The issue probably stems from the type of people who're attracted to animal health care. Idealistic, but sometimes not realistic, our brilliant young doctors often suffer a great disadvantage when it comes to the business of practice.

Instead of seeing their real value to clients and demanding a fair deal for both the doctor and client, they tend to be altruistic, subsidizing their patients' care with their own income. They work long, unproductive hours, give away significant amounts of money and time, and often leave the profession because it's so stressful and not rewarding enough.

On another level, I think we often confuse compassion for responsibility. Yes, it's good to empathize with patients—to know when they're hurt, sick, or feeling wonderful. But you need to separate that empathy from the responsibilities that belong to the client.

If you strive to make decisions that aren't yours to make, you'll quickly become a victim of compassion fatigue. And compassion fatigue converts rapidly to burnout and all that it entails.

Can we overcome the collective guilt that pervades the profession? Yes. In fact, some practitioners have already done so. Many are experienced doctors who've learned to thrive with the rigors of practice. They deliver excellent care, and in return, receive the emotional and financial rewards due them.

If you're a young doctor just entering the profession, you can do no better than to find a doctor who has weathered the travails of the profession to be a mentor. Even if you don't work for this talented doctor, let him or her be your guide to the spirit of our profession.

We're beloved by our clients, so let's shed our illusory guilt and serve them fully and without reservation. And let them support us in that endeavor. Most clients want us to thrive, for they know that's the only route to a prolonged, happy life for their furry family members. Let's set aside our emotions and give them what they want—a fully functional professional who brings the enthusiasm and experience of a long career.

Dr. Craig Woloshyn, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member, works guilt-free at Sun Dog Veterinary Consulting. Please send questions or comments to

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