Veterinarians: Not a bunch of sad sacks

Veterinarians: Not a bunch of sad sacks

Vet Confessionals Project founder Dr. Hilal Dogan reflects on criticism that veterinarians are a sad, sorry group.
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Jan 25, 2016

Dr. Hilal Dogan, founder of the Vet Confessionals Project, reflects on recurring themes submitted in the form of "confessions" to dvm360.com. This month she tackles some (harsh?) criticism: That veterinarians are a bunch of sad sacks.

"Seems like this profession has a lot of 'sad sacks' who should have thought twice about their choices. Trouble is … we all have to work with them/put up with their 'issues.'"—An anonymous submission to the Vet Confessionals Project

The Vet Confessionals Project has been gaining steam since last year, and we've received more submissions (online and via our interactive exhibit) than ever. I'm noticing a trend, however, especially at our live events—people think we are, to put it bluntly, "sad sacks."

We received the submission, above, at CVC San Diego, and at first it made me laugh out loud. But it also made me stop and reflect, because it echoes so many of the comments I heard while attending the conference. People commented that the submissions were even sadder than before or that veterinary professionals seem like they are all depressed.

We aren't only here to be warm and fuzzy

Of course, I don't believe that. We really don't all hate our jobs and we're certainly not a bunch of "sad sacks." Yes, we recognize this job is hard, stressful and can feel terrible sometimes. But it is rewarding. One submission we received said, "I hate the pager, but no matter what time of day you get to pull a live calf, it makes you forget weeks' worth of bad stuff." I was touched by this sentiment, and it inspired me to make an advance in my career I was previously afraid to make, since it would mean I'd be "on call."

How true is it that we get to help people and animals in their time of need, when no one else is there for them? We cry, we laugh, we cheer each other on, and we sometimes fall into pits of despair and sadness. But we do so together, as a team. And that is the whole point of the Vet Confessionals Project. We aren't only here for the warm and fuzzy feelings. We're also here to shock you, to bring tears to your eyes, to feel the feelings of a complete stranger so strongly that you get goose bumps on your skin. That indescribable connection of emotion is inspiration.

"I think this is me."

I'm reminded of a memorable scene in the movie, Watchmen. (If you haven't seen this movie, I'm not surprised—it's terrible, in my opinion. But this part is genius.) The writer, Alan Moore, used the story as a means to reflect contemporary anxieties and parody the superhero concept. The hero, Rorschach, says:

"Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, 'Treatment is simple. The great clown, Pagliacci, is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.' Man bursts into tears. Says, 'But doctor, I am Pagliacci.'"

The Vet Confessionals project reflects the truth about this profession in its rawest form. In all of its glory, it shows the sweet, heartwarming aspects of our profession, but also what is behind the forced smile or the “I understand” that is really covering up a desire to punch another person in the throat.

And so I challenge you: Be inspired the next time you read something sad or depressing. Pity and judgment gets us nowhere fast. Turn it around and ask yourself, “What can I do to help?” Some of us already are doing exactly this. They have come to me to share their stories personally or even through their secrets. We posted a submission about a toxic boss at a recent exhibit, and someone else posted a note that said, “I think this is me.” Did that person go home from the conference and make a change? I bet they did. 

Hilal Dogan, BVSc, is an associate at At Home Animal Hospital in Maui, Hawaii. She started the Veterinary Confessionals Project as a senior veterinary student at Massey University in New Zealand.