Whether you are a new grad, or a seasoned veteran of the veterinary profession, the feeling of stress is often hanging around. For some of us, it’s a nagging weight we carry day in and day out. For others, it comes in waves of the highest highs (a life saved by your expert intervention) and the lowest lows (a life lost despite your best efforts).
Many of us believe this is just the way it is…that the emotional roller coaster is just “part of the job”…that the sleepless nights, overworking and the endless pursuit of work/life balance just comes with the territory.
What if that weren’t true?
If it’s not true, then we would find that our emotional health is not tied to our professional outcomes; that our quality of sleep is not dictated by the activities of the day; and that work/life balance is not a myth, but a reality.
I like those options much better!
I believe the real causes of stress in our profession come down to just a handful of things which can be greatly altered using these three strategies for managing stress, and finding joy.
Strategy 1: Ease In
By the time you graduate from veterinary school, you have spent years and years focused on that one goal. But, before you began the long academic journey to become veterinarian, you were more than just a person working toward becoming a veterinarian!
You had interests, hobbies, activities and talents that contributed to who you were. But as is true for many—as the academic pressures rose, and the demands on your time increased—you let all that “extra stuff” fall away.
But here’s the deal… it’s all the “extra stuff” that makes life fulfilling and fun. Without it you are no more than your job. And although you serve in a profession that does highly impactful work, it is not the essence of your being. You are more than just a veterinarian.
So, if you’re new to the profession, please think twice before going all–in. I’m not saying you should not enjoy your new career and give 100% when you are at work, but I am recommending you let work be work, and embrace the other areas of your life when you are not on the job.
At first, because you have been focused on vet med for so long, this is going to seem a little strange. But think back, maybe way back, to the days before the pursuit of veterinary medicine consumed your life. How did you spend your free time? What hobbies or activities did you participate in that you have since given up?
Consider intentionally scheduling 30 minutes in your week to do one of those non–vet things that you used to enjoy. Just 30 minutes, and do it even if you don’t feel like it, and see what happens. You’ll likely find as you prioritize time to focus on other things, the pressures of your new veterinary career will not seem as heavy.
Strategy 2: Remember Your Dream
Your decision to pursue a veterinary career was associated with a dream you had for your future. The future is now. Are you living that dream?
It is possible that your dream shifted a bit as you completed your studies and entered the profession. But if you are finding yourself becoming unhappy with your work, you might want to dust off that old dream and compare it to your current reality…there could be a “fit issue”.
Fit issues come in two main forms. The first has to do with misaligned practice area, which can include geographic location. The second has to do with misaligned practice focus, which includes the species you want to see and practice areas which interest you the most.
If you’ve taken a job in a geographic area away from friends and family with whom you are close and with whom you wish to “do life”, you’ll want to intentionally build in time to stay connected. Thankfully, social media and web–based video communication is easier than ever. Just stay aware of how the distance may be impacting you, and don’t be afraid to make a change to remedy the geographic misalignment by moving closer if needed.
Likewise, if you’ve taken a job in a small animal clinic where they only serve cats and dogs and your passion is pocket pets, for example, it is worth asking hospital leadership if you can expand the practice to include those additional species. If your species and areas of interest can’t be pursued where you work now, you might also need to consider a change in order to find satisfaction in your career. Having the opportunity to focus on your special interests can go a long way toward creating job-related joy.
Strategy 3: Be Simply Human
Somewhere along the way, many of you will begin to forget that eventually some cases will not turn out well, and accidents will happen. Thankfully, these things typically happen infrequently, but when they do occur, you might be tempted to turn toward self–blame. Please hear this, poor case outcomes and accidents do not mean you are a bad veterinarian. You are simply human, not super human, after all!
The reality is, that despite your very best efforts, mistakes and accidents will happen—and some cases will not respond to treatment as anticipated. In addition, some clients will simply refuse to take your medical advice. None of these things devalue you as a veterinarian! Resist the urge to take it personally. There are very few things that you can control, and medical outcomes, as well as the actions of others, are simply not controllable.
When you really recognize this as true, you can allow yourself to stop wasting time worrying. Worrying will not benefit your patients (or you) in any way. Chronic worry can actually negatively impact your physical health. Worry is a colossal waste of energy and a serious stealer of joy. Instead, remind yourself you are simply human, and allow the outcomes to be what they are, without making them mean anything more.
When you make the best decisions you can for your patients based on the information have and the permissions you are given, approach your cases with good intent and provide good customer service, then you’ve done your job.
Now go out and enjoy your life! +