Friday, October 10, 2014

Too Afraid To Fail? When Your Fear Costs Your Patients.

Porter smiles with his mom.
He looks dapper even at 18 years old.
His story is here.

We veterinarians are all cut from the same cloth. It is the by-product of selective honing of skills to meet the scrutiny of the veterinary school selection committee that we eat, sleep, dream, and pray to satisfy.

If you spend a decade trying to be someone for someone else you get a little blinded and unforgiving.

Betsy, awake after surgery.
She had a mass removed from of her nose Monday.

We work so hard to become a vet that many of us believe that we have to be perfect, (at least to the outsiders eye). Sure, internally we can over eat, under eat, over caffeinated, over chew tobacco, over indulge, over shop, over drink, over criticize, the list is long and dark, but on the outside we have to look like the "perfect vet student candidate." We are conditioned to be someone on paper that will be worthy of an acceptance letter. It isn't a healthy way to live. It is the nature of the beast when you want so desperately to become a veterinarian.

Our fan belt baby.
Looking for a home.
Perhaps my viewpoint is a bit skewed? I spent the better part of two decades working for that acceptance letter. But I would argue that most veterinarians share a few common traits. We are hard working, obsessive, type-A, driven people. For most of us we attended vet school in our twenties, or quickly after completing college, and most of us have few real-life experiences to add to our over massaged over ambitious resumes. There simply isn't enough time to study, attend classes, build a competitive work experience history AND become an adult with real-life realities.

Gypsy gives me the eyeball.
I proceed with prudence.

Here's what real-life realities means to me. It means the good, the bad, the ugly, the sticky, the unpleasant, the grit of painful stuff that you cannot elect to experience.

Vet school student hopefuls, present students, and graduates need to fail. We need to know what failure feels like. Every human being will struggle with something along the way. The lessons you walk away with are just as valuable as the tests you ace, the acceptance letters you are graced with, and the accolades you strive to attain. Don't have an expectation to be anyone or anything else than the true core of who you are. Whether that be passionate, skilled, kind, generous, pensive, erudite, crafty, or personable. You can be that one thing without having to be everything else. You don't have to beat yourself up for being something that you are not. But, that shouldn't mean that you cant try to grow into a better practitioner.

Sadie snuggles with her mom, waiting for her first vet visit.

You have to fail. You have to at least leave yourself open to fail. This is a uniquely human quality. I can't use some dog training analogy. You know like I try to with fears, anxieties, conditioning, over coming these with consistent gentle reinforcement. You have to embrace and jump into your fear of failure. There is no other way.

Too many of us try to tip-toe into the surgeries, the difficult cases, the new stuff that we are cautious and afraid of.

Lucy recovers from her other cruciate repair.

My advice, be honest and be open minded. A pet in dire need is a very good excuse to get over your internal doubting voice. Always be honest, always be open and always treat your clients with respect and sincerity. You owe them all of the options. Unfortunately, many people lack the resources or availability of a referral. What happens to these patients? Twenty years ago there weren't many referral clinics. Thirty years ago a veterinarian had to wear every referral hat. It was a matter of both need and necessity and it was the expectation of every new grad. You were forcefully pushed into those deep unfamiliar waters. You knew it was coming, you knew you had to, and deep down you looked forward to carving each notch out of your new tool belt as you tackled broken bones, cystotomies, enterotomies, GDVs, pyometras, C-sections, enucleations, perineal urethrostomies, hit by anythings,, the list is long. It was common practice for the new kid to walk-in and the old guy to walk-out. No cell phone to call a life line, no techs to help you, you were SOL solo. I grew up in this kind of practice. There was no such luxury of some other guy. There was just you, your skills in some variance of expertise and a patient who would die otherwise.

My point is this. Be the person who saves a life. Jump in when there aren't any other options. Build yourself into the vet of our forefathers. Be honest, be trustworthy, and try. JUST TRY. What do you have to lose? In many cases it is a patient and an experience that both of you benefit from.
When all else fails find a friend in need and get some pet-therapy.
If you are looking for a safe, friendly, pet focused place to ask a question, share your pet knowledge, or just post cute photos you can find us at

You can also find me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice and the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet, in Jarrettsville Md.

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