“Compassion is my superpower:” Changing the narrative with Pam Nichols, DVM, CCRP, CFI

Meet vet med’s biggest fan—past AAHA President Pam Nichols, DVM, CCRP, CFI—on this week’s The Central Line podcast.

By Katie Berlin

It’s been a week already since we closed down Connexity 2022, and the best way I can think of to describe how I’ve felt after my first AAHA conference is … hung over.

My hangover is emotional withdrawal from the indulgence of being surrounded by hundreds of veterinary medicine’s most enthusiastic, inspiring people—and from the time spent in and out of sessions with colleagues who brought their most authentic selves to Nashville.

I’m a newbie at AAHA. I’ve been here less than a year. A year ago, I was working as an associate in an AAHA-accredited hospital, getting the same emails all AAHA members get, skimming the articles about new board members and not even taking the time to wonder what a Board of Directors at AAHA did, anyway. But last week I found myself mingling with them in the halls, joking with them over drinks, and discussing their visions for a better world in vet med for the Central Line podcast—and I was struck by just how excited, normal, and eager to help they all were.

We’ll have more to come in NEWStat on what exactly the AAHA Board of Directors is, and why it should matter, not just to members but to the profession as a whole—but for this week, I just want to say that they aren’t at all what I expected, in the best possible way.

Our podcast episode this week, appropriately, features Pam Nichols, DVM, CCRP, CFI, past AAHA President, who was attending her last AAHA conference as a board member. Dr. Pam is one of those people who opens up her arms and heart the minute she meets you. She makes you feel like the universe might just have your back. We talked about the affirmation cards she’s created specifically for veterinary professionals, the book she has coming out, and the ways she’s worked hard to help her teams “Change the Narrative” inside her hospital and outside in the world. Dr. Pam might just be vet med’s biggest fan, and as a fellow superfan, I’m here for it.


Pam Nichols: What I hear when I’m in practices is, “I just walk away and I’m exhausted, I’m sucked dry.” … For me, my compassion is my superpower; it gives me energy, it doesn’t suck me dry… Recognize that being compassionate is a gift to share with the world and with yourself.

I think that “Change the Narrative” allows me to be active [vs. reactive]. It’s not about Pollyanna, everything’s freaking perfect; it’s that I can act the way I want, I can choose to use the words that I want.


Katie Berlin: Changing the narrative is a simple phrase; it seems like it should be so simple to do, but sometimes it is so hard. Do you ever get feedback from people that you’re over-simplifying the problem? They’re like, “There’s no way that I can just change the narrative because of X, Y, Z factors or because the situation is this complicated?”


PN: I have heard that a few times, and what I tell people is, “It used to be hard for you to change the narrative. It’s just a choice. It’s a choice personally: How do I treat my team? It’s a choice personally: What tone of voice do I use? So, start with you, start with the morning, with you, and do your best.

And it is super simple. It can’t be over-simplified because I don’t think it could get any more simple than just “change your words.” You don’t have to change how you look at it, but just change your words. Your brain only knows what you tell it, and that’s not quantum physics, although some people think it is. Whatever your mouth says, your brain believes, and so you might as well say something positive.


KB: Okay. We’re talking about naysayers. You can hear people listening to this and saying, “Well, that’s not going to work for me because … ” or, “That’s making too light of the problem because … ” Do you feel like there are people who feel affirmations are toxic positivity and trying to tell them to “Buck up, buttercup,” when really, they’re facing real issues and, sometimes, real trauma?


PN: We all face real issues every single day that are freaking hard, and …”Suck it up, buttercup” is not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is, you can make a difference in your life and those people around you if you just simply change the narrative, change the way you talk about things, and it’s … I know, it sounds so simple, but it is.


KB: I saved notes from clients during curbside. Some clients would send notes in, which just made it so much easier. And one of them, it was for his cat, a 2-year-old cat in for a wellness visit, and he had some questions. It was his first cat, and he was like, “Thank you so much for your time,” and he signed it, “Matt, cat dad.” And I thought that was the cutest thing ever, and I saved it.


PN: ‘Cause you love him for being a great cat dad.


KB: I just think that’s so… Stuff like that is so beautiful.


PN: We’re so lucky to have clients like that that care enough to actually take the time to do that.


KB: I know. And just be like, “I’m a cat dad, and that’s how I’m going to sign the letter.”


PN: Right. And have a little gratitude that they’re there at your practice. And even if they are being naughty, at least they chose to come to you.


KB: This profession is really very beautiful, but it also can be very tragic and hard. And these things, I think, help us remind ourselves that there’s beauty even in those hard days.


PN: I think every single day in this profession is a gift. Honestly, I can’t see it any other way.


Listen to the full episode, “Changing the Narrative,” on Central Line: The AAHA Podcast, anywhere you get your podcasts or at aaha.org/podcast.


Email Dr. Pam at drpamn@gmail.com for more information on her affirmation cards or upcoming book.  


Wish you could watch these conversations? Catch Central Line on YouTube.  



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