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Chapter 3

How to Continue to Find Joy in Veterinary Practice

Kimberly Pope-Robinson, DVM, CCFP

We all remember the joy and excitement we felt when we got our acceptance letter to veterinary school or landed our first job in a veterinary hospital. But over time, the challenges of a busy and, at times, emotionally taxing daily practice life can start to diminish the joy. Because of these challenges, we can start blaming and judging ourselves and others inappropriately and unfairly. Do any of these phrases sound familiar?

“I’m a failure,” “I should know the answer but I don’t,” “I don’t deserve to be here.”

“These clients aren’t listening,” “My staff can’t do anything right,” “My boss is a horrible leader.”

These thoughts act like “Sinkers,” pulling us down until we feel like we’re drowning in fear, frustration, and sadness.

SO HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE “SINKERS”?

Recognize

It’s not difficult to recognize that Sinkers cause us to feel emotions like anger, shame, sadness, resentment, fear, or guilt. What is hard for veterinary caregivers is to recognize that it’s normal to feel the pull of the Sinkers when faced with the challenges of life and practice. We’re not broken for feeling that way.

Embrace

The goal is not to stop the Sinkers from pulling on us, because they always will to some degree. Instead, we need to embrace them by realizing what it is that pulls us down. Then we can offset their downward pull by filling our “Balloons.” Everyone has different Balloons that, when filled, allow us to float resiliently above our fear of failure. These Balloons can be any of the following:

  • Mental—reading a book outside the veterinary field, becoming absorbed in a new hobby
  • Physical—exercising, participating in a group sport, spending time outdoors
  • Emotional—investing in counseling, rekindling an old relationship or starting a new one
  • Spiritual—exploring a faith tradition, meditating, serving others

Intuitively, we know that when we care for ourselves, we are stronger, but as hardworking caregivers, we often need permission from ourselves to do so.

Connect

When we connect to these Sinkers, we can finally give ourselves permission to fill our Balloons . . . to take a break, smell the flowers, go for a walk, call a friend, or say a prayer. Our Sinkers and Balloons are unique to each of us. Creating permission to connect with them can also allow us to reconnect with people in our lives by sharing our vulnerability. Normalizing vulnerability tends to lead to acceptance of both Sinkers and Balloons. This connection can be a palpable healing force within a hospital. The exact solution for an individual’s wellbeing is as unique as that person. But when we recognize our Sinkers and Balloons, embrace them as a valid part of who we are, and connect with ourselves and others by giving ourselves permission to fill our Balloons, we are on the path to regaining our joy for the profession.

HOW TO GET STARTED

  • Identify an activity that could fill each of your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual Balloons.
  • Identify several scenarios that act as Sinkers for you and write them down. Share these Sinkers with a trusted person who can help you identify them as they’re happening and encourage you to fill a Balloon to offset the pull of the Sinker.

RESOURCES

  • Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Avery, 2015.
  • Brown, Brené. The Power of Vulnerability. TED Talk. Filmed 6/2010.
  • Heath, Chip. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. New York: Broadway Books, 2010.
  • Sinek, Simon. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. New York: Portfolio, 2011.

Bibliography

  1. Pope-Robinson, K. The Unspoken Life: Recognize Your Passion, Embrace Imperfection and Stay Connected. San Clemente, CA: 1 Life Connected Consulting, 2017.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As a coach and speaker, Dr. Kimberly Pope-Robinson leads veterinary teams on the path to stay connected with their life’s passion through their career. She is the driving force behind the 1 Life Connected movement, which creates the space to give people permission to find their unique solution for wellbeing within the veterinary profession.

Take-Home MESSAGE: We all entered the veterinary profession because of the joy and satisfaction that providing care to our patients and pet owners brings us. Even if that joy has decreased or left us, we can recapture it!

Want to share with the entire team?

Pick up free copies of AAHA's Guide to Veterinary Practice Team Wellbeing and the roundtable discussion, The Link Between a Health Workplace Culture and Optimal Personal Wellbeing at these locations:

  • AAHA@VMX ( Rosen Centre Hotel)
  • Health & Wellbeing Center ( VMX Expo Hall)
  • AAHA booth ( VMX Expo Hall)
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