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Achieve your goals in veterinary practice

Tips for maintaining your vision, attaining success in the profession
Nov 01, 2006

Before you even applied to veterinary school, you had a vision of what you wanted to accomplish once you had that DVM license in your hands.

Your envisioned purpose and goals were gained from previous life experiences, love of animals, science and a capacious intellect.

Your original goals probably involved some sort of golden standard of veterinary medical practice. "Practice" means you apply the broad skill base assimilated throughout many years of study to the animal health problems presented daily. Beyond problem solving, you are also looking for creative ways to communicate wellness and disease prevention to animal-owning clients. Your knowledge is massive, even before the point that you graduate from veterinary school. After graduation, your medical knowledge and skill base will be a major accomplishment and source of pride.

Staying focused

One important tip: Don't lose sight of what you know.

With ever-expanding technology and vast amounts of information to pour into the gray matter, we tend to focus more on what we don't know than what we do.

Because of the emphasis on assimilation of a lot of detail about many areas of animal health, during the course of veterinary school, we tend to doubt our own competencies. As veterinarians, we become more cognizant of what we don't know. It is important to engage in positive self talk to maintain confidence about our incredible abilities.

During the years, I have assimilated valuable ideas from many different resources and savants far more insightful than I. The following observations might be as helpful to you as they have been to me in maintaining a purpose and satisfaction in a veterinary medical career.

Keep your vision

If you have not actually written down what you originally hoped to accomplish by attending veterinary school, now is the time to do so.

For many students, the competition of gaining admittance and making it through an extensive four years of challenging study becomes the vision and goal. If this has happened to you, be forewarned. You might become disenfranchised within a few months or years after graduation because it feels as through you no longer have a goal. You need to have a long-range plan for your career and define what you are trying to accomplish with your life's efforts.

Hone your people skills

You will graduate with an incredible empirical knowledge base. Now you must use common sense to apply it.

Successful application comes through understanding how to work with other people and particularly through effective communication skills.

A good starting point is to know as much about yourself as you can. Understanding your work style, your belief system, how you communicate with others and your instinctive way of looking at the work environment all impact your success.

The more you know about yourself, the better. Most of us are cognizant of our own strengths but not so knowledgeable about our weaknesses. Explore some of the learning systems, courses and instruments available for understanding yourself. Myers Briggs testing, Carlson Learning System's DiSC, and Dimensions of Leadership instruments are just a few ideas. Plenty of self-help books exist, too.

Develop your self image

Although somewhat intimidating, consider videotaping your presentation style in an exam room. Critique yourself for clothing, makeup, coiffure, diction, eye contact and ability to keep medical jargon and concepts simple. Ask others to critique your skills.

Try to envision someone you have respected as a clinician who has tremendous exam room skills. Figure out exactly what that person does that makes him or her so great in working with clients, colleagues and co-workers. Move beyond the medical expertise and look to the characteristics of the individual that makes him or her so effective at providing good animal care.

Don't second-guess client needs

The client came to you for a specific reason: your opinion.

The mere fact he or she made an appointment demonstrates that a basic level of trust has been established. That person understands that he or she is paying for your time and values your opinion. Meet that trust. Give an answer. Offer the best you can possibly do for the animal and let the client decide without being judgmental about that decision or choice. Learn to be confident in your response to the client.

Exercise skills at not showing hesitation. Be confident enough to say, "I don't know, but I will find out." Clients want your opinion and understand how much data is out there. They understand that additional research might be necessary. Offer to do additional research for a price. Get a second opinion from other doctors that are in the practice, for a fee. All of these are options to showcase your expertise. The client appreciates that while you know your limitations, you can confidently give specific recommendations as to how best to address the pet health problem identified.