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Don't just get a job: Establish a career

Professional success begins with good preparation, balance
Apr 01, 2008
Balancing act
Balancing act: Focusing equal attention on your professional and personal life helps create overall stability and happiness, Ward says.

The steps to create a career with meaning, importance and value in life begin well before the job search and continue long after landing a position.

“No other profession is like this. Your opportunity is to leave this profession and yourself better (than you found it),”says Dr. Ernie Ward, of Seaside Animal Clinic in Calabash, N.C., at Western Veterinary Conference.

Twelve key areas,Ward explains, help determine the happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction you can get from your career:

Create meaning. “You must ask yourself, ‘Who are you? Why were you drawn to this profession?’” and identify what is important to you, Ward says. These priorities will define your life and create the direction you want to go professionally.

Find a job that fits. Ward encourages students to avoid job-hopping. Interview often to learn what you are looking for from an employer and what characteristics and work principles are compatible with your values. People often leave a clinic because their medical philosophies, cultural ideals and purpose do not match an overseeing veterinarian’s, Ward says. Ensure optimum satisfaction by finding a clinic that complements — not contradicts — your beliefs.

Focus in the first 90 days. Many practice owners do not fully immerse new employees into practice culture, reasoning that “There is a good chance they are not going to be here after a year,” Ward says. It is up to you to establish and maintain relationships with staff, doctors, practice owners and clients. “Getting very imbedded in the practice culture makes all the difference in the world” to whether you are comfortable, happy and considered part of the team in a practice, he says.

Get a mentor. “It is a bilateral relationship, and it requires a lot of effort,” Ward says. But it helps teach medicine and surgery, communication and leadership. It also can offer insight into leading successful professional and personal lives. “In a doctor-mentor relationship, you are going to learn how to get your life in balance,” he says.

Be prepared to address tough topics. Ward identifies some difficult situations that will arise and need to be addressed candidly, despite tension or trepidation. “This is where direction becomes important. You need to think about these things, and be prepared for when they happen,” he says.

Protocol misalignment: Know how you will react if your boss does something that goes against your own ethical values.

Intra-office competition: Many clinics have production- based pay scales,which can be especially challenging for new hires who might not get good cases.

Financial issues: What are the clinic’s payment options, and how do you handle clients who may have problems with charges? “Don’t disconnect from these issues because this is part of practice culture,” Ward says.

Rewards and recognition: How are you going to address raises, incentives or recognition? What will you get if you offer innovative ideas that improve or benefit the practice? “If you want to do all these things that are outside the dollars and cents of veterinary medicine, how are you going to be rewarded?” Ward asks.

Euthanasia: Know the practice protocol, technique, charges and the policy for convenience euthanasia. Also, how is this information communicated to clients?

Know it isn’t all about medicine. Your professional success is about 85 percent dependent on your ability to interact with others and only 15 percent on your medical abilities,Ward says.

Skill in communication will determine your clients’ perceptions of value, compliance and care standards. “Your technical skills are a big minority in making you a successful player in veterinary medicine,”he says.“You could be the smartest veterinarian in the world, and it means nothing if you can’t communicate that.”

Learn to live. Make your health and fitness a priority, and your personal and professional lives will reap the benefits. The stress of being a medical professional is profound, so develop coping mechanisms to keep it from impacting your entire life,Ward says.Also, if you are advocating for your clients and their pets to be healthy, you should set the example yourself to maintain credibility and compliance.