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Hey, veterinarians: It's time to get our sexy back

These tips can spice up your professional life now and build stamina for the years to come.
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Jun 01, 2013

Is your choice of profession leaving you feeling a bit, let’s say, unaroused these days? Want to spice up your life in the exam room? Let’s consider some changes we can make to leave ourselves, our clients and our patients a little more satisfied after those long, strenuous workups in the clinic.

Much of how we feel about our jobs depends on all of the factors we juggle to try to reach the ever-elusive “job satisfaction.” Yes, we’re part of a great profession. But we deserve more than “Yeah, I like my job OK.” We deserve to reach the ground-shaking, window-shattering, deep-down career fulfillment that any other professional would envy.

How we feel about our career on a day-to-day basis is related to the ever-present stresses that affect our lives. Many of those stresses have nothing to do with pets, our clients or anything related to veterinary medicine at all. But indirectly, they affect our mood and ultimately (rather unfortunately) how we approach our clients, handle our patients and practice medicine.

Depending on your current chapter in life, I’m sure you can think of a few stressors that have altered your demeanor in the clinic. How about drama with teenagers, sleepless nights with small children, staff squabbles and other practice management dilemmas, a flooded basement, the dog getting into the trash (again), the landlord being a jerk—the list goes on.

There are countless articles, CE courses and experts addressing the subject of work-life balance for veterinarians, which underscores how important it is to assess and manage these factors if we want to get the most out of our careers. With so much to consider in all of this, I would like to draw your attention to one of the biggest stress factors of all. If you’ve read any of my previous articles in this column, you probably know where I’m headed: debt. It’s a four-letter word, and I don’t think that is any coincidence.

Getting back in the game

Want to get your “O-face” back when you walk into the clinic in the morning? (Better yet, some of you, like me, might prefer the evening for an all-night supercharged marathon emergency shift.) My top recommendation is to push harder to get a couple of “0”s off that loan balance sheet.

I think we grossly underestimate the constant mental burden that debt causes. Twist the numbers how you will. Get the most creative tax accountant you can find. Be satisfied with “It’s only another two or three decades before it’s all paid off.” But like it or not, however you choose to think about it, you owe a substantial amount of money to someone, and that’s no source of enjoyment for anyone—except perhaps your creditors.

Wanting to pay down the debt and finding the path to do so are, of course, two entirely different processes. What I am coming to realize, slowly and deliberately, is that in order to whack down that debt, we must change our entire lifestyle. It’s going to take some serious soul-searching if we’re going to stay on top of our debt, along with drastic changes to how we live. (Dealing with debt is probably the only time I will ever stress the importance of always being on top.)

Here’s something crazy I did recently to save money. Last year my wife (as of this month!) and I were renting a fantastic house. Great part of town, quiet neighborhood, beautiful view. But pretty pricey. When I took a hard look at our financial liabilities and assessed what we could trim even more, the house rental stood out like a sore thumb. We looked into buying, but it just wasn’t the right time for us.

So we moved. It sucked. Big-time. We’re in a smaller place, it’s older, and it’s not in the most desirable location. But guess what? It’s totally livable. And our dogs even seem to like it better here than the last house! What’s even better? We’re saving an extra grand a month. That’s a thousand dollars closer to being debt-free every single month.

What you can and can’t live with is ultimately up to you. But after making some changes that seem tough initially, you may find out it’s actually not so bad. And you will see those rewards start adding up as the debt shrinks down. The more rewarding it gets, the easier it is to make more changes, and the effects of your efforts will start to multiply.

Taking it even further

OK, there’s plenty more to being a happy veterinarian than getting out of debt. So let’s move on to some other quickies that will have the whole of your staff and client base begging for more.

Change positions. Sometimes things can get a little dull, even boring—it happens to the best of us. This occurs when we fail to engage ourselves fully in the task at hand. Simply going through the motions is not always enough. A simple remedy to this problem is to add a new position to the repertoire. One example may be in our approach with a particular staff member with whom we’re not having the warmest of relations. It’s amazing how a small adjustment in our mental position and attitude can brighten another’s day or, at the very least, give us a new perspective on how we might try coping with various issues.

Another change in position that I enjoy on a daily basis has to do with my attitude in situations where a client has obviously been negligent toward an animal. Try to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of what I like to call “room rage” where you all but reach out and strangle your client. “What do you mean he’s been vomiting for five days? How many days of vomiting would it take for you go to the doctor?” Those comments are unlikely to get us very far.

I have found on a few occasions that taking a more compassionate attitude can go farther toward getting the patient the care it needs. If they start declining all services, then you can let ’em have it.

Do it outside. Nowhere in my preaching about cutting down debt have I ever—not even once—suggested working more or working harder. While that might be an obvious remedy, I doubt it’s going to add to your overall job satisfaction. I’m also certain that those reading this are already hard workers. Adding more hours and taking less time off is no way to feel better about your job. Take to the outdoors on your day off. Find your local recreation opportunities and get out there and explore. A backpack and a day in the woods can do more for your sense of well-being and overall happiness than any add-on surgery or CE meeting. Take some time to get back into nature and enjoy the elements and the wildlife, which for many of us had something to do with our pursuing veterinary medicine in the first place.

Get some new toys and learn a new trick or two. We all want to practice better medicine. But it’s difficult to find the time to acquire new skills and add to our knowledge base. Admittedly, I am terrible at this, and I am trying to better stay on top of reading and applying new concepts in practice. Sign up for that ultrasound CE. Pin the boss down and demand that the practice purchase that MRI machine. Finding new ways to challenge yourself in practice is a good start to getting more satisfaction out of your job.

Like many things in life, our career will be more fulfilling if we actively maintain it, nurture it and focus on creating our own happiness within it. Since so many personal elements are wrapped up in why and how we practice veterinary medicine, we as individuals are the only ones who can ensure our own well-being. So get to it. Do whatever it takes. Whatever floats your boat.