“We work in an amazing and noble profession. But we are diseased. Our attrition rate is higher than any other profession.
The good thing is that we have the knowledge, and intelligence, and the heart, and the motivation, to cure this.
It’s going to be working together, and taking the knowledge and experience of practitioners, and adding that to the value of the unbiased view of new grads, that will change things.”
“My first job was terrible. Absolutely horrific. I stayed in it far far longer than I should have. When I took the job, the job that I was taking wasn’t the job that ended up being available when I graduated. The senior vet had gone through a very painful and dramatic personal thing, and when I came, he just left me to it. I was at a satellite clinic by myself with one receptionist/tech who was doing her training, and he didn’t turn up on my first day, and I had to run the whole clinic by myself.. I had to do farm calls. I didn’t live there, I had no idea where everything was. It was really really stressful, but I stayed because I thought I was being resilient.
I thought I was tough, and I can do this, and I won’t let it break me, and I won’t let him win. I was playing a game, but I was the only one playing the game. I thought I was gonna prove myself and make it through that, but all I did was damage myself. The resilient thing to do would have actually been to walk away. But I got myself trapped because I got myself thinking, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this… Until I became physically incapacitated and blew a disc in my back pushing myself so hard doing things I shouldn’t have been doing.
I injured myself really badly, and still suffer from things from it, and that was really a wake up call that this had to stop. Like I said, the resilient thing would have been to get out, but I had tricked myself into thinking that the resilient thing would be to keep going and going, don’t fail, don’t fail.
If I had someone in my life at that point who would have been able to tell me that it’s not failing, by walking away from a bad situation – you’re still a good vet even if this is not a good job. I did a lot of outreach for the person I was working for. I would say he needs help, come help him; but I should’ve been saying, come help me, get me out of this!”
“I was on call when I was in practice. I was a whelping bitch magnet. I got whelping bitches pretty much every weekend. I had a really busy weekend on call, it was Sunday 6pm, and I just got back home, and the phone rang. This woman said, I’ve got two Cavalier King Charles Spaniel bitches that are having trouble whelping! And I was like.. TWO King Charles Spaniels, trouble whelping, 6 o’clock on a Sunday, you can’t be serious!
Fifteen minute drive back to the clinic, and she was just hopping out of the car with these two bitches, and I was looking at them going.. they look quite skinny. This was weird. Anyway, we took them inside, and I started to palpate them. There were clearly no puppies in there. I said, what makes you think these bitches are whelping? “I’ve been breeding bitches for 20 years! Don’t you try and tell me I don’t know what a whelping bitch looks like!!” So I palpated again and was like, look, I’m pretty sure there aren’t any puppies in here, what makes you think they are pregnant? And you heard the borborygmus, the rumbly tummy, and she was like “THERE!! THERE!! That’s the puppies! They’re SCREAMING to be let out!!” So now whenever me and my partner have a rumbly tummy, we’re like.. we’ve got the puppies in the tummy! They’re screaming to be let out!”
“In some ways I consider myself really resilient, and in others, completely not. If you gave me some negative feedback, I’d just turn into a little jelly and be really upset, and I’d dwell on it forever. I would have real trouble moving on. But in other respects, if I hurt myself I would just crack on. I think it would be the same for everyone though – it’s very context-based.
I’ve been really lucky to have really good colleagues in most of my jobs, so I’ve been very lucky.
I’m very big on role models and inspiring people, so if I’m feeling a bit stink or whatever I’ll think wow, that person is really awesome, what do they do that I could try? The way you think is not the right way.
Peter Wilson, the deer guy said to me when I was young, when I was doing my PhD; that not everyone thinks the way you think. And that was quite a shock to me, cos it has never occurred to me, that not everyone thinks the way I think. Which is stupid eh?
I suddenly went oh, and because I’m a very strong personality type, I realised that the way I perceived things is not necessarily the way things are. If I can take a different angle and perceive it in a different way, I’ll have a completely different take on it.
Brendon McCallum. Sometimes I think, what would Brendon McCallum think? Suddenly instead of being a terrible disastrous thing that I need to go cry about, it’s actually an opportunity or whatever.”
“I think you get to an age and a stage in your life. I’m 42. In theory I won’t be able to retire till I’m 67, I’m going to be working for another 25 years. So for me it was like, is this it? For me, I’m very motivated by duty. I wouldn’t think of myself as particularly ambitious, but I do things because I fell like I should. I take on roles because I feel like I should, not necessarily because I enjoy them that much. So I got to a stage where I feel a bit lost, so I think it’s a good opportunity to go and have some time out and clear my head a little bit.
I’m looking forward to not having 5000 things to worry about constantly, particularly when I start. I’ll be worrying about do I have enough blood tubes in my truck, how do I find the farm, instead of going crap I need to do that email, get back to that person, have a deadline for that.. My little brain just needs a rest, I think.
I’m not doing this because I have any issues with Massey at all. Awesome employer, no beef at all. I’m really lucky they’re being really supportive. I think for vets in practice, the same thing could happen too. Rather than go right, this sucks, I’m outta here! Actually go talk to their boss, and say hey look, this isn’t working for me – is there things I can do to make it work better for me, or fit my skills better?”
“There’re 3 things that motivate people. Money was one. If you offered people a million dollars to get into the ring with Mike Tyson, you could do three rounds, and get a million dollars. You’d get people lining up to get their brains beat out. Then they found out that time motivates people – having time off to do what you want to do. Then there’s power and prestige – you’ll find someone who’ll spend a million dollars of their own money to run for a government position that will pay a hundred thousand dollars. Because they want the power and the prestige. Money, time, power and prestige.
Look at the veterinarians – they do the same training that a physician does. But we don’t make the same amount of money. So what happens is vets work harder, but they don’t get the time off. Physicians have the prestige, that veterinarians don’t. A great number of my friends and colleagues have gotten burnt out.. to get the money, you’re going to have to work harder, and that’ll take time away.
My wife and I have been married 48 years. I told her when I got married, that I married her, I didn’t marry my profession. If it came to a point where my profession got in the way of our relationship, I’d go drive a truck or do something else.
I got my wife to give me a set of balance scales, that I have on my desk. You need to keep your life in balance. If I want to be be the best husband I can be, I can spend all my time doing that but I may not be a very good veterinarian or breadwinner or whatever. My friends were spending all their time working, and most of them have gone through more than one wife. Life is a gift. Every day is exciting. It’s been fun.”
“My grandson wants to be a secret spy. She wants to be a veterinarian, so she’s the apple of my eye.
That’s her first day at kindergarten, and that’s clear now. I’m gonna pay her expenses. That’s what grandfathers are for.”
“In a heartbeat. How many people get paid to do what they like to do? I get to travel all over the world, interface with students and residents in Israel and Europe and South Africa and Japan and New Zealand; it doesn’t get better than this, guys. I’ve got friends all over the world.
It’s like my daughter – she came up to me and said, daddy are we rich? I said yeah, but not in money. There’s more life than money, and again.. what is there not to like? If you like animals, you like people.. I’ve enjoyed teaching, I’ve enjoyed the clinics, I’ve enjoyed the entrepreneurship.
You don’t have to be smart, just be clever. It goes a long way. Would I do it again? Yeah, I’d do it again. I have lived in the States, taught at Ohio State, Texas A&M, University of Zurich, University of Bern, Hebrew University, at Massey.. you’re talking the United States, Europe, Middle East and Oceania. How many people get to do that?”
“I think it’s very important to have balance in your life. I have my horses, which are my stress relief. Balance and exercise. So horses are both of these things to me.
It’s really easy, especially when you graduate, to make work your whole life. it consumes your whole life, and it’s easy to stop doing social things, going out and hanging out with your friends.. cos you’re tired and stressed. But I think it’s really important that you make time for those things.
I had a bad injury a few years ago, and as a result of that, got quite bad anxiety. I ended up going to a psychologist and getting cognitive behaviour therapy, which really helped. And I think that even if I hadn’t had a head injury and any of those problems, it would’ve been something that would’ve really helped me. So I definitely am super open to those sorts of things, and trying to encourage people to seek help. It was great. It really helped me a lot.”
“I think it’s a really big assignment to remain sane while doing this, and you do need have a lot of experience to do it better. And those experiences, the good and the bad – the confidence that the positive experiences bring is really important, but so is being able to relate your less-than-great outcomes and having the ability to forgive the weakness of your performance. It’s never a single factor, it’s always multifactorial.
I think what’s unique about large animal practice, and particularly horse practice, is that you deal with people time and time again. For it to be successful, they have to respect you, and have to look at you as a person rather than just a vet. It takes years to get that, so that to me, is the reason is why I’m still practicing.
I enjoy the relationship I have with my clients, and I enjoy having the ability to deal with the health problems and managing horse diseases. But it’s more enjoying the people’s company, and being invited to become a part of their journey – and you don’t want to take that for granted. Because I don’t think the profession has got that as a right.”
“I see people in distress. Our practice has 15 vets.. and we all have various fragilities. I’ve seen colleagues struggle to maintain their balance; ups and downs with people I know in the industry. I struggle every day, but I cope by surrounding myself with good people. Good colleagues and good clients. We all have disappointments. Mental health is not a new problem – our understanding of it is probably better. We recognise it; but yeah, I don’t know. Family and friends are important.
I have had a lot of close experience with people’s mental health. I think all of us go from euphoric states, to less than euphoric states. We’re cycling all the time. I think it’s understanding and being able to manage the lowest part of that cycle, and putting it into perspective and being able to change that so you’re not completely on a downward spiral – so you can see the upside of it. I don’t believe anyone is ever in a complete state of happiness. If they are, they’re very bizarre.
I don’t think there’s just one reason for the downs. I think young people struggle with a lot of doubt; confidence, and whether or not they’re going to cut it. Older people probably get through that, and have other reasons for not being able to deal with those low troughs.”
“As a practitioner.. or any position of responsibility, invariably there will be a time where you’ll make a mistake. And you’re going to end up having a less than perfect outcome.
The way that that goes for you and your client will depend a lot on how much.. social equity, and social capital, you have with them in general and in the community... so you can weather the storm. But if you’ve cut the margins on that commodity, your consequences will be greater. You probably need good insurance otherwise!
Another really good quote was.. have a veneer of tolerance.. when having to deal with dickheads. I think that’s a very good way of being able to roll with the punches, mate. And not compromise yourself.”
“With colleagues, find what you’re good at, and what they’re good at, and be okay with that. Be ok with not being good at everything – I think you almost expect yourself to be. You just can’t, you’re better to just acknowledge that some people are better at some things than others, and that’s ok.
There is this real pressure in New Zealand still, that you should be able to do everything. I don’t think it’s realistic anymore, like it was back in the day.
If you can find somewhere where that’s a lot of support, it can be a very cool profession. Even though clinics can sometimes be the worst thing, they can also be the best thing.
You get clients who.. you don’t even think you’ve done that much. I had a client who bought me personalised cupcakes and flowers.. you get some really cool clients and build some awesome relationships. Once you know the animal too, it’s quite nice, you know the patient, you know what works. That side of things is really really really rewarding.
There’s lots of good things about the profession. There’s just also... areas that need work. But I think it’s getting better. I think the WIVES initiative is awesome, I think there’s a lot of people out there now who are wanting to make change. I think in the next 5-10 years maybe, we’re going to see that coming through.”
“I just think the biggest thing is to not worry about the real small stuff. Like if a microchip comes out, who cares, put another chip in it. Who cares? Just don’t.. get weighed down by the really little things that just don’t matter, because there’s enough to worry about as it is. So if you make a little mistake and it’s easily fixable, just don’t worry about it. If your boss starts to get.. if you work for someone who nitpicks about that stuff, then go find another job.
The other thing for new grads is to realise that you need to be kind to yourself, and to your colleagues. Stuff will go wrong, and it’s often not what you’ve done – it’s the nature of the job. It’s really easy to blame yourself; I do.
But I think it’s really important that we don’t, that we help each other out. If your colleague has a spay hernia or something, you go, shit happens, you help them fix it. You don’t go ooh well what did you do wrong; I don’t think that happens enough – there’s so much competition. We should be helping each other, and not worrying about small things.”
“I didn’t.. totally realise.. how the public’s perception would influence how you feel about the job. Particularly clinical practice, there’s so much. You don’t just be a vet, you have to be a counsellor and a sounding board, and there’s just so much that comes down to the client, and how they treat you as well. And you get these people who are just so unreasonable, but I think a lot of the time you tend to blame yourself, and that’s really hard.
I think that side of things is so different to what I thought – that people would come in and want to do their best for their animal, it’s just so wrong. And i think they just don’t quite realise how much pressure clinical practice can involve.
I think I.. didn’t realise how hard it would be – just the constant decisions. And I think the other thing I found really hard, was that nothing follows the textbook. That just doesn’t happen! You don’t know what’s wrong, and it’s really frustrating, and you just want to give them some steroids, haha!”