“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!”
“I guess the beauty of StreetVet, which is different to my private clients, is that.. the answer is always yes. Because I get to decide whether I give treatment or not, my answer is always yes. When you’re dealing with a private client they may not want to do something because of cost or what not, but I don’t have to worry about that. And that’s what I really love about it. Money is just not.. at the moment.
Maybe there’ll come a time where there will have to be restrictions on what we can do, in that we have to think about the environment the animals are living in. We haven’t had a diabetic yet, but what am I gonna do if I get one? Those kind of things are just life and there are restrictions.
But in terms of cost or decision making on whether something can have a surgery or not, I’m in a very fortunate position where Sam and I don’t really have to say no, which is great – and long may it continue!
The other thing that is different when we’re dealing with a StreetVet client – I’ve got all the time in the world; I’m not going anywhere. Whereas when you’re in practice you’re under restrictions, you’ve got another person waiting. So I think that relationship makes it different. But in terms of respecting how they’re looking after their animal, I’d like to think there’s no difference.”
“I guess.. when you actually start to dissect it, aside from the personality type, the perfectionism, the inability to cope with failure, or admit that you’re in trouble.. I think you’re also in this little bubble of vet life, then you just get spat out into different parts of the country all alone, with no friends, when you’ve lived in a literal vet bubble.
When I was out in the middle of nowhere doing OOH on my own, you’ve not got that much friends and family for support, you’re thrown into this experience of wanting to fix – that’s your whole being, you just want to fix this animal, but people in the public just don’t see that; or the flip side where sometimes you can’t.
What that does to people emotionally; there’s no other profession where you do euthanasia, and in the medical profession, they’ve got therapy especially if you’re working in palliative care or something. We just go, there you go, there’s a euthanasia, 10 minutes later, you’re cuddling a puppy. There’s no thought for what that actually does to you, mentally. And the emotional rollercoaster that we can go through, day in and day out.
I did 5 euthanasias once in one day, and nobody thought anything about my mental health, except the receptionist, and she came up and said, are you alright? I was like no, really not alright, but y’know, you just.. learn to do it, but it all takes its toll.”
“I now realise how many other things I can do within my profession. I just thought you’re a vet now, you go into practice and that’s it. But now I realise oh my god, so many things you can do with it, that’s just amazing.
So I think we need to bring to people at all those congresses and actually show them what they can be doing. Because sometimes people feel like they’ve failed because they’re not in practice. It’s just not like that at all. Would I do anything else? No. I still love my career, definitely. I’ve had times where I fell out of love with it, but we’ve rekindled of late.
StreetVet. StreetVet is the best thing I’ve ever done. Genuinely. I hate sounding old; but you no longer feel intimidated in practice. And what I mean by that is you know your own mind. You maybe don’t think you’re right all the time, I’m not saying that, but you get a monkey on your back and you feel like you’re doing the right thing. You learn to trust your own instincts.
My practice recently got taken over by a corporate, there’s just been a lot of changes in my career from that point of view. If I was a new graduate or younger, I would maybe feel like I had to do things a certain way and kind of accept that maybe I wouldn’t have a qualified nurse that day, or accept that I do this.
Whereas now I’ve been doing it long enough where I just come out and say no, I’m not doing that. It’s having the confidence in your own self that there’s nothing wrong, I’m going to stick to the standard and I’m going to do it. I think that just comes with doing it for a bit.
I watch all these new graduates, and they’re doing something because they’re being told, that’s the situation that you’re in. You don’t have this, this, or this, today. And I’m going to them and saying no, you’re not doing it. You need to stand up for yourself – I don’t know if I would’ve. But I like to hope that other people start to recognise that. Cos otherwise you end up in situations that are going to put you at risk.”
“If I could teach all the students something… I think what’s most important for me, is that if you have a place that’s nice to come into in the morning, if you have a good relationship with your nurses, bosses, your colleagues, it’s just much easier to cope with all the problems that will definitely hit you down the road.
If you’re in a good clinic, it’s easy. It’s easy cos we all like each other, and there’s no hierarchy. It doesn’t matter if you’re a nurse or boss or whatever, we try and take care of each other.
And if you can take home that message with you, it’ll be easier. Cos you will make mistakes; we still make mistakes! But if you think that you’re covered by your good colleagues, it’s easier.
When I was younger and straight out of vet school, I used to think that I should be able to do everything without making mistakes. I’d make a mistake and think I was really really stupid, but that’s how it is. You make mistakes, just don’t make it twice. And share it. If you feel safe, you can share it.”
“My favourite part of the job? I think it’s this – going around and seeing people who need help, and they’re happy when we come, and they’re often happy when we leave as well. And my colleagues. I really really enjoy my colleagues, and I enjoy not knowing what I’m doing when I get in in the morning, and seeing what they day brings. I really like it.
My daughter comes along with me quite often, and she likes it. I think if she wants to be a vet, that’s fine, if she doesn’t, find something else. But so far, I’ve been really really happy with my job. Am I encouraging her? Not really. But at the same time, I’m not discouraging her.
My mom told me, and I always remember this – she said, you don’t always have to be the best, but don’t be the worst. If I can teach my daughter that, I think she can cope with the stress of vet school. If you think you have to be an ‘A’ student all the time, life is going to be really hard. Do the best you can, that’s all you can do, and try not to make the same mistake twice.”
“I don’t think I was, but my friends say I was always into animals. And when I was a little girl I said I want to be a vet; but I don’t remember it. When I started vet school, I’d never seen a vet before. I had no animals, I lived in the centre of Copenhagen, so I don’t know why I became a vet.
When I had my first two kids, I had some years where I wanted to go out of practice and do something else, because it was really hard work – long hours and stressful. I spent a year out of practice and I missed it, and I came back and I really really liked it.
I think inside of me, I got things right, and I’m more calm. I definitely got better at dealing with the stress. Absolutely. Actually I’m never stressed. I mean, getting older and having kids helped me get things into perspective. What’s important, and what’s not important. I’m here 6 or 8 hours a day, and I do my best, and that’s all I can do.
What I hear from the young vet students when they come on placements, is that they are stressed during study. When I studied in the mid-90s, there was hardly any stress. Of course we were stressed when we had exams and we were busy, but people weren’t.. crashing. What I see with my friends of the same age and work experience – those that don’t like practice and are stressed, they leave it. They do something else and earn some more money and love it; and the rest of us staying here, we’re happy and poor!”
“I find it most interesting when I’m surprised by things I thought I knew. From time to time you run into things that you’ve never seen before. When I was educated, there were just one-man mixed practices. What you see now are larger practices split up into smaller units – doing horses, or small animals.. but in a way, it makes your day more predictable.
Because I’ve come from a mixed background I still find it really interesting to hear what they’re doing in the small animal field; when they find something that I’ve never heard about before. I think it’s a dynamic situation that we’re in because so many things happen all the time.
You’re constantly stimulated by things that are in your head, now you should do it this way and not the other.. I find that really interesting to see that what you thought was science and good practice 2 or 3 years ago, is nothing of the kind today.”
The first job I was in, was mainly in cattle. You see mastitis all the time, and from time to time you see necrotic mastitis. And they are pretty nasty because they stink like hell, and demarcate the lost area, and you have to sometimes amputate the lost part.
When you see a very large quarter of an udder hanging by a string, you don’t think that that area might still be vascularised. So, if you have a quarter of an udder hanging by the remaining part of the artery, don’t cut it with a knife!
I looked like hell, and there was blood all over, it was like trying to catch a water hose, and it looked like a slaughter. The farmer was there, and he was almost as red as I was. Afterwards he asked me – did you expect that? No, I would have done something else if I did!