Why must we, in the veterinary profession, network?

By Joleen Little BVSc MRCVS

For years, working in veterinary clinics in a small country such as Northern Ireland, I was isolated professionally.

It is very easy to spend your days in a windowless consult room or operating theatre with no direct sunlight and the looming never ending list of jobs to do before the end of day.

Your world can seem very small and insular. Maybe we want to know what is happening with the rest of the veterinary clinics in the country or the profession as a whole but I reckon many are far too concerned with their own overwhelming concerns to begin thinking about everyone else’s issues. That was certainly very true for me during my time working as a small animal Vet. The only vets I knew personally were those I went to university with back in the day, my past and present colleagues, and those specialists I frequently referred cases to.

So, what happens when you isolate yourself from your support network either intentionally or by geography?

  1. You feel lonely.
  2. Your problems can seem overwhelming.
  3. You may think you are the only one in this situation.
  4. You develop an imposter syndrome.
  5. You can quickly become unmotivated or disinterested in the profession.
  6. You lose your identity, and your work can define you.
  7. You become so focussed on your clients and patients that nothing else matters.
  8. You forget to take time out for yourself.

We can quickly deplete our emotional energy reserves and it takes time to build these back up and eventually we lose the ability to bounce back from setbacks.

So how do you prevent these issues mentioned above from arising?

  1. Attend as many in person CPD events as you can (pre/post Covid)
  2. Force yourself to reconnect with your university peers
  3. Take an active role in vet support groups or online forums
  4. Make time to read journals and articles that interest and inspire you.
  5. Meet up with past colleagues and hear how their careers have changed.
  6. Join local sports clubs or gyms.
  7. Take up a new hobby to meet new people.
  8. Put yourself out there and follow social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram)

Well, quite frankly this job is hard so, to survive and thrive we need to build resilience, and this is not something we need only find deep down inside ourselves: we can actually become more resilient in the process of connecting with others in our most challenging times.

Resilience is defined by most as the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity. During a recent conversation with Sarah Paterson from EduceToday she likened it to a slinky that can snap back and reset into its original form having undergone no physical changes. This gives us a great visual representation.

We now know that resilience is not purely an individual characteristic, it is also heavily enabled by strong relationships and networks?

Why is it important to reach out to a wider network of people?

  1. To cultivate and maintain authentic connections that come from many parts of your life through athletic pursuits, volunteer work, civic or religious communities, book or dinner clubs, communities of parents you’ve met through your children.
  2. Exposure to a diverse group of people allows us to learn different ways of managing, leading, and handling crises.
  3. It can help develop different relational skills such as negotiating with various stakeholders.
  4. It can also help to cultivate empathy and a perspective that we have not previously considered which we can then carry back into our work.
  5. Meaningful investment in non-work relationships broadens the toolkit you can rely upon to manage setbacks when they arise in work.
  6. It will provide empathic support so you can release negative emotions.
  7. Interacting with good friends and colleagues can help us to laugh at ourselves and the situation.
  8. To help you find the confidence to push back and self-advocate i.e., stand up for yourself and your beliefs.

As many Vets are introverts and problem solvers at heart it can seem all too easy to stay late in work and to tell yourself you are too busy to attend CPD events or the exercise class you signed up for.

You must push your boundaries and step out of your comfort zone if you want to make a positive change in your life. There is no doubt it is hard but so is doing nothing and staying miserable in a job that is eating your identity and sapping your original passion for joining the profession in the first place.

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