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  • Writer's pictureJosh Vaisman

The Shift Veterinary Medicine Needs

Routinely we plant veterinary professionals in environments that do not support their growth. And then, when they fail to grow to our liking, we blame the seeds and discard them.

It’s December here in Colorado.

Right now, my yard is covered in a beautiful white shall of freshly packed snow. The puppies are loving it!

But man, it sure is cold out there! Have you ever stood outside, in your pajamas, in 4-degree-Fahrenheit temperatures, hoping your 3-month-old dog would please for the love of all that is holy on earth go potty?

That was my Saturday morning.

But just a couple of weeks ago it was sunny and in the 60’s. Not one to miss an opportunity I took full advantage.

I confidently marched my way to our garden bed and planted a tomato seed.

And you know what? Today, while the pooches were romping about, I dug through the snow covering the garden to see how my plant was growing.

Let me tell you, I was incredibly disappointed to find absolutely nothing. No growth. At all.

The audacity! I’m pretty sure that seed is damaged goods. So, I tossed it in the trash heap and planted a new one.

I’m sure it’ll grow precisely how I want it to by Christmas.

Truth in the Absurd

OK, you got me. That’s not a true story.

Listen, I’m not the brightest bulb in the pack but I’m just barely smart enough to know you can’t plant a garden in December in Colorado.

Yet, there is a version of this story playing out in the veterinary profession, in hospitals and clinics, classrooms and organizations, around the country. Even the world.

Routinely we plant veterinary professionals (or aspiring professionals) in poor environments. At best, the environment supports them just enough that they survive, for a while.

At worst, the environment is so antithesis to their needs they fail to grow at all.

And then we blame the seed.

A Shift

Recently I posted the following on LinkedIn:

“It’s time veterinary medicine shifts from preventing burnout to promoting thriving.”

Unexpectedly, it received quite a bit more attention than anything else I’ve ever posted. Which warmed my heart.

Maybe we are ready for the shift we need to make?

You see, I have concerns about the way we’ve been approaching wellbeing in our profession.

Don’t get me wrong, preventing burnout and compassion fatigue, mitigating the emotional and psychological distress many of us experience, and alleviating for good our heartbreaking familiarity with veterinary suicide are all important, worthy endeavors.

I’m grateful for the kind, compassionate, incredible human beings working hard to relieve our community of these challenges. These are the weeds in the veterinary garden we must work to minimize.

But the absence of illness is not necessarily wellness.

I’m worried our focus on pulling weeds has led us down a path away from growing what is possible.

Obviously if I plant a seed in my Colorado garden in December it will fail to thrive. It may even die.

But it is not enough to eliminate the challenges the seeds face.

Sure, I should wait until Spring. But is waiting enough? What if I plant my garden in May or June and then do nothing else.

No watering, no nourishing fertilizer, no tending to the earth meant to grow it.

Some seeds may sprout. A few may grow. One or two may thrive.

But the likelihood of the garden flourishing as-a-whole is minimal, at best.

A Better Way

We can be “not-burnt-out” in our work AND not thriving, all at the same time.

If we blame the seeds for not growing in frozen, fallow ground, we’ll spend a lifetime tossing seeds in the trash heap, all the while wondering why we are starving.

Of course, the seeds aren’t to blame for an environment in which they cannot grow. But if all we do is pull the weeds, we’ll fail to grow what we wanted to nurture in the first place.

I believe two things; all veterinary professionals deserve to thrive in their work, and, when they thrive so does the profession and all the creatures it serves.

There is a path to get us there. The math is simple. The execution is not.

Still, I know we can do it.

Here’s the equation:

Seeds With Potential + Nourishing Environments = Thriving Growth

That’s it!

We already have the first part in place.

I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter thousands of veterinary professionals, from all walks of life, all around the world. Without question nearly all are Seeds With Potential.

They are bright, passionate, caring, driven, kind people, through and through.

It is rare – truly rare – I meet a veterinary professional who is not a Seed With Potential.

We don’t have broken people struggling to work in a challenging field. We have good people depleted by a profession that demands of them all they have to give and responds in disappointment when the summer seed failed to sprout in the winter.

We must now cultivate the second part of the equation. We must plant them in Nourishing Environments nurtured by Positive Leaders. That is where the magic happens.

If we prepare them properly, water them well, nurture them in fertilized soil that challenges them the grow toward the best version of who they can be, they will thrive and grow.

No amount of yoga or meditation or mindfulness or coaching can make a seed grow in the winter. We need both – Seeds With Potential AND a Nourishing Environment.

It’s time the veterinary profession shifts from preventing burnout to promoting thriving.

By the way, this isn’t an admonishment or a finger-wagging lecture. Veterinary leaders, the folks with the most influence over the environments we are exposed to in our work, are also bright, passionate, caring, driven, kind people, through and through.

I rarely – and I mean RARELY – find bad people leading in this field. Rather, I find good people leading in bad ways.

You can’t grow a garden if you don’t know how.

That said, I know we can create veterinary environments that unleash the best in the people called to the field. I see so much potential for the seeds doing the work and the gardeners growing them.

I believe in you. All of you.

And I’m here to help. For the rest of my life.

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