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by Cherie T. Buisson, DVM, CHPV
Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian
Originally published on DrAndyRoark.com

Every single one of us has bad moments. We all have doubts. We all feel insecure today about something that didn’t bother us before. We all have fear lurking, waiting to pounce on us when we are weak. And somewhere, deep down, we all wonder, “am I the only one”?

I know someone with a button phobia. Even as an infant, she would scream and tear at her clothes if she could see buttons. Large buttons were worse than small ones. Four holes were worse than two. She has had to work around this problem her entire life.

I visited her one weekend, and we were talking about her phobia. I was fascinated (medical geek that I am) by her stories of how she copes. She told me she felt alone and weird, so I did an online search for “button phobia”.  Enter koumpounophobia. I showed her an article about button phobia, and her whole demeanor changed. There were enough people with this issue that someone had actually written about it!

There are so few of us who are alone in our troubles. Unfortunately, we often suffer alone. When I talk to my colleagues about an issue in veterinary medicine, I often hear “I thought it was just me”. When I’m part of a discussion where someone talks about overthinking a problem or working up scenarios in their mind, I’m always a little surprised that this isn’t a quirk that is solely mine.

Remember in college when they told us be sure to ask questions because there were likely several other people with the same question who were afraid to speak up? It’s like that.

Here are a few simple ways to feel less isolated as a veterinary professional:

  • Assume you are not alone: I’ll grant you that there are people out there who are the only ones suffering from a certain problem. The odds of that person being you are next to nothing. If you look hard enough, you’ll find that someone somewhere is right there with you. Most of the time, you don’t have to look hard at all.
  • Go out on a limb: If you feel you can, bring your issue up with colleagues you trust. Even if they’ve never experienced the same thing, they will likely show their support, and you will still not be alone. Beware of websites and forums that encourage you to wallow in your problem. Look for like-minded people searching for support and solutions.
  • Reach out: If you notice someone else struggling with a problem, offer to help or just to listen while they talk it out. Sometimes feeling useful can reduce feelings of inadequacy. Even if you think you aren’t capable of being strong for someone else, give it a try. There are days where having someone smile at me and say “good morning” makes a difference. Anyone can do that!
  • Help someone else with the same problem: One of my favorite things is teaching young veterinarians how to survive the first few years of practice. I was a miserable, anxious new vet. Helping others avoid that fate has given me confidence and satisfaction I never thought possible. Even if you are only able to empathize and offer your support, that could make a world of difference.
  • Write about it: Whenever you bring to light a problem in your profession, doors open to solving that problem. If no one will talk about it, no one can fix it. Submit an article or just write down your thoughts. Getting it out can be half the battle.
  • Embrace what you perceive as your weaknesses: We veterinary professionals hate showing weakness. Let’s stop thinking in terms of strength or weakness. Rather, let’s look at skills we’ve mastered and skills we have yet to master. There will always be items on both lists. Keep adding to each one and don’t get caught up in comparing the two. Pick one thing at a time you’d like to do better. Choose to do it better – even just a little bit.  Stop telling yourself “I hate surgery” or “I’m no good at bandaging”. Tell yourself that you are an excellent veterinarian who is always trying to do better.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others: In this world of constant connection, we see a “first date” version of everyone we know. Everyone has parts of their life that didn’t turn out as planned. Everyone has problems. I guarantee you that someone somewhere has looked at you and felt inadequate in comparison. Surround yourself with positive people who support and love you. Return that love and support.

We are part of a noble profession. There is always someone to give you a word of encouragement. If you can’t find anyone, let me know. I’ll be happy to lift you up; so many have done the same for me in my career. There are billions of human beings out there and hundreds of thousands of them are veterinary professionals! How could you possibly be alone?