The "Tough" Stuff - Veterinary Medicine

There is a veterinary medicine YouTuber that I watch regularly named Victoria Birch & today she posted a video answering questions she has received about the tougher side of veterinary medicine. I will link her video here. She encouraged others in the veterinary medicine community to answer these questions & since I don't make videos, what better place to put this than here? . . .

I am going to preface these questions by saying that there is a lot of heartache within veterinary medicine, as I'm sure there is in a lot of other fields of medicine. It's just something that comes with the job & it's a big reason why some people don't ever enter the field. When you're in the business of life & death, death is an inevitable part of it. Sometimes it is peaceful & calm & there is a known understanding that it is necessary. Other times it is loud, messy, unexpected & heartbreaking. Either way, the tough stuff really hurts. There's been more than one day where I've taken a moment to hide in our laundry room & cry on top of the freezer before going back to deal with whatever I have next for the day. I reflect on it sometimes, if I have had a particularly bad day I "journal it out" - but it all gets tucked away into this deep dark corner of my brain.

1. What procedure bothers you the most? 

- There aren't a lot of procedures that "bother" me per say. Victoria mentioned decapitation - which is performed in the event of suspected Rabies. For those who don't know, in a suspected Rabies case, the entire head of the animal is sent off to the lab for testing. I am fortunate enough that in the 4-5 years I have been in veterinary medicine, I have never seen a Rabies suspect. I don't particularly like watching enucleations (eye removal) they make me pretty queasy & my bones feel like jello thinking about it, but they don't "bother" me, I just do my anesthesia monitoring at an angle where I can't see it happening 😏.

2. What is one thing you would change about veterinary medicine? 

- I think that client communication is extremely important & sometimes it gets left by the way side. I have seen so many doctors & technicians try to explain something to a client in a way that is not easy for the client to understand. As the doctor is explaining something to them, you can almost see their eyes rolling back into their heads. Sometimes owners won't ask for clarification because they are embarrassed or don't want to look "dumb". I think people need to remember that your every day person doesn't know as much about animals as we do & they don't know any of our technical jargon. Taking the time to break down the information you need to provide them, in a way that they can understand it is so important. The client will have a better experience, they will trust you more, they will feel comfortable asking you questions & they will leave with a better understanding. A client should never leave the office feeling overwhelmed & confused. We have one doctor who is really good at printing out reading information for owners to take home when a diagnosis has been made that can be a lot to grasp. There are a lot of other notable mentions here including fear free training, working for each other instead of against each other (in terms of coworkers), more mental health resources for veterinary professionals, the importance & necessity of licensed technicians to a practice, etc.

3. What is the most valuable lesson that you've learned? 

- There are a million & one valuable lessons to be learned in veterinary medicine, so it's hard to choose. I can sum it up with patients always come first, it's okay to cry, never be afraid to ask for help & admit to your mistakes. Nobody likes a technician or a doctor who is an emotionless droid, whose sole purpose seems to be bragging or showing off instead of being committed to patient care.

4. Are you scared to put your own pets under anesthesia? 

- No. Anesthesia is generally very safe, regardless of a pet's age. I personally have never seen a pet die under anesthesia, nor have I ever seen any recovery complications. That's not to say because I haven't seen it that it doesn't happen - it's just not as common as you would think. I will say however that in terms of surgical procedures sometimes "you get what you pay for". Paying for a $100 procedure through a shelter or rescue versus a $500 procedure through a regular clinic is not something that a lot of people talk about. When you pay for a low cost procedure in a lot of cases, you are sacrificing some aspects of patient safety. In a low cost procedure you are usually sacrificing things like pre-anesthetic blood work (which allows you to see if there are any underlying medical conditions that could compromise the pet under anesthesia), fluid administration, etc. I think it can increase the risk of possible complications. Just something to keep in mind for pet owners.

5. What is the worst thing you've ever seen while working at a veterinary clinic? 

- I hate DOA's. DOA stands for "dead on arrival". They're the worst. The reason they are so bad is because they are always unexpected, it's pets that don't receive regular veterinary care (usually ones with failing organs, or heart conditions) - who one day just fall over & are rushed in. It's pets who have been run over by cars & crushed & are ran in to the hospital by an owner or a good Samaritan covered in blood. It's owners who are screaming & crying for you to help their animal, when the animal is already passed. It's rough. I don't work in emergency medicine & I don't envy those who do for this reason. These haunt me sometimes. I have definitely "seen" worse - it depends on how you define this question. These situations are the toughest for me to deal with.

6. Have you ever worked for a bad doctor? 

- I have never worked for a "bad" doctor. I have worked with some doctors who can be difficult, i.e. - they can be extremely nit-picky or want things done a very different or very specific way. You know, those doctors who just seem like they are making your job extra difficult for no particular reason 😁. Some doctors are also really great at making messes & not cleaning up after themselves. Some doctors are more self-sufficient than others (i.e. have technical skills & help you out a lot when it's busy vs some doctors who fold laundry while you are running around like a chicken with your head cut off). I think it can also be difficult if you don't see eye-to-eye with a doctor on a certain subject or in terms of how a certain task should be performed. I have also seen doctors zero in on certain techs & be mean to them for no particular reason. We are all human, we just have to remember that.

On an ending note, there is a very large mental health crisis within the field of veterinary medicine. Veterinary professionals (more notably doctors) are four times as likely to commit suicide than the general population & two times as likely to commit suicide than other medical professionals. We need to help each other, whether that's being someone to confide in, a shoulder to cry on, or something as simple as taking on an extra task at work from someone who is struggling. Don't burn yourself out, know that taking a mental health day is OKAY & take of yourself. You can't take care of others, when you aren't taking care of yourself.

Mental Health Articles / Resources for Veterinary Professionals: 

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