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Veterinary gratitude in the age of incivility

Eleven reasons why veterinarians, who often face pressure and high stress, should embrace gratitude every day in the workplace

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If you’ve been alive to the machinations of our society’s contentious culture wars this season, you might admit to feeling sustained pressure on that part of your brain that normally makes you feel like part of a greater whole. It’s as if we’ve all been barnacles on a boat enduring an extended mooring in murky marina waters, sluicing through liquids increasingly gloomy and often downright filthy, feeling acutely like some of us must be riding an alien hull across an impenetrably gray divide.

It’s enough pressure to make practicing veterinary medicine seem like a refuge against the relentless stream of sewage that reeks past. It’s enough to make me set VIN as my landing page instead of that online rag’s sloshy cesspit. No Facebook for me, thank you very much. I’ll stick to Instagram where splashy, happy pictures and plump little hearts rule the day.

Thank God for veterinary medicine, where warring heartworm treatment protocols and debates over the ideal cherry eye surgical technique are as close as I get to controversy. At my place of work, at least, political discussions are verboten. Clients’ comments on the subject are handily deflected and employees who break the code know they’ll be dismissed for the day if they stray the course.

Aren’t we lucky? We veterinary professionals have better things to do than immerse ourselves in muck. While we have our share of controversy to address, as this column tends to highlight, we also have a lot to be grateful for. If we choose to see it. It’s open waters for us.

Every few years I’ll gravitate back to this theme, not just because we all deserve a respite, but also because we know from social science research that grateful people are happier people. And we can all stand to be happier.

We love what we do

This is what we always wanted to do, isn’t it? Few of us plop mindlessly into this profession. Most of us sacrificed much and worked ourselves silly to qualify. Not one among us hates puppy breath.

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Despite the stresses, dangers, depressing cases, and other pitfalls, veterinary medicine is a lifestyle labor of love more than it is a calculated career decision.

Our community adores and respects us

We remain among the most respected professionals in this country. I mean, when was the last time you were embarrassed to reveal your profession at a social gathering? Never, I’d guess. I’d also venture to guess that you get more holiday presents and open declarations of love than your cardiologist does, for example.

We make money

Though we clearly don’t net what some of those with similar levels of education do, we also well surpass the average sums earned by a number of professions. For example, my PhD-ed and Grammy-nominated musician boyfriend earns half what I do in his job as an assistant professor at the University of Miami. Add in all the overtime gigs and he still can’t match my earnings. Trust me, we’re not the worst-paid, über-educated, insanely dedicated professionals out there.

Here, it’s worth noting that comparing ourselves to others who have more than we do is often at the root of resentment and unhappiness. It’s not that we shouldn’t strive, but being grateful that we earn anything in the service of what we love is worthy of some serious gratitude.

There’s upside potential

Our industry is growing. The economic outlook is favorable. More pets means more economic opportunities for us all. True, the most coveted entrepreneurial adventures require finding capital, which can seem near-impossible in this market (for those already heavily indebted with loans, especially), but this goal still remains reachable for those of us willing to take risks.

You can do anything!

There have never been so many forks in the road to success for veterinarians. Industry, government, clinical specialization, and research positions are more plentiful and varied than ever before.

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It’s a helping profession

Being of service to animals and people is what our profession is all about. Think about it: Few other professionals get the opportunity to be of tangible service to someone every single hour of the workday. Nothing feels better. Don’t forget to bask in the pleasure of being helpful to others. You truly are making the world a better place.

Job security

Unemployment? What’s that? Though it’s on the rise in some areas (urban centers and popular suburban locales, in particular), it’s typically not hard to find a position near you. Indeed, veterinary medicine’s unemployment rate remains among the lowest of all professions.

Learning potential

Learning something new every day? Yeah, me too. It’s hard not to. Whether I’m in the mood to study or not, this profession forces me to expand my knowledge base with impressive regularity. It feels like I spend more time researching on the internet than ever before. These days, my clients practically demand it.

Tight-knit community

We’re like a pack of dogs. A family. And most of the time, we actually like one another. Dedication to what we do lends itself to this kind of pack mentality. Despite our divisions and factions, we’re way more alike than we are different. Which is joyfully palpable, especially in large group settings like national conferences. It’s definitely something to be grateful for.

We can bring our pets to work

This is one of my favorites. Bringing my old Mal, Tika, to work every day means I get more bonding time with her. It also chills me out when I’m getting testy. Not all of us can do this, but it’s among the more popular benefits the profession offers.

We can care for our own pets

If, like me, your home holds more pets than humans, being a veterinarian helps reduce your personal household expenses and effectively helps pay for your other animal-keeping hobbies, too.

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The pay may not be what you wish it were. The debt may seem insurmountable. And culture wars may rage on, even within the profession. But the job’s benefits easily outweigh its drawbacks. It’s a lot to be grateful for. And remember, a grateful veterinarian is a happy veterinarian. Which is a plain and simple message for this holiday season. Enjoy!

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, owns a small animal practice in Miami and is a passionate blogger at drpattykhuly.com. Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.

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