I recently turned 65 years old. Along with suddenly seeing online ads for walk-in tubs, stair lifts, and motorized scooters on any website I happen to be on, I like to think I’m also seeing life’s lessons more clearly.
Some of those lessons are personal, but a big chunk of them are the principles and attitudes that have come to shape how I see the world of veterinary medicine. They range from those that sustain us emotionally to those that help us thrive financially, and everything in between! So in the spirit of sharing is caring, here are 37 pieces of advice to use or lose:
1) Get eight hours of sleep every night when at all possible. Given the level of emotional stress our profession can cause, making sure your body has the best possible foundation for health and well-being is not negotiable.
2) Don’t just catch pet parents doing things wrong. We’ve all had the same thoughts… the dog has periodontal disease, his nails are too long, there are cheat grass awns between the toes. Find something… anything… that deserves a sincere compliment. Then move on to the things they can improve upon.
3) Treat every client and pet like they are VIPs.
4) The exam room is the high temple of veterinary medicine. You wear special clothes, carry ID, and use special tools. Be worthy of being the high priest of this special room.
5) Always clean your stethoscope (the most iconic and, some would say, valuable piece of equipment in veterinary medicine) after every exam to remove fear pheromones and bugs. Don’t forget to wipe back across the stethoscope with the pheromones of the species you’re going to see next.
6) Don’t be afraid to ask a question and look stupid. Be brave—99.9 percent of the time, your colleagues want to know the very same thing, but are afraid to ask.
7) The best exams you do on any pets should be on those of the people who work at the practice.
8) Realize the extra mile is never crowded, so go there often.
9) Just like a rubber band, you have to be stretched to be effective. Challenge yourself with CE that’s out of your comfort zone.
10) Give at least one expression of empathy to every client.
11) Forget the Golden Rule. Instead, practice the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would like you to do unto them.
12) Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If you’ve read it and can’t recite the habits in order, with a good explanation for each, read it again.
13) Never, ever, feel weak, ashamed, or less-than for admitting to having mental illness and seeking treatment. I have.
14) Be interested in your colleagues and clients, and listen to them. If you do, they’ll be more interested in you.
15) Send birthday cards to all your close colleagues and business contacts. Not a text, not an email, not an exploding emoji. I’m talking about an honest-to-goodness birthday card.
16) Promptness is a sign of discipline and respect.
17) Don’t take it personally when a client declines your recommendations. Assume they’re like you: worried, depressed, busy, preoccupied, distracted, short on money. Try a second time down the trail and you’ll be surprised how many people say yes!
18) Give clients your mobile phone number if appropriate and possible. Write it on your business card. You’ll be amazed at how few people call you and how many people think you walk on water.
19) Being a great listener is like having a superpower. Rather than listening to respond, as most people do, ask question upon question, encouraging them to give you more, until there is no more to give.
20) Forget what practice management gurus say about delegating callbacks to nurses or other team members. Do your own callbacks and build a cadre of A-list clients who tell all their friends about you.
21) Never, ever, use a credit card to start or expand your practice. Same goes for covering operating expenses.
22) Be overly generous. Nobody ever dies regretting giving away too much.
23) To make mistakes is human. To admit to mistakes and apologize is divine. Few things bond you to a client or team member as surely as a sincere and heartfelt apology.
24) Perhaps the most counterintuitive truth is that the more you give away to others, the more you get back in return.
25) Kiss a patient and the client will do anything for you.
26) The secret to apologizing: Do it quickly—in person or by phone—specifically, sincerely.
27) Take information calls from the receptionist. You learn to get on and off the phone quickly.
28) Take vacations. Our work is stressful, and time off (really off, not just “text me if you need me” off) will replenish your energy, clarify your thoughts, and heal your body. You’ll come back happier and recharged.
29) Watch how minorities are treated by far too many people, far too much of the time. It will make you sick. And then ask yourself why people of color are so underrepresented in our field.
30) Understand the world, including our profession, is hugely unfair to women regarding so much at so many levels. This has to change sooner rather than later.
31) Giving credit to others makes you look smarter and better.
32) Don’t say something about a person in an email you wouldn’t say to their face. Eventually, they find out.
33) The distribution of beauty, brains, and talent is unfair. But there’s no limit on how much we can improve on what God gave us.
34) Experience and training are useful, but overrated. Hire team members for attitude and train for performance.
35) Don’t skip breakfast.
36) My dad taught me to buy inexpensive tools to start—they were good enough to get the job done, but not top-of-the-line. Then, when I found a tool I used a lot, his advice was to buy the very best. This principle should guide the investments you make in your practice, from the stapler your customer service representative uses to attach the cash register receipt to the invoice to that pricey diagnostic equipment you’ve been thinking about.
37) Thank your higher power every day for your blessings. You’re better off than you think or know. Don’t believe me? Travel to countries facing drought, economic ruin, famine, and war, or talk to Black Americans who have faced racism from birth to earth. It puts things in perspective pretty fast.
Some of these thoughts may hit home for you, and some may seem like they’re written in a foreign language. As you navigate these strange times and continue to practice this profession we all love so much, please take what you find meaningful or helpful and leave the rest!
Marty Becker, DVM, writes every other month for Veterinary Practice News. He is a Sandpoint, Idaho, practitioner and founder of the Fear Free initiative. For more information about Fear Free or to register for certification, go to fearfreepets.com. Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.