Veterinary medicine is comprised of a lot of different personality types. In many ways, it is why I love my job – I am surrounded by people of varying backgrounds, plenty of whom had entire previous careers before landing in an animal hospital. I was a dance major in college, who woulda thunk! However, the very thing that makes us such a diverse and well rounded group of people also makes for some challenging working relationships. Here are a few of the common personalities we encounter among Veterinary Technicians and the ways I’ve been successful in dealing with them.
1 – The Enthusiast
This person is excited about everything. They want to be involved in every thrilling case that walks (or is stretchered) through the front doors. They are often the ones to drop everything for a GDV, but then can’t be found when it comes time to do annual vaccines. They want to learn and grow, but in pursuing valuable experience, they often prioritize inefficiently, leaving others to do their less exciting work for them. This person means well. However, their intense drive to jump into interesting or exciting cases doesn’t allow them to see things in a bigger picture.
How to deal with an Enthusiast: Remind yourself that this person means no harm. They see things as an opportunity and don’t necessarily realize how they are inconveniencing or overshadowing others. In my experience, the Enthusiast has two basic needs: to feel that they are learning, and to feel that they are important. Find productive ways to harness that energy: Get them involved in hospital projects, put them in charge of training a new employee, have them create training workshops. Enthusiasm is a very valuable trait, and it is something we never want to smother.
2 – The Know-It-All
This person asks no questions and knows all answers. Some of their favorite pastimes are butting into conversations, answering questions not directed at them, and spewing out phrases like, “That’s what I was going to say”. This person has experienced everything and wants you to know it.
How to deal with a Know-It-All: This person doesn’t always realize what they’re doing. When they butt into your conversation, they aren’t trying to be disrespectful. When they cut someone off to answer your question, it’s just because they are so eager to show you they know the answer. The Know-It-All has an intense need to prove themselves, and it often stems from a place of insecurity.
Give the Know-It-All appropriate venues in which to demonstrate their knowledge, and create scenarios in which it is comfortable for them to admit to actually not knowing something. Know-It-Alls do great with new hire training. Let them show your new employees how to use the computer system and how things function on a day-to-day setting in your hospital. Know-It-Alls LOVE to be asked questions, so while this kind of basic training can be dull and repetitive to others, the Know-It-All will absolutely thrive in this kind of position.
Try to also set the stage to allow the Know-It-All to ask questions in a comfortable way. The Know-It-All needs to know they will not be looked at as inferior if they don’t know something, so make it common and acceptable. For example, let’s say my Know-It-All has no experience with IO catheters, but I know he/she is ready to learn. I would approach the concept by saying something like “Hey, I have no idea how to place an IO catheter, and Susie said she would teach me. Do you want to come with me?” The Know-It-All is given an invitation to learn without being given the invitation to teach, and by admitting your own technical deficits, the Know-It-All may feel more comfortable in acknowledging their own without ever having to feel inferior.
3 – The Bully
This person will try to intimidate you. This is often someone you encounter within the first week at a new job – they will make an effort to throw you into an uncomfortable situation to see if you will sink or swim. They will test you. The Bully often has a temper and can be unpredictable. Their goal is to be the Alpha, and to establish a certain level of fear among their peers so as to put them in a dominant position. The Bully will point fingers at anyone but themselves – they can often be found blaming a failed blood draw on the holder or pointing out flaws in a client who refuses to work with them. Nothing is their fault, and they will try to intimidate you into agreeing.
How to deal with a Bully: Be secure in yourself. Do not cave to a Bully’s intimidation efforts, but also do not fight back. Do not engage with a Bully, and most of all, do not apologize if you have done no wrong. As humans, we have a tendency to overuse the phrase “I’m sorry”, and a Bully sees that as weakness and submission.
With Bullies, I keep it all business. I will give you an example: It was my first day at a job, and a Bully had me restrain a dog for her. She couldn’t hit the vein for the life of her, and I saw her quickly becoming frustrated and trying to blame her own failures on my restraint technique. I knew it had nothing to do with my restraint, so I said “I’d be happy to find someone else to help you.” I did not apologize or acknowledge her accusations. A few days later, she asked me for help again. She recognized that I wasn’t going to fight and I wasn’t going to apologize. I was confident in my ability and secure in myself, and that’s all it took. They say you teach people how to treat you, and I think that is especially true when it comes to working with a Bully.
4 – The Doubter
The Doubter is a wonderful and talented person who doesn’t know it. They are often incredibly skilled and natural at what they do. They are fast learners and hard workers, well-liked, compassionate and dedicated. Their only flaw is their lack of confidence in themselves. The Doubter is the person who will give up too soon, or not even try at all. They often do not take advantage of practice opportunities because they do not trust in their own ability. The Doubters are the ones often overshadowed by the Enthusiasts. While the Enthusiasts jump into situations they may not be ready for, the Doubters hand off opportunities to others even when they are perfectly capable.
How to handle a Doubter: Encouragement! Doubters need to be cheered on and acknowledged and reminded of why they are great. They are not fishing for compliments, but truly need their confidence to come from an outside source. Every good technician or doctor has a healthy level of fear. However, Doubters take their fear too far, and allow it to slow their growth.
Doubters need extra motivation to jump into scenarios and try new things, so sometimes pairing an Enthusiast with a Doubter is actually a match made in heaven. Give the Enthusiast the job of helping the Doubter learn a new skill, and the Enthusiast will provide them with the encouragement and the extra little push that the Doubter needs.
Another thing I try to do with Doubters is to relate. I talk to them about my failures, and let them know how normal they are. Often times, Doubters see everyone around them as amazing and talented and incredible. Letting a Doubter see your weaknesses or hear about your failures helps to bridge the gap between themselves and what they see as superior, letting them know that they are not so far behind after all.
5 – The Perfectionist
We are all perfectionists in Veterinary Medicine, but there are some who take it to an unhealthy level. These people cannot stand to fail. A Perfectionist may miss one blood draw and question their ability to hit a vein for the next two weeks. A Perfectionist may miss a low grade heart murmur and dwell on it for the next three months. These people carry their shortcomings with them for much longer than the average person. They are generally quite supportive and understanding of the failures of those around them, but are unable to rationalize their own. They have trouble moving on and are known to beat themselves up over the littlest things.
How to deal with a Perfectionist: A Perfectionist needs things to be put into perspective for them. Their failures are all they can remember after a day full of successes. The one thing a Perfectionist needs is a reason to forgive themselves. Often times, relating to a peer is difficult, but relating to a role model can be helpful. Placing focus on successes and strengths is also key when dealing with a Perfectionist – let them know that you still rely on them and their strong skills even after their failure. The key in working with a Perfectionist is patience – you cannot make them feel better about their failures, but you can give them reasons to start to forgive themselves.
Each of us has elements of all five of these personalities within us. Some of us have a healthy level of each, while others lean way too far into one specific category. The key in working with anyone in any field is to find a way to relate without sacrificing oneself, and I think that rings very true for the veterinary field. In the end, if we take the extra time to interact with coworkers in the way that is most comfortable and supportive for their personality, it makes for a more positive and efficient workplace, and that reflects on the care our patients receive. Regardless of personality, that is one goal we all share – to take care of the animals and the people who love them in the best possible way.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
Kelsey Beth Carpenter is a Registered Veterinary Technician, singer/songwriter, and creator of the Instagram series #ThingsHeardAtAnAnimalHospital. She holds a degree from UCLA and is a Lead Technician at an emergency hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area. Kelsey writes articles and original songs about veterinary medicine – to check out her other works, visit www.facebook.com/