By Jessica Vogelsang DVM
My senior year of veterinary school, an oncology resident I respected a great deal sat us all down and told us his number one piece of advice: “No matter what you tell a client,” he said, “Make sure you say it with utter conviction- even if you’re not sure you’re right.” We all nodded, wide-eyed and desperate for anything to make us seem more knowledgable than we were.
It worked for certain people. You know the type. They already had authoritative personalities and could easily tell a client, “YES. This is 100% what you should do.” Clients, besotted with their certainty, complied. And when it failed utterly and completely to do as it should, they shrugged it off and went to the next thing.
That never worked for me.
If I suggested something I had the merest hint of doubt about, they could read it in my face, that moment of hesitation, the way my eyes darted to the side. And if it fell apart, even if that’s the way medicine works and sometimes doody happens, I would go home and rend my scrubs and beat myself up for being human. It felt wrong, and we all knew it. It didn’t make me stronger, it made me feel like even more of an imposter.
Owning Your Doubt
A few months after graduation, I found myself flying solo at a new corporate practice. I was terrified. Who would I ask about that pedicle that wouldn’t stop oozing, or that strange shadow in the vomiting dog’s duodenum? Staring in uncertainty, I felt the paternal ghost-hand of that resident resting on my shoulder as he whispered, “Just go with it. Own it.”
I ignored him, kind of.
I looked my clients in the eye, took a deep breath, and said with utter conviction, “I don’t know what that is. Could be this, or this. I’m going to call a director and get another opinion.”
Or, “I have never done one of these procedures before. I can take it on, or you can go to the referral center.”
I owned it. It wasn’t an embarrassing admission but a fact. I didn’t apologize for it, I wasn’t embarrassed by it, because we all knew I was new and my lack of experience was a temporary condition that righted itself very quickly. I was confident in who I was at that moment, and that conveyed itself in everything I did.
Sure, I lost out on some opportunities to ‘practice’, but my clients always knew where we stood, and I never had to beat myself up for subterfuge. In short, I traded the short term pretending to know more than I did for the long term trust.
A year later, a funny thing happened. We got a letter in the mail- out of all the 400 members of the corporate practice, my dinky little Newbie Clinic in the sticks had the highest score in the nation for customer loyalty.
My supervisors were confounded. No one could believe it. “But you’re not even a year out,” they said. “Are you some sort of surgical wizard? Are you a vet savant?”
Far from it. I was new, inexperienced, and still had oodles to learn. I got things wrong and made plenty of newbie mistakes. And I never apologized for my newness, just as I still never apologize for who I am today. It just is.
Never fake who you are. And never apologize for it, either. The confidence you must own is not in what you know, but who you are. And it works.
Jessica Vogelsang is an author, veterinarian, and Editorial Director for DrAndyRoark.com. Her debut memoir All Dogs Go to Kevin is available in bookstores, online, and as an ebook from all major book retailers. She practices in San Diego with Paws into Grace and is the creator of the popular website pawcurious.com.
Her writing is regularly featured on outlets such as Huffington Post, dvm360, Vetstreet, and petmd. For more information about the book and Dr. Vogelsang, visit DrJessicaVogelsang.com.