When I sat down to share these thoughts, that classic song found a home in my ear. I just can’t think of any feeling that’s lonelier than feeling alone when you’re in the middle of the treatment room of a busy hospital.
That’s how I felt, though, back in the summer of 2010.
You see, I live and work in a small resort town which is very sensitive to our local and national economy. We typically live a feast and famine lifestyle- with seventy percent of our annual income raging through the door from July to September. This is followed by almost spooky empty days stretching into months, until we once again pick up a flurry of business during the Winter holidays.
I’m used to scrimping through the “shoulder” seasons, and then kicking ass through the busy months, and had always budgeted for the slow times. But back in the summer of 2010 I was heading into high season having unexpectedly lost a full time associate, and was running as fast as I could to cover all of the shifts that the two of us had previously shared. In those days we took emergencies till 10pm every day, and had our hospital open from 8 am till 7 pm six days of the week…covering those shifts felt like an impossible task. If I’m keeping it one-hundred, it was an impossible task.
It was crazy. I was crazy! I was so blinded by my fear of financial failure and wanting to be there for my clients, my patients, my staff, and my family that I forgot to be there for myself.
The economy was in tatters and our financial experts could only promise things were sure to get worse before they got better. I was six years into my new animal hospital and two years into my new boarding and training facility…with eleven team members to support, along with my family of three and a farm-load of pets.
I made it through that summer, and was able to squirrel away a good deal of the money our teams would need to weather the winter.
I’d love to be able to write that I learned my lesson from that impossible summer, but I’d be lying. I am far too stubborn to learn my lessons the easy way.
When the summer was over I figured I just needed to put my head down and work harder, be better… more vigilant, more correct, more available to my team. I worked and missed my daughter. I worked and missed my husband. I worked and paid trainers to ride my horses. If you’re thinking this all sounds like a terrible plan; you’re right. It was madness, and I almost ruined my health, my spirit, and my family by struggling through all of this on my own.
So I started looking around to try to find some help, perhaps a wiser colleague to help me assess my situation, and I started to see hundreds of other veterinarians just like me out there. All so self-sufficient, stubborn, and afraid of being seen as flawed or weak that we don’t reach out.
Standing there, in the middle of my pile of failure and despair, I decided to do something different. Something courageous. I reached out to my colleagues on Veterinary Information Network (VIN). Many of us gathered together to start a conversation about the kinds of support that we wished we could have had during our darker moments, and from this VIN Foundation’s Vets4Vets program was born.
It was winter, my slow time, and as part of my self-healing I agreed to make my pain my purpose. Vets4Vets started small- simply offering an opportunity for veterinarians to reach out and speak with another veterinarian in a confidential and caring setting. My team at the hospital fielded phone calls, and we’d chat by email and phone, laughing through tears at the challenges, losses, and frustrations we’d faced.
Vets4vets grew; folks started asking for a safe place for recovering addicts to meet in confidence, so we started VIN Foundation’s Vets In Recovery. We then realized we needed a psychotherapist to offer a regular, confidential support group and Dr. Susan Cohen came on board. Dr. Michele Gaspar, who’d been an essential team member from the beginning, attained her pastoral counseling degree and *bam!* we grew again. Just as soon as we were feeling pretty confident with our ability to respond to colleagues and offer support Charlotte Waack, LVT pulled me aside to discuss our support staff members’ need for help and Support4Support was born.
Vets4Vets has helped almost five hundred colleagues in the last year, and we look forward to helping even more veterinarians and support team members in the next year. I like to say “you’ve got a problem, I’ll make a program” and that’s pretty much the way Vets4Vets has grown from a tiny offering of an email and a kind word on VIN to a program which is available free to every veterinarian and support team member in the world (no VIN membership required), thanks to the generous support of the VIN Foundation.
Dr. Roark and Dr. Montana are presenting a free webinar tomorrow, December 5: 8 Steps to Exam Room Boundaries. Open to all but you have to register! For more information and to sign up, please click this registration link.
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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bree Montana, DVM, is a small animal practitioner and owner of the Agate Bay Animal Hospital and Dog Gone Crazy boarding/training facilities in North Lake Tahoe, California. Following the completion of a B.S. in Biology at the University of Cincinnati’s McMicken College, Dr. Montana graduated from the Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine with a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. A past member of the External Advisory and Admissions Committees for UC Davis’ College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Montana also served as a working member of the VIN Foundation Board of Directors. In 2010, Dr. Montana helped to create the VIN Foundation’s innovative Vets4Vets program, a confidential support group providing critical emotional care to veterinarians struggling with all forms of stress/addiction/mental health issues.