I have worked in veterinary medicine for 15 years. It has been an amazing journey, and during this time I have met, connected and formed friendships with many of my colleagues. These colleagues have shared their triumphs and successes as well as their struggles and losses. Some have stayed in the field and some have left.
Of all the stories I have heard, the stories of working in a toxic clinic are the stories that haunt me. When I say unhealthy work environment, I mean an environment that allows blatant bullying and aggressive behavior. Gossiping, Oscar-worthy dramatics and manipulation are bubbling just below the surface of many a well-meaning vet hospital. Our job is to help our clients and patients, but how is it that we have so horribly missed the mark when it comes to taking care of our staff? Our people?
I hear stories of those who were forced out of hospitals due to clinic politics, hierarchy or favoritism. Then I see people who said, “Enough is enough.” They were brave enough to turn their backs on those who took advantage of them. They are the fierce warriors of vet med who realized their happiness means more than any job or paycheck. These people took a chance and found their joy in doing their job without the looming fear of toxic coworkers.
They found clinics where they are appreciated, valued, and treated like individuals- not just another cog in the wheel. They are survivors of abuse. They got out. And while getting out is the first step, it doesn’t prepare them for the complete shift in culture they will face.
Sometimes healing is uncomfortable. These people aren’t used to a positive energy. They are used to hearing their failings and flaws. Adjusting to a culture that embraces positivity can be awkward. Hearing you are smart, you are skilled and that you matter can be a total M. Night Shayamalan mind warp.
You have to relearn your confidence and not look at compliments as back handed. You may look for any validation of your lack of self-worth or value in every action from coworkers, colleagues or management. When the fear of being a constant scapegoat or failure, starts to leave, you may wonder when the other shoe will drop. When will the rug of a supportive work environment be pulled out from under you? No one should live life this way and if you are, stop.
Then there are the stories of those who never got out. People who spent 20+ years at a clinic where a doctor treated them like an inconvenience. Doctors who go into work and their medicine is questioned daily by fellow doctors. Technicians who weren’t allowed to do their job duties, because a battle axe technician hoarded it for themselves. Receptionists who were disrespected and spoken down to by practice managers. And they stayed. And they still stay. Comfortably miserable. Because in some way they just gave up and resigned themselves that this was all they knew. They go into work just waiting for the day to be over. Day in and day out.
A job should never consume our sense of self. If it were any other aspect of your life, would abusive and hurtful behavior be tolerated? If upon walking into work, you were repeatedly punched in the face, would you stay? Hell no. Abuse is abuse. If you are in a situation where the hurt outweighs the joy, be brave and make a change. It’s like they say in domestic abuse cases, have a plan and get out.
Don’t allow yourself to buy into the BS that you are a victim. You are not. You are an amazing, intelligent and deserving person. We all are. We all deserve to be able to walk into work without feeling a ball of anxiety or a bleeding ulcer developing. We shouldn’t have to feel like we’re walking on eggshells by taking up the same oxygen space with people.
This is a job, folks. Ok, so it’s a job where our patients are our passion. Many of us live and breathe it. But no job should smother or stifle us. Whether you are in vet med or change to a completely different field, every single one of you deserves to feel nothing but the pride of your chosen profession when you walk into work. Never ever forget, that what we do is a choice.
What we tolerate is a choice. The lines we draw are a choice. Choose wisely. When we are old and retired, telling our grandchildren stories, we aren’t going to be telling them about when our boss demeaned and publicly berated us in front of a client. We aren’t going to be telling them that our colleague smeared our self-image. We will tell them about the joy of working in a healthy environment where we had the passion to make a difference with people and pets. We will tell them about our successes and how we found our true selves in our calling. We will tell them the exact moment when we discovered our voice. Loud, confident and booming.
With our actions and our voices, we can make a difference. We can speak up and push back. We can establish clear cut boundaries on what we will and won’t put up with in the workplace. We can set an example for the future of vet med. Each day is another page in the story of your life. Is it one worth telling? If not. Make it one. The only thing that can hold us back from happiness is ourselves. But your happiness is worth it. You are worth it.