Veterinary Associates: Lose the Guilt

Originally Published: DVM Newsmagazine, September 1, 2010



Most of us embrace guilt like it’s in the Veterinarian’s Oath. If we didn’t pursue an internship, we feel guilty. If we pursued advanced education that took us away from spouses and children, we feel guilty. We feel guilty if we work part-time, because we’re not developing as quickly as we should. We feel guilty if we work full-time because our kids are “only young once.” We beat ourselves up relentlessly about angry clients, disappointed clients and clients who look pregnant but aren’t (I still feel bad about that one).

The guilt associated with lost patients is difficult to escape, and maybe it’s good in that it drives us to be better doctors. The rest of the “veterinary guilt” is overly abundant, unnecessary and obstructive to our pursuit of happiness. This guilt is an enormous hurdle to appreciating balance in life.

Here are a few strategies to keep in mind to counter veterinary guilt.

Remember your priorities

Priorities are deeply personal, and you are the only one who can fully assess what is important in your own life. Be strong in your convictions and remember what is meaningful to you in both the short and long term. Don’t be afraid to prioritize family, finances, hobbies and health in addition to your career.

Expect conflict

Conflict doesn’t mean you’re getting it wrong. Sometimes the priorities of others — clients, other doctors, staff members or practice owners — will appear to be in direct conflict with your own.

Sure, life balance would be easy if everyone just accepted your priorities as their own, but that’s not realistic. Neither is the idea that you should accept the priorities of others as indisputable commands. Often, the best we can do is to understand others’ priorities so we can establish mutually beneficial solutions. It’s important to be creative and sincere in working with others while we pursue what is most important to ourselves. If we’ve done that, we shouldn’t feel guilty about the paths we choose, even if others disagree with it.

Carpe diem (seriously!)

I know “seize the day” sounds cliché, but it’s the key to escaping guilt. When you see cases at work, engage them with your complete attention. When you go home, be fully at home in body, mind and spirit. I struggle to live this philosophy as much as anyone, but on my best days, when I get it right, I feel neither guilt nor regret.

We must learn to forgive ourselves for following our own priorities. If we want “life balance,” we have to not only make the hard choices but also embrace the experiences we create, guilt-free.