I was a nervous new grad. Insecure. Overwhelmed. With a major case of imposter syndrome and some serious social anxiety.  

I had put off looking for a job while I was in school, but school was over and the time had come.  I couldn’t procrastinate anymore. After all, those student loan payments were about to come due and Sallie Mae was going to want her money back. So, I sucked it up, ignored the nausea-inducing fear, and started applying for jobs.

I interviewed at a handful of hospitals. Most of them were small one or two doctor practices. The medicine was okay, but there wasn’t much mentorship. I was offered salaries that wouldn’t begin to touch my student loans, and I was going to be on my own a lot. Plus, they lacked… pizzazz. They had paper records and film radiology. The buildings were erected in the early 20th century and had interior design that hadn’t been updated since the ’70s. Maybe I was just looking for excuses not to start practicing, but nothing felt like the right fit.

And then, I interviewed at a large partner-owned practice. It was a glistening practice with marble counters, digital everything and a brand-new surgical suite. There were 10 doctors on staff, they offered 24-hour care, they had a mentoring plan. And they offered a competitive salary with benefits and profit-sharing.  

The decision seemed like a no brainer. This place could give me the opportunity to grow my skills in a safe and protected learning environment. Or so I thought. I optimistically accepted their employment offer.

It didn’t take long to learn that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. The partners really did only seem to care about the money. They bullied and manipulated clients into unnecessary treatments and tests. Any patient getting X-rays had to spend the night in the hospital, get blood work, an IV catheter, full sedation… “Phone Hours” were from 3-4 pm and that was the only time clients were allowed to get updates on their hospitalized pets. When a client called, the partners would triage which calls I could take, tell me exactly what to recommend, and listen in to my conversation.

I had agreed to a 90-day probationary period, after which I’d sign a year-long contract. I didn’t need 90 days. Almost immediately, I knew this wasn’t the place for me. Less than a month in and I was back on the job hunt. When I got a new offer at one of those older, less flashy hospitals, this time I took it — and put in my notice. 

“I need to set up a meeting,” I told one of the partners not long before my three-month probation was up. It took the partners by surprise. They didn’t think the shy, insecure girl they hired would push back. They thought they could manipulate and mold me into an obedient, little worker bee. 

They didn’t take it well. They tried to gaslight me. “We had an oral contract,” they said.

“There’s no such thing as an oral work contract in New York,” I informed them, mustering up all my courage. “And even if there were, it was for a 3-month period with the option to sign a long-term contract.”

“That was for us to decide if we wanted to hire you.” I just shrugged my shoulders and informed them that it still worked both ways.

They threatened legal action. They tried to withhold the commission I had earned. They told me that as a professional it was only right for me to give them 6 months’ notice (for a job I’d been at less than half that time). They tried to convince me that leaving was a sign of bad moral character – that the other vet hiring me had bad moral character.

But I refused to be a pushover. I refused to let them bully me into getting their way. I refused to compromise my values and the vet I wanted to be.

I was still shy, insecure, and afraid. I had reservations about my decision. There were times I almost believed their conniving words. But I listened to my instincts. I clung to my core values. I found the strength I needed to escape the toxicity.

Because I deserved better. And so do you. 

If you’re in a work environment that feels wrong, your intuition is probably right. If management doesn’t support you, if they pressure you into practicing in a way that makes you uncomfortable, don’t share your values, don’t respect your input… then it’s time to leave.

You don’t need to worry that it will “look bad” on your resume. You don’t need to be concerned that the next job might be even worse. You don’t need fret over whether or not the problem is really you. If you’re in a toxic work environment, you just need to get out.

It’s okay to admit that you made a mistake. Our mistakes can be an important part of our story. That job forced me to rediscover my inner strength. It uncovered my lost confidence. And it taught me exactly what kind of veterinarian I never wanted to be.

Today I work to empower veterinary team members, promote improved communication and relationships between veterinary professionals and clients, and advocate for kindness and compassion. Today, I stand for everything that hospital wasn’t. And I’m not sure I would be who I am if they hadn’t shown me who I didn’t want to be.

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.


Dr. Lauren Smith is a 2008 graduate of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine. She completed her clinical rotation at Cornell University before returning to Long Island to enter general small animal practice. Dr. Smith is a pet mom to a blue-eyed poodle mix named Frankie and a very needy cat named Charlie. She is also an aunt to a smart, funny, strong-willed niece.

Dr. Smith is the creator of The Vetitude; a website and social media presence that promotes empathy, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence in veterinary medicine. You can find out more at thevetitude.com