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Dealing With The Pressure To ‘Know It All’ As A New Veterinarian

Veterinarian struggling with stress.

Are you a new veterinarian who feels like you need to have all the answers immediately? Tearing your hair out because you can’t reach a certain diagnosis in a short consultation? The bad news is that this pressure can cause heightened stress and anxiety levels. The good news is that this pressure is self-imposed, and therefore you can change it.

A pressure to ‘know it all’ haunts veterinarians with perfectionist tendencies. It is often a hangover from student days when examination passes (or fails) were very black and white, and you strove to get 80 or 90% (you shudder at anything below this). A pass enabled you to progress to the next stage, a high pass kept your self-esteem intact.

BUT, real life is more nuanced, and where does one start with the intricacies of diagnosis and client communication! Pressure means that when you are faced with a complicated case, the ticking clock of the consultation room sounds more like a menacing toll. You feel inadequate when you can’t deliver a solution immediately. The truth is, you simply can’t tackle the case in full with the time you have available. This is not realistic. In the following article, you will learn how to handle the pressure to know it all – and reduce the heat on your personal pressure cooker.

Establish Your Pathway To Success

Particularly when faced with a complicated case that could have many potential diagnoses, you should view the consultation as part of a journey. Most of the time, ‘success’ looks like the ability to map out the next step – not to provide the final answer.

This is not to say that you should spend hours on a vaccination or compromise the quality of the service you are providing in the hope of streamlining it. Rather than altering the quality of your care, you are managing the roadmap of success so as to set yourself (and your client) realistic expectations.

Clients may want an immediate solution but this is not always possible and in reality, they are paying for your time and expertise in getting to that solution.

Client Communication

Now, those vets who let the pressure get to them and feel like they must have all the answers immediately are at risk of becoming Dr. Scatterbrain. You might have met this vet before, you might even be that vet. Dr. Scatterbrain fails to take the client on the journey, usually because they are a little overwhelmed themselves and trying to get too much information across to a client in a single sitting.

The resulting deluge of information simply confuses and overwhelms the client who then becomes unable or unwilling to make decisions.

Because of this, the client only ends up being more confused than they were at the start and is far less likely to follow recommendations (indeed, if they can decipher any). Ultimately this course is going to end up in a second opinion of complaint.

The key to beating pressure is to take a methodical and clear approach designed to service the client’s understanding. Consider their expectations, not your crazy pressure monsters. The client wishes to be spoken to in a clear and concise way and will understand if they need to book a follow-up or a second – or third – appointment.

Summarise the key findings and set the expectation for what is to follow. Saying something along the lines of:

“This problem has been going on for several weeks now, so it may take a little time to work out what’s going on. So let me talk you through what I think is going on and what our plan of action is.”

Therefore, by reducing the pressure on yourself to explore every possibility in one consultation, you are also increasing your chances of communicating with clients effectively, meaning they are more likely to follow your recommendations. It’s a win-win!

Remember Your Mission

Ultimately, your mission is to provide the best care possible for your patients. Unlike GPs for humans, you aren’t able to discuss the problem with your patient and must embark on a far more rigorous and problem-solving journey of diagnosis. This, sometimes, will take time. But remember, the goal is not to squeeze as much as possible into one consultation, it is to diagnose and treat correctly!

You have earned your position as a veterinarian and now is the time to work hard to become a success. However, a large part of success as a vet is actually about how you communicate with clients. If they can see that you are anxious, and this translates into a scattergun approach to communication, they will be less likely to follow your recommendations.

Think about what is expected of you – by your client and your practice. You can only achieve what is reasonable in a 10-15 minute consultation. No one, not even an experienced vet, is a superhuman capable of resolving every problem veterinary medicine throws at them. Secondly, you are expected to do your job in a safe way and provide care for the patient. Finally, you are expected to communicate your findings with the client.

As long as you have these aspects covered then rest assured that you are doing well. Becoming a veterinarian is hard enough without all the additional self-imposed pressure!

If you found this blog post helpful, you may like to check out our 12-module course, 'So You're a Vet, Now What?', where Dr. Dave Nicols helps you build your own framework for a happy and successful career in veterinary medicine:

Call to action for Dr. Dave Nicol's 'So You're a Vet, Now What?' course.


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