Is Your Personality Type Holding You Back In Veterinary Medicine?
Is there such a thing as a ‘perfect vet personality type’?
Whilst most of us aren’t born with the qualities needed to flourish in veterinary care, some traits may influence how individuals handle vet life.
Though personality traits associated with work ethic, empathy, and interpersonal relations may be seen as desirable, other traits can make vets more vulnerable to burnout, compassion fatigue, and Imposterism.
But what are these traits? And how may they influence an individual’s professional progression?
Qualities Associated With Successful Veterinarians
Several personality traits can be associated with professional prosperity as a vet.
A strong work ethic
A desire to keep learning
The ability to solve problems
Attention to detail
Ability to be compassionate
A capacity to lead¹
Within student cohorts, successful veterinary students tend to be conscientious, emotionally stable, socially adept, self-disciplined, practical (rather than imaginative), and relaxed².
When selecting candidates for veterinary programs, admission officers tend to look for ethically minded candidates with sound judgment and good communicative abilities. Their capacity to think both critically and creatively is also assessed throughout the selection process³.
Though candidates with these qualities may not necessarily be ‘better’ than others, it can put them at an edge- especially during the early stages of their careers.
Given this, what are some of the traits which may hold veterinary professionals back?
Perfectionism can be seen as a positive trait however, the type of perfectionism you possess can have variable effects on your work life. There are two types of recognized perfectionism.
Positive perfectionists are driven by a genuine desire to succeed, whilst negative perfectionists are motivated by fear.
This fear is propagated by unrealistically high expectations, which oftentimes cannot be met in a GP vet setting. This creates a cycle of anxiety, leading to a multitude of issues.
Signs of negative perfectionism include:
Feeling like you fail at everything you try
Struggling to relax and/or struggling to share thoughts and feelings
Becoming very controlling in your personal and professional relationships
Becoming obsessed with rules, lists, and work, or conversely becoming extremely apathetic.
Veterinary professionals with negative perfectionism experience lower levels of psychological well-being at work, lower levels of engagement, and lower levels of job satisfaction.
Negative perfectionists are also more prone to distress, depression, and emotional exhaustion than their positive counterparts⁴. Within the veterinary sphere, trait perfectionism (the tendency to have very high and rigid standards for the self and/or others) has been found to increase psychological distress for perfectionist individuals, inhibiting their ability to function at work⁵.
Neuroticism (a broad personality trait that represents the degree to which a person experiences the world as distressing, threatening, and unsafe) is prevalent in the veterinary community.
Although neurotic’s ‘depressive realism’ can be advantageous when creating ‘realistic’ patient plans (as long as they aren’t too negative leaning), veterinary professionals with these traits are far less likely to be extroverted, open to new experiences, and/or ‘agreeable’ compared to their less neurotic counterparts.
Neurotic vets also tend to be more emotionally volatile and reactive, which can be a problem when it comes to client communication. They have an increased risk of substance abuse, depression, and suicide⁶ ⁷.
Additionally, neurotic professionals are far more likely to experience chronic stress in the workplace. In a study of veterinary surgeons, researchers found that neuroticism and anger hostility were positively associated with workplace stress⁸. Given that (at least to some degree) stress is inevitable in veterinary care, this could prove problematic for individuals in the long term.
Whilst people-pleasing isn’t inherently a bad trait to have, this common vet personality type can prove disadvantageous.
People-pleasers tend to struggle with self-validation. Throughout their lives, they learn that helping and/or pleasing others comes with substantial benefits. They tie their accomplishments (and hence, self-worth) to the words and whims of others.
An overreliance on external validation can prove detrimental when people-pleasers are faced with conflict. They do not wish to be seen negatively and therefore sacrifice their well-being to avoid confrontation⁹. This can be highly problematic when dealing with pet owners, who may not necessarily know what is best for their pets.
Vets with people-pleasing tendencies struggle to maintain boundaries within the workplace and therefore are more prone to burnout¹⁰. This is something that happened to Megan Brashear, a vet tech from Indiana (listen to her story below).
People pleasers may also struggle with the feedback aspect of a veterinary role, as the seemingly ‘critical’ nature of it can damage their self-esteem.
Though there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ vet personality type, there are some distinct personality traits that may be advantageous to have.
Thankfully, as humans, we are always developing and evolving. Traits that you may not have now can mature if you are prepared to work on them, so don’t feel disheartened if you don’t have some of the ‘ideal’ qualities listed above.
Many of the skills needed to have a successful career are acquired over time, through a lot of trial and error. So next time you have a bad day at work, don’t take it to heart, see it for what it is- a lesson.
If you are a vet trying to increase your success in the veterinary profession, you should check out my webinar '4 Steps to a Happy and Successful Career as a Veterinarian', sign up here.
1- ‘Do You have the Personality Traits to Succeed as a Veterinarian ….’ https://veterinarytalk.com/do-you-have-the-personality-traits-to-succeed-as-a-veterinarian/. Accessed 28 May. 2021.
2- ‘Personality and academic performance of three cohorts of veterinary ….’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17673797/. Accessed 1 Jun. 2021.
3- ‘What should we be selecting for? A systematic approach for ….’ 5 Nov. 2012, https://bmcmededuc.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6920-12-105. Accessed 3 Jun. 2021.
4- ‘The Effects of Positive and Negative Perfectionism on Work ….’ https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212567115005225/pdf?md5=f86eb9c7904c5829f8db1e9087970c0e&pid=1-s2.0-S2212567115005225-main.pdf. Accessed 3 Jun. 2021.
5- ‘Trait perfectionism strengthens the negative effects of moral ….’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26412116/. Accessed 3 Jun. 2021.
6- ‘dvm360 April 2019.’ https://www.dvm360.com/publication/dvm360-magazine/dvm360-april-2019. Accessed 4 Jun. 2021.
7- ‘The big five personality traits, perfectionism, and their association ….’ 2 Jun. 2020, https://bmcpsychology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40359-020-00423-3. Accessed 4 Jun. 2021.
8- ‘The Effect of Personality on Occupational Stress in Veterinary ….’ https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28206844/. Accessed 4 Jun. 2021.
9- ‘(PDF) How to stop being a people-pleaser – ResearchGate.’ 13 Aug. 2018, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326998074_How_to_stop_being_a_people-pleaser. Accessed 5 Jun. 2021.
10- ‘Setting Boundaries to Protect Personal Time – Marie Holowaychuk.’ https://marieholowaychuk.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Setting-Boundaries-to-Protect-Personal-Time-by-Dr-Marie-Holowaychuk.pdf. Accessed 5 Jun. 2021.