Do you struggle with your self-confidence? You’re certainly not alone.
According to Vet Times, veterinary medicine is facing a ‘crisis of confidence’. Veterinary professionals are disproportionately experiencing feelings of self-doubt. Much more so than other sectors, like human medicine.
This can have a huge knock-on effect on workplace satisfaction and happiness. Low self-confidence is associated with:
- An increased level of cynicism.
- Higher levels of stress.
- Lower levels of adaptability.
- Increased levels of anxiety.
- An impaired ability to make decisions (and hence complete tasks effectively) .
But why is this happening? And what can you do to increase your self-confidence in practice?
Why Vets Are Having a ‘Crisis of Confidence’
Experiencing self-doubt isn’t exactly an uncommon experience, especially if you are a young graduate. But imposter syndrome is rife within the veterinary community, for a number of reasons, including:
A Disparity Between Employee Expectations vs. Reality
For one, there seems to be a distinct divide between the expectations of practice owners, managers & directors, and the abilities of grads. Many employees expect ‘day one competency’ from graduate vets, throwing them straight into the deep end. This may be due to, in part, changes in the job market, and/or generational differences.
A Transition Away From Using Live Animals in Vet School
Another contributing factor could be related to the use of live animals in vet school. Many veterinary schools have moved away from using them, replacing them with cadaver labs, spay-neuter laboratories, and skills models. While being of benefit to animals, this may be inhibitory to students’ practical skill development and hence confidence levels overall .
Changes in Vet School Course Content
The amount of knowledge vets must-have has accelerated rapidly. The veterinary curriculum is ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’, and many vets (especially ones early in their careers) do not have the hands-on experience they need. Combined with increased pressure from clients (who now have access to veterinary knowledge through the internet), this has had a knock-on effect on clinician and client confidence .
A Fear of Failure
The cost of failure as a vet is high. At the very worst, a critical mistake could cause an animal significant harm. At best, it can cause a lot of embarrassment. This can be really discouraging, and cause a great deal of anxiety. Add in the fear of client power on social media and you have a recipe for avoidance of risk.
So How Can Vets Improve Their Confidence in Practice?
1. Find a Mentor
Whether you’re new to veterinary practice, or you’ve been working in one for the last 15 years, everyone can benefit from a mentor. Mentors can teach you practical skills and coach you through difficult situations. And on the worst of days, mentors usually have the best stories relating to career disasters that serve as both cautionary and humorous reminders that the storm passed for them, and so it will be for you too.
2. Give Yourself Permission to Make Mistakes
No one likes making mistakes- especially when you feel like you have something to prove. But mistakes are inevitable, and often they are invaluable.
But remember, not all mistakes are equal. Making errors does come with a cost; in many ways that is the price of education. But be careful not to pay too high a tariff.
Avoid this by limiting the downside of failure. This can be done, for example, by reading books and practicing clinical skills. Having a mentor surgeon watching over you during surgery can also be great.
Practice makes progress, and there will be times when work is tough. So it’s good to get accustomed to that fact early on!
When Vets Make Mistakes: The Three Most Common Veterinary Errors
3. Always Give it a Go
When you don’t feel confident, you’re less likely to take risks. But the only way to develop as a vet is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Having a ‘can-do’ attitude will get you far in a practice, and reflect on you favorably in the eyes of your managers.
There is no escaping the relationship between doing and achieving. The puzzle piece that seems to be missing is how failing a bit in the middle is a part of the process, and something you must get comfortable with.
4. Celebrate Your Successes
When we get hung up on our failures, we can get into a headspace that is detrimental to growth.
Often, vets with perfectionist tendencies can be hyper-focused on what they ‘lack’ rather than what they ‘have’. Try celebrating your wins by spending 15 minutes each day writing them down. This can ‘blow away’ the stories in your head allowing reflection on your tangible progress.
5. Challenge Yourself Outside of Work
Regardless of how confident you are at work, you should have a hobby or two outside of veterinary medicine.
Why? Because challenging yourself outside of work can be a great way of building your confidence in other arenas, and teaching your lizard brain (that thinks you suck), that it is full of hot air.
It also gives you something to look forward to if works getting you down.
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6. Be Kind to Yourself
Many of us are harsher to ourselves than we realize. We can be our worst critics, telling ourselves negative stories that hinder our development. Positive psychology can improve self-esteem and performance, so it’s an area certainly worth looking into.
If you’re interested in practicing positive psychology, you should check out our Thrive skills course. It covers the principles of positive psychology and touches on a bunch of other professional skills which will help you in practice.
If you’ve not joined yet, then you can do so for free here.
7. Take a Break From Social Media
You hear it time and time again- social media isn’t good for your self-esteem.
Comparison is the killer of happiness, and seeing all your vet friends seemingly breezing through life isn’t going to make you feel better. According to research, 60% of social media users feel like the apps reduce their self-confidence.
The bigger problem is that 100% of users are not behaving with intention when using these apps, but rather due to an unconscious compulsion. That means social media use is more akin to a drug than a device. If you have any doubt about this, then delete all apps from your phone for a month. You’ll probably feel a lot better, and if you don’t, it’s probably because you’re hooked.
8. Learn How to Say No
Learning how to say no ‘nicely’ is an art, as there are many shades of grey between ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
By setting boundaries and learning how to say no, you’re not only protecting yourself but gaining the confidence to vocalize your needs. This can have a trickle-down effect on other parts of clinical practice, improving your work satisfaction and performance.
If you feel bad about this, remember, burned-out people who can’t function or leave their jobs are the biggest loss of all to the team.
9. Build Positive Relationships
Nothing kills confidence like a bad boss or a rude coworker. Constantly being criticized can crush confidence and kill motivation. If you’re experiencing this sort of behavior at work, have a conversation with the person who is dishing out the pain.
They may not even be aware of their actions, nor the impact. And they may lack the tools needed to offer you effective feedback. This is a chance to display some ‘kind candor’ and let them know how best to do so.
You mustn’t shy away from performance improvement, but equally, you must be able to stand your ground and ‘train’ your boss on how to communicate with you. Assuming they possess these skills isn’t unreasonable, it’s just (sadly) unlikely.
If all else fails, consider finding somewhere else where you will be supported sufficiently.
10. List Your Achievements
When you’re feeling especially insecure, try to separate your feelings from the facts. Writing down your achievements can remind you of past tribulations and how you had the resilience to overcome them.
Don’t Let Your Lack of Confidence Hold You Back
Building confidence takes time.
But by deploying the actions above, you will get to a stage in your career where you’re capable of taking on new challenges.
If you’re looking for something you can do right now to boost your confidence, go check out our free thrive course. This course covers all the professional skills vets aren’t taught about in school, giving you the confidence to take on anything.
- Veterinary professionals are facing a ‘crisis of confidence.’
- To improve your confidence in practice, try finding a mentor, learn how to institute boundaries, and take a break from social media.
1- ‘Confidence low among vets and VNs – report.’ 23 Feb. 2018, https://www.vettimes.co.uk/news/confidence-low-among-vets-and-vns-report/. Accessed 20 Jan. 2022.
2/3- ‘Confidence and competence of recent veterinary graduates – NCBI.’ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC340128/. Accessed 20 Jan. 2022.