I was listening to this podcast while driving to meet a friend for a camping adventure- and there were a few things that got me thinking. While listening, my thoughts were gathering momentum. My voice-to-text was in overdrive as I made several notes, trying to make coherent sense.
For those who have not listened to the podcast (linked above), Dr. Dave talks about how his generation was privy to the fake it till you make it way of life, and how Dr. Moriah’s generation now suffers from (the rather sinister-sounding) veterinary imposter syndrome.
He talks a bit about the generation before him and what, if anything, did they ‘suffer’ from.
This discussion really got my hamster wheel running full tilt.
Veterinary Imposter Syndrome- What Has Changed?
When it comes to imposter syndrome, I would argue that the generations before Dr. Dave just ‘owned it’.
They were confident. They went to school, were well educated, and knew what they needed to do to get the job done. Saying this, the previous generation did have a much different client base. Clients that, I would argue, were nowhere near as well educated as today’s generation.
I think it is fair to say that our client’s knowledge, access to information, and expectations have increased over the years. I would be inclined to agree that the current feelings of veterinary imposter syndrome experienced by new grads are fully justified, given they are more challenged than previous generations.
I have been out in practice now for ten years, and I find the longer that I am in the real world, the less I recall all of those emotions I experienced as a new grad. This makes sense, given how time heals all wounds- and being a grad is a trauma unto itself.
But looking back on those experiences, some things still stick in my mind- memories I recall with alarming clarity. Such as how often I would say, ‘holy crap, what the hell is going on’ or ‘what the f*#ck was that’.
It reminds me that you have to start somewhere in your clinical journey. You have to figure it out over time and have faith in your learning (seriously, you know this stuff! Own it!). It is refreshing to realize that your medical knowledge (most of the time) is bang on and that your recommended treatments are equally effective.
With time, the more you are successful, the more confident you become.
Advice For Those Struggling With Veterinary Imposter Syndrome
It is reasonable to check in with another veterinarian (hello mentoring/supportive colleague). You may need to make sure that you are on the right path with your treatment plan- in case you are missing something. Because at the crux of it, your client and patient interactions, you are trying to do well by them.
So yeah, there are those ten percent of the time, where maybe your colleague pipes up and says ‘hey, what about blah blah (insert something pertinent about the case you are working on that you had yet to think of or were not yet aware of) and it’s something that wasn’t on your radar or you had as of yet not experienced it. And that is ok. Let me repeat- that is ok.
No one is born knowing everything – cut yourself some slack and have faith in your education. It will get better with time.
I mentioned a colleague/mentor earlier, and I have a few thoughts about them as well.
I think the duty of a fellow associate veterinarian, or an owner, or a mentor, to a new employee is to be a lifeguard. The new vet is finally out there swimming in the waterway past where their toes can touch the ground. They have had their swimming lessons, but now they are at the deep end.
The role of a mentor or a colleague is to ensure they do not drown. Occasionally, you will get tired as a new vet (and honestly, it still happens later in your career), and that is when your mentor will lend you a hand. Otherwise, we will stand back and let you swim on your own- but you can bet your behind that we will be watching you closely, making sure some big ole wave doesn’t happen upon you unaware and take you out. Eventually, you get good at swimming and keep your head above the water.
It is hard being a veterinarian, and more specifically, a new grad let loose on the world. When I think of this, I remember my father and what he would tell me when I was busting my ass, trying to get through vet school.
He would say to me:
‘Well Holly, if it were easy, everybody would be doing it.’
Being a vet is hard as it is challenging, but you are intelligent – you have a good work ethic and education. It took me a long time to get that settled in my brain.
I am doing this because I want to help my clients and my patients. That is the goal and your common ground with clients. That, combined with your education, work ethic, and drive, will lead to success in the real world. Whether you fake it till you make it, own it, or keep swimming. It will get less scary with time, and if you do it right, you may start to enjoy yourself.
Holly (a mixed animal vet out in the wilds of Canada)