We all know how difficult the medical and scientific aspect of veterinary medicine is, but what we often forget is the social, communication, and leadership skills that are also needed to be a successful veterinarian.
One woman who knows this better than most, is the founder of The Vetitude, Dr. Lauren Smith.
From battling her own social anxieties, Dr. Lauren was able to see a gap in the industry and utilize this to help other veterinarians struggling with similar situations.
In this article, we interviewed Dr. Lauren and found out a little more about her journey through veterinary medicine and why she began ‘The Vetitude’.
Why were you inspired to get into veterinary medicine?
I just was one of those kids that wanted to do it for as long as I can remember. I think that all the things that normally redirect kids, such as they’re not good with blood, or they’re not good at math or science, things like that, those just didn’t apply to me.
I loved science, I didn’t mind the ‘icky stuff’, and I just never really got diverted from my path. I don’t know what inspired me, because it was so long ago, but I was one of those people who always knew what I wanted to do forever.
Did you feel prepared after graduating?
Personally, when I first graduated, I had a lot of social anxiety and so I felt very insecure about that.
I was one of the people in school that was one of the top in my class, and the facts came easily to me. But I felt very unprepared for dealing with clients, which is probably one of the reasons that I had to work so hard to improve that skill and now try to pass that on to others.
That client communication was actually where I felt more personally unprepared. Certainly, I didn’t know all of the medicine, but I felt like I was smart enough to figure it out and know where to get the information when I graduated, but I felt unprepared for dealing with people part.
I went to Ross before it was accredited and saw people who were very social and more well-rounded, and I felt very insecure about that. I would hear the comment all the time that “C students make the best doctors” from people in school. I would think “well I’m the A student who’s going to be terrible with people and going to make a terrible doctor because nobody’s going to want to listen to me and do what I say”. It was something I felt very insecure about.
How did your time in school and general practice inspire you to begin ‘The Vetitude’?
When I first graduated I went to a practice that pretty much taught me everything I did not want to be as a veterinarian. I was there for 3 months and I got out of that practice as soon as humanly possible. It was a terrible experience, but I do feel like it was an experience that was informative to me because it showed me what I did not want to be. They were the kind of vets that took advantage of people and give other vets a bad name!
So I got out of there very quickly, and then I went to another practice that was not in the best socio-economic area. That was a little hard, but also really good and really informative. It was hard to hear people not be able to do the treatment I recommended, but at the same time, it did give me valuable experience on how to practice that continuum of care and figure out how to give care to people who couldn’t necessarily afford the gold standard. That was a really invaluable experience.
But even then, because I wasn’t necessarily able to do a lot of the things I wanted to do, and I was at that practice for about three years, I still felt very insecure in my skills and abilities. I could still hold my own but I didn’t feel like I should have, three years out, I felt more I should have only been one year out of veterinary school.
I did then wind up at another practice, with the same insecurities. At this point, I began to question if this [veterinary medicine] was really what I wanted. This practice was in a more middle-class area, so I got to deliver more of a continuum of care and I got a lot more opportunities to work on pets to the fullest and give that gold standard of care.
A couple of years after I started there, one of the veterinarians who was at that practice left. She had been an unofficial leader at the practice and it left a void. I’m the kind of person to let others lead, I don’t necessarily feel the need to lead, but because there was this void, I had to step up and that was when I began to get that reinforcement that I was good at this kind of stuff and I had things to offer. That really built up my confidence. Then over time, I started sharing my experiences with people and people related to them and I realized I could help people just by making them feel heard.
It took me around 5 to 6 years to build that confidence, and two years to focus on leadership before I began to feel comfortable and seek the next challenge, and so began ‘The Vetitude’.
For those who don’t know what ‘The Vetitude’ is, could you describe it?
‘The Vetitude’ is my social media and my brand presence that I use to talk to people in the veterinary field to improve their client communication skills, client relationships, and set healthy boundaries in developing relationships with clients.
I see a lot of negativity in this field towards clients, and I know it’s from the trauma that we have experienced by toxic clients lashing out at us but we also turn around unfairly and put that on all clients. That just really exaggerates this divide and I feel like we are becoming further apart from the people we are trying to help and serve. For most of us feeling burnout and stressed, I think it is one of the biggest pain points that we have. So I really wanted to focus on that aspect to help create longevity in the field, help with burnout, and improve the relationship between veterinarians and the public.
In your episode with Dr. Moriah on That Vet Life Podcast, you discussed emotional intelligence and dealing with difficult clients. Do you think clients are the hardest aspects of working in general practice and if not, what do you think is?
I definitely do think that they are, well they’re definitely one of the hardest aspects, there are certainly other things which are hard. I don’t want to dismiss the difficulty of the job we do and the medical side of the job that we do. But the medicine side of the job is what we train for, it’s not necessarily that the medicine is less hard, it’s that we are more prepared for it I think.
But also I feel like clients make it difficult for us to do the job of medicine – if we could just do the medicine we wanted to. If we could do every test on every animal that came in and didn’t have to get permission from the client, our medical jobs would be easier!
What is your favorite aspect of veterinary medicine?
It varies from day to day, but potentially that client communication because it is the hardest (I still get a lot of anxiety about it before). But when I get that appreciation from clients or when I hear those clients say ‘Oh I’ve never understood that before’, or ‘No one really explained this to me before’, when I get through to a client who no one has been able to before, that’s really rewarding because 1. I feel like it helps me do my job better because they trust me, and 2. Because it really improves that relationship between the client and their pet.
That human-animal bond is the most important thing that we have and so being able to support that in some way, and help them see their pets in a different light is really rewarding.
Lastly, what advice would you give to vets who are experiencing social anxiety as you did?
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. I also think you need to be able to put yourself in comfortable positions where you can stretch yourself. What really helped me overcome my own social anxiety was being put in that position where there was that leadership void. Because I had already been in that practice for a couple of years I was comfortable with the people I worked with and they were able to support me.
I think if you are really suffering from social anxiety or any kind of anxiety, then definitely talk to a specialist or professional about that. But also having people in your veterinary life, and being in an environment that is really uplifting and is there to help you see what you have to offer, and accepts you as who you are, is really important.
The culture and environment of the practice are really, really important. I don’t think I would have been as successful at overcoming my own anxieties if I had stayed at the first two practices I worked at.
Dr. Lauren Smith
Dr. Lauren Smith is a small animal veterinarian practicing in Long Island where she was born and raised. She graduated in 2008 from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and completed her clinical year at Cornell University. Her professional interests include internal medicine, preventative medicine, and client education.
Alongside her work in practice, Lauren is also the creator of The Vetitude; a website and social media brand dedicated to promoting empathy, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence to veterinary professionals so that they can be happier, more productive team members and animal care advocates.