Is Bullying A Rite Of Passage in Veterinary Medicine?

Is Bullying A Rite Of Passage in Veterinary Medicine?

By VetCoach | August 20, 2019

Welcome to my soapbox moment. STOP the BULLYING and INTIMIDATION! There are too many instances of people behaving badly in our profession. We need to act professionally, not like a group of kids on the playground.


What do you mean by bullying you might ask? I’m referring to actions such as the treatment of interns, new veterinarians and technicians, among others. There are several instances I have personally witnessed where veterinary technicians are treated as less than, they are spoken to in a demeaning and demanding manner; they are told not to butt in on a medical discussion because they are “just a tech, so what would they know?’.


What about a newly minted veterinarian dropped into a practice full of seasoned doctors and staff? I’ve seen this turn into staff and other doctors questioning the competence of the new doctor. This results in self-doubt, in-fighting and exclusionary behavior that creates an air of tension in the office that clients and patients are acutely aware of. Oh, and it makes the new veterinarian feel like they are incompetent. This is not fair.


This behavior reminds me of the dominance theory we once subscribed to with respect to patient training and handling. The concept that one needs to establish dominance with their pets, specifically I’m thinking of dogs, translated into rough handling and firm restraint of anxious and fearful dogs. These experiences made the dogs more nervous and fearful about veterinary visits, and often made their owners seek care elsewhere, or even stop visiting the veterinary office all together.


Over the years I have witnessed a direct change in how we talk to clients about “aggressive” animals and have moved the conversation to one about anxiety and fear and methods to mitigate that during the veterinary visit. I, for one, think it’s time we start treating staff and colleagues, friends, and comrades, not as competition. There are plenty of clients to go around; there are just as many practices and communication styles … and we should respect and appreciate them … not use them as a weapon to leave people feeling alienated and despondent.


I think these behaviors are all a symptom of a larger issue. Why are we seeing so much bullying, job dissatisfaction, people leaving our profession altogether, and people taking their lives? That is the bigger and more pressing issue. From a diagnostic perspective I see the clinical signs of bullying, intimidation, and worse within our profession, and I want to get to a diagnosis of cause. Furthermore we need treatment.


Maybe we have the wrong people in the profession? Maybe people are exhausted? Maybe we don’t really have a sustainable profession? Maybe we aren’t financially viable or relevant any longer? I don’t have all of the answers. What I do have (and you can learn too) is power and control over my own actions. I am also capable of standing up for what’s right.


We have all been there. We’ve been belittled and treated as less. We’ve misbehaved and said something or acted in a way that wasn’t kind. Even if it’s “always been that way” doesn’t mean it will always be that way. The days of wrestling dogs for nail trims or snubbing them behind a door are pretty much gone. So too should be the days of techs, assistants, CSRs, vet students, interns, residents, clinicians, and administration behaving like it’s some antiquated “rite of passage” to overpower and dominate another person because you have a power position over them.


We don’t need “perfect” people. What we do need are people willing to admit they make mistakes and are willing to grow and change for the better. We need more empathy for each other. We do a fabulous job with our patients and have made a move toward lower stress handling techniques, etc. Now we MUST do a better job of low stress for ourselves and the human animals all around us.


Ryan and I want you to THRIVE in life, love and career. If you’ve been bullied, please reach out for help. If you’ve bullied or intimidated others, there is likely a reason … let us help you get to the bottom of that so you can stay as a valuable contributor to this profession. We will be here when you need us. You can schedule a triage call with us HERE.


Now … go forward and do great things. I want you to be a great representation of me and I’ll do my best to be a great representation of you. We are ONE PROFESSION. Let’s Unite.


Dr. Jennifer Quammen

Co-Founder of High Performance Living, DBA Veterinarian Coaching
Helping Veterinarians THRIVE in Life, Love, and Career


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