The Veterinarian’s Guilt Factor of Never Enough
Jamie Pribyl, DVM, a professional services veterinarian for Boehringer Ingelheim, spoke about resisting the guilt that comes with juggling life as a veterinarian, parent, and farm owner during a presentation at the 2022 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Nov. 18-22 in San Antonio, Texas. Pribyl is a former general equine practitioner and practice owner who transitioned to an industry position in 2020. She and her husband have a 10-year-old daughter and run a small Quarter Horse breeding operation on their farm in Minnesota.
She began by asking and answering a few questions: Am I doing enough? “I never feel like it.” Am I keeping everyone happy? “Impossible.” Do I feel guilty? “All the time!” And, alluding to the demands of an equine vet with a family and personal life: Is this how normal people live? “Probably not.”
“Action bias” is the feeling of never doing enough, Pribyl explained. It’s a piece of what some people call “toxic productivity” or the need to constantly be doing something “productive.” Action bias might exist because of the veterinary profession’s culture, she said. The often-celebrated “hustle lifestyle” of equine practice is evident when they ask one another, “How are you? Are you busy?” and inevitably praise each other’s overbooked schedules.
Alongside the hustle is “competitive culture”- comparing oneself to colleagues and friends- often rooted in social media, which Pribyl reminded the veterinary audience doesn’t always reflect real life. She quoted President Theodore Roosevelt: “Comparison is the thief of joy,” adding, “Remember to focus on what you bring to the table.”
Pribyl explained that guilt can be healthy when it’s motivated by an individual wanting to do their fair share and live by their values. It becomes unhealthy when it brings feelings of never being enough or being an emotional burden.
So how can busy veterinarians manage guilt when there’s so much to do? She recommended veterinarians embrace discernment, asking themselves, if immediacy is required? For instance, “Does it have to be me? What’s the worst that can happen?” Pribyl gave the example of a common client request: “emergency hock injections.” No, immediacy isn’t required, and the appointment can be booked for a later date, she said. It’s not a life-saving treatment, and the horse is in no danger. Perhaps another veterinarian in the practice is available to do the procedure.
Not every issue that pops up in practice needs an immediate decision, Pribyl added. She recommended thinking over decisions for 24 hours, if possible, which allows time for clearer thinking and reduces the odds of saying “yes” to everything.
Pribyl finished by reiterating, “You can do it all, but not all at once.” She emphasized setting boundaries and scheduling time-outs from “doing.”
“There’s power in writing it down,” she said, explaining that individuals are more likely to follow through with things like exercising, hobbies, and even playing with the kids if they schedule it into their days. “Feelings of ‘not enoughness’ are just feelings,” she said. “Let go of the guilt, and embrace the process.”
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