What is the biggest challenge that women in veterinary medicine face today? That’s the question I posed earlier this week at the first Women in Veterinary Medicine roundtable dinner discussion, in Indianapolis. As the facilitator, I had prepared 8 prompts, but only had to ask that single question to get the ball rolling. An intimate group of practice owners and associates, from varying depths of experience, gathered to find wisdom from their peers.
In two hours, we covered a multitude of topics from hiring and training staff, to making our ways as better leaders and everything in between. Through it all, one topic kept coming up again and again: boundaries.
- Encroaching technology has stripped away boundaries, leaving women wondering how accessible is too accessible when it comes to our clients.
- From a stream of endless phone calls, even when away from the practice, to a 20-minutes barrage of questions when we walk through the door of the practice every morning, women are struggling with staff who need to ask before taking action, even in situations you might think can be resolved with a little common sense.
- As practice owners and aspiring-to-own associates, women are finding they can’t differentiate between work, home and life; there is no balance in the lives of today’s women in veterinary medicine.
When did it become okay for clients to demand their veterinarian’s cell phone number so they could reach them at anytime? Sounds extreme, but that ‘s exactly what many of the women who shared their stories divulged. We have become a 24/7 society where immediacy takes precedence over respecting other people’s personal and professional lives. All but one person at the table had her cell phone within reach at the table. We have become tethered to the very thing that is supposed to make us more efficient and offer us freedom. Instead, it has become the shackles that keeps us connected to our work and interrupts our thoughts causing endless distraction, and even increased anxiety.
The one person who sat at the table without a cell phone said she turns it off when she gets home everyday. That simple act of coming home, seeing that her family is there in one place and giving herself permission to draw a boundary for her clients and staff has given her the ability to be present when she is home. She pointed out to the group, “With today’s emergency facilities, my patients are much better off going to the ER after hours. Unless my practice is literally on fire, there shouldn’t be a reason to call me after I’ve left for the day.”
We had practice owners with as little as two years’ ownership behind them, to as many as 14 years’ worth of wisdom at our table. Every practice shared the same concern when it comes to their team: how to find enough confidence in them that we can let go, and trust they are making the right decisions. One practice owner declared her team calls her at all hours, even when on vacation and that she was okay with that, but acknowledged she didn’t see how such a set up was sustainable.
Practice owners, not staff members, may be the main cause their hospital requires a 24-hour crib camera. If you find yourself taking on a task because it’s “easier to just do it yourself”, you need to stop and pivot towards empowerment. Take the extra time to make it a teaching moment. Show team members how to see problems in the context of the practice’s Mission, and then, under your supervision, give them a chance to work out a solution. Not only will you start to trust your team members; they will become more confident in their own abilities, enjoy higher job satisfaction and be more productive.
Throughout the evening, attendees kept circling back to the topic of prioritizing making a living over making a life. We were brought to tears when one veterinarian shared her story of the loss of her child. This life-changing tragedy caused her to seriously question the value of her years of tireless work.
Is that what it takes for us to start caring for ourselves? We shouldn’t be waiting for a traumatic event that shakes us to our very core! If you want work-life balance, you have to set and maintain clear boundaries for yourself. Practice self-care so you can better care for your family, your clients, your patients, your employees and your business. Self-care includes:
- Get more sleep. You need at least seven hours of sleep a night, if not more. And when it comes to sleep, uninterrupted sleep is key. Take your electronics out of your bedroom and create a retreat where you can get quality rest for your body, mind and soul.
- Take the time to exercise, even if it’s only 10 minutes a day. The endorphins you produce will not only make you feel happier, but exercise also lessens the effects of stress.
- Plan your meals for work, and take the time to eat and rehydrate. As a profession, we have got to stop hitting the ground running and going all-day living on sugar, carbs and a few gulps of diet soda. It makes for a lot of irritable people in the workplace when we’re all dehydrated and sugar-crashing at the same time every afternoon! Pack some nutrition in your day with a little planning, and demonstrate to your team that healthy eating pays off.
The problems women in veterinary medicine face today aren’t going away any time soon. The more we can do to support and help one another as colleagues, the better off our profession will be in the future. Changing the way we work, and adapting healthy boundaries is vital to the veterinary practice of the 21st century.
Special thanks to Debra Noble and Bryan Linn from IDEXX who sponsored and supported this first roundtable dinner. Bringing women in veterinary medicine together to collaborate and problem-solve, support and share with one another has been a passion of mine for some time. If you’d like to bring a roundtable to your area in 2015, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!