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A hero lies in you
A letter from Adam Christman, DVM, MBA
I looked up “what makes a human a hero” online, and here’s the definition I found: "A hero is selfess, a genuinely good person, and someone who gets the undivided attention of all of us and causes change. Someone willing to risk their own life to save another.” It got me thinking...that is every single one of us in this incredible profession. In some way, shape, or form, we provide consistent selfless care and even have risked our own lives at times, with some of the aggressive patients we have come across.
Think about a hero you encounter in your day-to-day work life. They are all around us. I remember seeing one of my technicians place an 18-ga cephalic catheter in a 17-year-old dehydrated cat with chronic kidney disease, provide me with 3 treatment plans for my hospitalized patients, call my postoperative surgical patients from the day before, and stabilize an animal that was hit by a car—all in under an hour. I was shocked, speechless, and proud to call her our hero.
As we celebrate and congratulate our incredible second inaugural class of dvm360®’s Veterinary HeroesTM, I consistently find 5 key characteristics in literature that make up a leading hero.
I’ve always said veterinary professionals are heroes without capes. We are courageous, audacious, and bold. It’s difficult to achieve anything truly heroic unless you’re up against daunting odds. Look what we have just went through with COVID-19 quarantine, as well as what we are continuing to overcome with the pandemic. It takes courage for us to have difficult conversations with our clients and to know when it’s time to help our patients cross over with dignity and respect.
As Nelson Mandela put it, “Courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it.” How many of us had to face a difficult situation, regardless of the fear we may have felt? I used to feel that when I heard there was an intact feral cat on the other side of my exam room door! Our Veterinary Hero for feline medicine, Jennifer Conrad, DVM, has incredible courage to lobby for the ethical treatment of all feline species in the United States.
Something our veterinary profession is full of: humility. We rarely give ourselves the credit we deserve for saving an animal’s life or helping a family grieve the loss of their pet’s life. Nothing makes a heroic leader seem a little less heroic than if they seem to want constant credit for their actions. True heroism can amaze us, but it also oftentimes contains a component of modesty. I’ve always told veterinary students to stay humble and embrace humility. When speaking to one of the recipients of this year’s Veterinary Heroes awards, she said, “It’s what our team does every day to thrive and survive in this world.” We rarely bask in the glory of our accomplishments, but it is nice to soak in the gratitude when it’s heading our way. When telling Teresa Crocker, DVM, CVA, VST, she was the Veterinary HeroesTM award recipient for equine medicine, she stated, “It’s what I signed up for.” The humility was incredible.
True leaders always put others first. How often do we check in on each other to see how we are doing? I’m glad to hear we are doing it more so now than before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Ironically, selflessness can frequently be strategic, because focusing on other’s needs often winds up helping you achieve your own goals. However, a heroic leader does so without any expectation of payback. I even classify effective mentorship as a strong trait of selflessness and ultimate heroism. Our Veterinary Hero in emergency medicine this year, Elizabeth Rozanski, DVM, DACVIM, DACVECC, has used her own money to help her team and fellow colleagues obtain any necessary Continuing Education courses to enhance their skill set as a veterinary professional.
Although heroism often requires quick thinking and decisiveness, truly heroic leaders often also display an impressive amount of patience. There’s that saying, “have patience with your patients,” which is so true in our profession. As simply as we want to trim dog’s nails, this somewhat easy task can become an extremely fearful one, where we, as professionals, must provide a space for our patients to experience less fear, anxiety, and stress.
Even effective mentorship requires patience. How long did it take for you to do your first dog spay? We all must start somewhere. Providing patience and time to our mentees ensures a better tomorrow for our profession and team. Our Veterinary Hero for internal medicine this year, Tammy Anderson, DVM, DACVIM, provides time and education to her general practitioner referrals so they can learn and ask as many questions as possible regarding their referred patient. This provides a collaborative approach to the care of the referral patient.
Separate from selflessness, heroic leaders display a sense of concern and kindness for others, including our patients. This can often manifest itself in strong but gentle actions intended to improve the lives of others. These are small acts of heroism that rarely attract any notice. It goes without saying how caring veterinary professionals are both in and out of the exam room.
This year’s Veterinary Hero award recipient for client service representative, Mary Beth LaBee, truly embodies the act of caring. She gives herself completely to her clients; she cries with them, laughs with them, and knows the strength of the human-animal bond. Our profession can wear on compassion and caring, but LaBee’s unconditional support and admirable outlook restores anyone with whom she comes into contact.
I invite you all to continue to be a hero to each other and to your patients. We need more heroes now than ever in our lives. Thank you for continuing to advocate for our profession and the animals we serve. Please join me in congratulating our 2022 Veterinary HeroesTM. Who will you nominate next year? Remember, a hero lies in you.