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Coaching Veterinarians to be More Confident


Brian Faulkner, Bsc (Hons), BVM&S, CertGP (BPS), CertGP (SAM), MBA, MSc (Psych), MRCVS, discusses how he works with young veterinarians to develop their confidence.

Brian Faulkner, Bsc (Hons), BVM&S, CertGP (BPS), CertGP (SAM), MBA, MSc (Psych), MRCVS, discusses how he works with young veterinarians to develop their confidence.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability)

“Often, I coach vets, often younger, less-experienced vets, but not always, in consultation skills and their general veterinary work. I find that often around three years is the biggest stage of wobbling in confidence, because in the earlier years, you expect to not know stuff. But around three years—I call it the three-year wobble of self-confidence—because vets start assuming and expecting that they should know how to do this by now. This is, take a history, perform a clinical exam, and then actually be able to pronounce a diagnosis with confidence.

Of course there is uncertainty in our veterinary work. In fact I have a phrase that says, ‘Uncertainty is confidence cancer.’ The more uncertain we feel in any situation, the more it will erode our beliefs that make us stand tall. But that doesn’t mean we can be certain when uncertainty exists. It means that we have to be able to live and cope with uncertainty, which is different from saying, ‘I’m sure.’ It means, ‘I’m not sure, but it’s OK not to be sure. We’ve got a process to go forward.’

What I’m saying is, when I’m coaching younger vets is, realize uncertainty is inevitable and it’s not you. Stop having the self-doubt, feeling that you’re not good enough. It’s a process and the process of coping with uncertainty. The other thing I’ll point out is that IQ is a really poor predictor of how people cope with uncertainty. In fact, studies have been shown by Carol Dweck that certain high IQ, especially females, are more vulnerable when confused and made uncertain. Experiments have shown that people with certain high IQs can become more vulnerable to the uncertainty as a result, ironically, of how they’ve been praised as a result of their intelligence. So don’t believe that IQ will always see you through. It’s important, but it’s not sufficient. Coping with uncertainty takes a different set of psychological skills. But if we don’t manage that uncertainty, as I say, it’s like confidence cancer. It will erode the beliefs that make us stand tall.

The other thing I’ll find when I’m coaching people is probably the only person in the room—me and them—the only person in the room that doesn’t believe that they’re good enough is them. They doubt themselves, their ability. They think that ability, talent, is innate. My job is to tell them that it’s acquirable and they’re in the process of acquiring it and keep acquiring it, as opposed to believing this is a test of inspecting what they’ve really got as opposed to where they can actually get to.”

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