For Mental Toughness, Follow the Four C's


Gaining mental toughness is the key to thriving in the stressful field of veterinary medicine. Here’s how.

Mental Toughness

Working in veterinary medicine sometimes requires having seriously thick skin. Verbally abusive clients, life-and-death situations and unfair online reviews can take their toll. Whatever your age, your position on the team or the number of years you’ve worked in the field, setbacks like these can have a negative impact on your self-confidence and erode your passion for the profession.

It’s crucial for veterinarians to fight back by becoming mentally tough. Mental toughness is the capacity to work hard to reach your goals while quickly recovering from adversity or failure. It is the inner drive that motivates you to stick to your long-term passions and goals. This applies to completing school, working in a stressful profession and achieving success. It means keeping your chin up when an irate client vents online and calls you names.

In his book “Developing Mental Training,” psychologist Peter Clough, describes four important traits of mental toughness, which he calls the four C’s: confidence, challenge, control and commitment. You may already possess a few of these traits, but having the four qualities in combination is the key to success.


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According to financial guru Robert Kiyosaki, “Confidence comes from discipline and training.” Having confidence means believing in yourself. It’s knowing deep down that you will reach your goals. True confidence also means not giving up when things become challenging or don't go as smoothly as you had hoped. Being confident means having solid social skills, being able to speak in public with poise and communicating well with others.


Challenge is something that many people are afraid of or try to avoid at all costs. Yet a mentally tough person welcomes a challenge. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. The idea here is that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Whether the outcome is good or bad, challenges often teach us a lesson. Mentally tough people thrive on challenges and see them as an opportunity to learn and grow.


Don’t waste your time complaining about what you can’t control. This is largely a mindset issue, which is intertwined with confidence. Mentally tough people believe they have control over their life, their attitude and their life’s outcomes. Despite curveballs and missteps, they persevere until they reach their goals.


Tough people are committed to achieving the outcomes they desire. Commitment, or “stickability,” means setting up specific goals and doing whatever it takes to achieve them, despite setbacks, critics and occasional failures. Failure doesn’t define who you are. Failing only means that you need to improve certain skills. If you are committed to overcoming this temporary situation, success is around the corner.

Keep Working

Mental toughness has been studied extensively in athletes. Clough’s work is different because it considers other professions. His work shows that mental toughness helps to buffer stress, which is so prevalent in the veterinary field. Mental toughness is an important leadership quality. However, leaders are not born with this trait. It’s a characteristic developed over time. If you work on improving each of the four C’s in your life, one at a time, you will progressively become a compassionate yet tough professional.

Kelly Serfas, a certified veterinary technician in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, contributed to this article.

Dr. Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his websites at and

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