Girlfriends' Guide to Professional Success

July 7, 2018
Kerry Lengyel

Make changes today that will help advance your career tomorrow.

At the 2017 Fetch veterinary conferences, three accomplished practitioners talked with attendees about the many career “rules” that were likely not taught during veterinary school. Karen Bradley, DVM, co-owner of Onion River Animal Hospital in Berlin, Vermont; Kimberly-Ann Therrien, DVM, vice president of veterinary quality for the Midwest Region at Banfield Pet Hospital; and Sarah Wooten, DVM, a veterinary journalist, speaker and part-time practitioner, took a lighthearted yet straightforward look at some guidelines that can lead veterinarians to professional success.

RULE #89: Life is but a dream — don't turn it into a nightmare.

Many veterinarians tell themselves three lies as they progress through their career. Learn how to change these faulty beliefs so they don’t hold you back.

Lie #1: There’s never enough time.

In fact, there is enough time — you just need to prioritize your days better and respect yourself. “What is important to you? You have to look at it from the perspective of 'How much time do I want to dedicate, do I want to devote, do I want to give to that No. 1 priority?’” Dr. Therrien said. “And then you have to stick to it.”

Determine your biggest distractions and rid yourself of them. Chop your growing task list into bite-size pieces — that’s far easier for your brain to handle.

Lie #2: There’s too much to do.

Most veterinarians are extremely busy, career-driven individuals who want to take on the world, but sometimes you have to accept the fact that you can’t do everything. Be honest with yourself and understand the limits of what you can accomplish in any given day. You’ll never get it all done by yourself, so stop being a control freak and start delegating, whether that’s to your significant other, your children or your veterinary team.

Lie #3: I’m exhausted.

Who isn’t? Stop wearing exhaustion as a badge of honor, the speakers said. Many veterinarians believe that being busy is an indication of success and importance. Instead of regarding exhaustion as an accomplishment, get the rest you need so you can enjoy life and take better care of yourself.

RULE #219: Fight for yourself.

Keeping mum with colleagues regarding earnings has been shown to hurt wages more for women than for men. “This has really increased the gender wage gap over the years,” Dr. Bradley said, “so much so that some states even have laws stating that you cannot be fired for discussing your salary with coworkers.”


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If you feel like there’s nothing you can do to elevate your salary, Dr. Bradley provided pointers on how to get unstuck and get your head back in the game. Start by searching online for the average salary for your position in your area, or ask friends to share job experiences. It’s also important to ask how your wages are calculated — are they based on production or a standard salary? “You need to know your worth,” Dr. Bradley said.

Being paid based on production is the hardest way to work, she noted, but it’s easier if you’re provided with your production data monthly. “This will allow you to spend time at the end of your day [looking] over how much you accomplished,” she said, “and how you can either increase production or better allocate your time.”

Dr. Bradley offered these tips for going into an employee review that you want to end with a raise:

  • Time it right. People who ask for a raise on a Thursday or Friday are statistically more likely to get it. In general, managers and employees are more agreeable closer to the weekend.
  • Make sure you’re well rested and, if necessary, caffeinated. You’ll be more alert and responsive to questions.
  • Don’t ask for a raise by telling your boss that you need it — that’s not the owner’s problem. Explain why you deserve it by outlining what you do and will continue to do for the practice.
  • Remember the importance of body language; keep your posture open, don’t fidget, and maintain eye contact.

RULE #99: Labels are for canned goods.

Women think that “bossy” has a negative connotation, when in reality, the description should be taken as a positive, according to Dr. Bradley. “If we’re scared of being called bossy, then we’re scared of being called a bitch,” she said.

Like all labels, however, these terms do reveal bias and should be avoided at the workplace. Bias exists everywhere, especially regarding gender, but if we recognize it and call each other on it, life in the workplace will be easier for everyone, she said.

Check your bias at the door when working with other veterinarians, the speakers advised. If you catch yourself acting differently with women than men, stop yourself and try to eliminate those thoughts and actions.

Women also tend offer unnecessary apologies. Don’t apologize for interrupting someone during a meeting with a question or idea, for example. Be assertive and make sure your voice is heard.

RULE #56: Build your dream, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.

Don’t let anyone beat you to the punch, whatever that may be. If you want to start your own practice, do it before someone else opens one in your area. If you want a more challenging position, take the leap or it might get filled while you ponder the possibility. Advocating for yourself can be difficult, but it’s vital for building a successful career.

RULE #12: Sharpen your soft skills, change your life.

Soft skills relate to communication with others, self-control, punctuality and connectedness. If you take time to work on your soft skills and apply them to all aspects of your veterinary career and practice, you will see an increase in client retention and overall success.

Clients want — and often need — to feel like you care. If you don’t communicate well, they won’t want to come back, even if your clinical skills are excellent — 70 percent of consumers stop patronizing businesses because they feel that the employees don’t care about them.1 “[Clients] want to know that you care, and more and more, they are demanding it,” Dr. Wooten said. “Your bedside manner matters more than your technical skills [to your clients].”

The three most important soft skills for veterinarians? Flexibility, communication and connection.

RULE #78: Run toward what scares you.

Fear is a choice we tend to make when faced with a potentially scary situation or encounter. Remember that fear lives in the future and the past but not in the present. “If you think about your worst fear, is it actually threatening you right now at this very moment? No, it’s not,” Dr. Wooten said. “If you think about fear that way, it loses its power.”

She advised taking a “rearview mirror” look at fear: Think about what frightens you, such as steps you’re scared to take, from the perspective of the future. “If you don’t overcome your fears, they no longer become fears but limits,” Dr. Wooten said. “By giving in to fear, you end up limiting yourself from a world of possibilities and opportunities that you’ll never be able to experience.”

RULE #1: Love the one you are.

Veterinarians tend to beat themselves up when something goes wrong and also tend to rip themselves off. Dr. Wooten listed some of the ways you may be hurting yourself, as well as ways to win yourself back.

The Rip-Offs

  • Imposter syndrome affects high achievers who can’t internalize their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of one day being exposed as a fraud.
  • Perfectionism — refusing to accept anything short of perfection — becomes a form of self-sabotage.
  • Comparison with other veterinarians detracts from mental, emotional and career happiness.
  • Shame and self-loathing create feelings of inadequacy and inferiority to those around you.
  • Fear and guilt manifest as an inability to put yourself out there or risk feeling wrong, causing to lose out on life’s experiences.

Steps to Recovery

  • Appreciate who you are.
  • Make affirmations.
  • Do what you love.
  • Pay attention to your internal conversations and commentary.
  • Receive compliments graciously.
  • Stop comparing yourself with others.
  • Forgive yourself.
  • Love yourself.

Remember, achieving success is a marathon, not a sprint. Personal happiness and professional success stem from embracing new ways to improve and challenge yourself.


  • Kraus E. Why 70% of your (former) customers disagree. The Marketing Desks website. Accessed February 20, 2018.