Holding steady during the ups and downs of a veterinary life


The key to contentment is embracing what brings you passion-even if it's a downer at times-as well those things that bring pure joy.

(Photo courtesy of Dr. Kimberly Pope-Robinson)

Follow your heart-and your health

When I made the decision to become a veterinarian it was with a hardcore equine focus. Within the first three months of my first full-time position as an equine practitioner, I was doing “great,” but I started to have some physical limitations. I didn't know then that I have a chronic connective tissue disorder, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) type 3-one that caused me injuries working in large animal medicine. Less than two years out of school I had to make an incredibly difficult decision: Do I stay in the equine field or do I switch to something else?

Leaving to go to small animal medicine made me feel like a traitor-even worse, a quitter. There were difficult emotions I had to work through. Telling my boss I was leaving was probably the most difficult thing I ever had to do.

Over time, the burdens of small animal medicine also became too great for my body, but if I hadn't made the decision to leave large-animal medicine I know now that I would be in worse shape today.

Embrace your sinkers and balloons

My message to others in the veterinary profession is about keeping ourselves from sinking into what I call the ocean of shame-that space where we feel unworthy of acceptance and belonging. I was there in my darkest moment, and I fight every day to stay out of that ocean.  

My journey required me to recognize my sinkers-those things that drag us deep into the ocean of shame-and then embrace those sinkers instead of falling into the blame game. A sinker in veterinary medicine might be a negative Yelp review, a physical challenge or limitation like I have, a difficult client interaction or a toxic family relationship. You can't get rid of the sinkers, and, in fact, we need them as they connect us to our passion and drive much of our conviction.

To stop from sinking, I learned to recognize and embrace my balloons-those things that lift us up out of the ocean. One of my balloons is running-I have to manage it carefully because of my EDS, but it's crucial to my sense of balance. Yours might be spending time in nature, going to church, having ice cream with your kids or curling up with your cat and a good book from time to time. Managing the shame of life comes from choosing to hold both the sinkers and balloons and electing to walk forward on the bridge to connect-literally, one step at a time.

Let the dishes fall where they may

A metaphor for many things in life straight from the kitchen: I've stopped reloading the dishwasher. I used to spend a significant amount of time reorganizing the dishwasher, trying to put all the cups and plates in the right space. Then one day I asked myself, “Do I really need to do this?”

In raising this question, I realized: 1) there are always dishes to clean and 2) they get cleaned regardless. How I load the dishwasher doesn't take away the need to reload another day because there will always be dirty dishes for a good reason-I need to eat to live. In addition, the dishes get cleaned regardless of whether the plate sizes line up. I don't need to make sure they're loaded “perfectly.”

My travels with Oscar

About three years ago I ran an event in Seattle called the chocolate run, and, yes, it tasted as good as it sounds. In the hotel room was a stuffed toy, an otter holding a purple star. You could take the stuffed toy with you and, in doing so, they placed a charge on your hotel room bill, which was a donation to a local nature conservation group. Throughout the trip, my husband and I played with the toy. We even made a voice for it and started calling it Oscar.

At the end of the trip we took the toy and officially started the Oscar travels. He has now run many races with me and he goes with me on all my travels. I even left him behind once and frantically called the hotel to have him shipped to me, which they did, probably thinking it was a well-loved child toy. He is well-loved, by an adult, and I don't care what people think.

CVC educator Dr. Kimberly Pope-Robinson, is a certified compassion fatigue professional who founded 1 Life Connected Counseling (1lifecc.com), which provides individual or team coaching for those struggling in their medical careers, helping them find personal solutions for professional wellbeing and career contentment. Her book The Unspoken Life: Recognize Your Passion, Embrace Imperfection and Stay Connected is available now.

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