A letter to the impostors of the veterinary world


Impostor syndrome sneaks up on everyone, from receptionists to veterinarians. And I have something to say to each and every one of you about it.

Photo: Shutterstock.com“I can't do this.” “I have no clue what I'm doing.” “I'm not good enough at my job.”

Sound familiar? Turns out, you're not alone. Impostor syndrome, a concept where an individual is marked by an inability to recognize their accomplishments and lives with a constant fear of being a “fraud,” is extremely common-especially within veterinary practices.

Impostor syndrome can strike any team member any time within a practice. From front desk team members to veterinarians, this little voice creeps into your mind. But why does it happen and how do you make it stop? Well, I have a few words for all of you out there experiencing these feelings: Chin up and see your true value in veterinary medicine!

Dear receptionist,

You're the first impression of a practice on the phone or in the waiting area. So much of what you do and say can affect how a client perceives the hospital. That's a ton of pressure! Not to mention, you tend to bear the brunt of unhappy or grieving pet owners. You have four clients on hold, one client telling you Fluffy's life story over the phone and another five clients staring at you in the waiting area. You feel overwhelmed and most likely frustrated. It's common for you to question whether you're able to keep up with such a demanding and often underappreciated job. You also may get that feeling of being “just” a receptionist. This is where impostor syndrome can start to manifest.

But the key to breaking the cycle is to acknowledge how much you do, how much you know and how important you are to the hospital. You may not have drawn any blood or performed a surgery today, but you did so many things that are equally important. You kept a smile on your face and a cheerful tone in your voice while getting yelled at by an unhappy client. You calmed Mrs. Smith, who came in with a crashing patient. You answered the seemingly million questions that Mr. Green had about what he should do about his sick dog. You kept your cool when that nonclient hung up on you.

I can speak on behalf of all technicians, assistants and veterinarians when I say that you're a valuable asset to the team. So give yourself a pat on the back and remember how important every single role of your job is to the veterinary practice. When you stop those negative thoughts in their tracks and acknowledge your own daily accomplishments, you'll be taking the first and possibly biggest step in managing your impostor syndrome.

Dear technician or veterinary assistant,

You may have 10 years of experience or a college degree under your belt, but that doesn't mean you're immune to impostor syndrome. Have you ever had a bad blood draw day? Did you ever have a day where it seems like every single hospitalized patient is trying to see who can pee in their cage the most? Have you had a stressed veterinarian snap at you for seemingly no reason at all? I'm going to go out on a limb and say you were able to answer “yes” to at least one, if not all, of these questions.

Your job is physically and emotionally demanding. You alone are expected to do the job of 10 nurses and a janitor. Fido, who's twice your size, gave you a run for your money today and Sweetie, who appears on the outside to be a cute and cuddly kitty, successfully sunk her teeth and claws into you. You've gone to the grocery store after work with bodily fluids on you that you hope that lady two carts ahead can't smell from where she's standing.

But here's your ticket out of impostor syndrome city: Take a second to see that although your job can be tough and gross, you're an absolute lifesaver to the patients you took care of today. You kept your patients clean and safe. You kept your veterinarian sane. You placed a catheter in that small dog that no one else could. You performed CPR on the patient that needed your help to save his life. I'm going to take a chance in saying that no technician or assistant can claim they only do their job for the money or because they love playing with puppies and kittens all day. It's because you are dedicated to the wellbeing of the patients and are amazing caregivers, not impostors.

Dear veterinarian,

You may have “doctor” in front of your name, but that doesn't mean you're exempt from thinking you don't deserve that honor. Impostor syndrome can hit hard, especially with the stress and responsibility that comes along with being a veterinarian.

You lost the patient you've been working on all day long. You were blamed for an illness that you couldn't “fix.” You stayed up all night for the dreaded emergency Saturday shift after working daylight hours all week. You were in surgery all morning long. You were expected to have as much knowledge as your fellow veterinarian who's been practicing since you were in high school. Today you found out that the client whose pet you worked so hard on went to another practice for a second opinion. You got a bad review on a website because of something completely beyond your control.

Looking back on a bad day, it's pretty easy to see how impostor syndrome got ahold of you. But just remember: You saved that patient three other veterinarians couldn't help. You helped out a fellow veterinarian by taking her on-call shift. You fit five surgeries into one morning. You kept up with the veterinarian who has twice as much experience. You were praised by the client who was so thankful you saved their pet's life. You deserve the title you wear because of your hard work and dedication. No one else earned it for you.

Editors' note: Read about how impostor syndrome can become a psychological glass ceiling, and just how you can shatter that barrier. 

Ciera Miller is a CVT, VTS (clinical practice), at Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pennsylvania, and a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member.

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