Set boundaries in veterinary practice and save your soul

dvm360dvm360 February 2019
Volume 50
Issue 2

Working in a helping profession, its hard to say no. But something has to give.

Dr. Betsy Charles speaking to attendees at the Fetch dvm360 conference in San Diego.

How do you define the word "boundary"? Does something come to mind? Veterinary professionals often don't have a solid definition of professional boundaries, or the ability to put one in place in practice, Fetch dvm360 speaker and leader of the Veterinary Leadership Institute, Betsy Charles, DVM, MA, said at Fetch dvm360 conference in San Diego.

Before you feel bad, holding to clear professional boundaries is not easy. In fact, not that long ago, Dr. Charles found herself in a position where she was stretched way too thin-running the Veterinary Leadership Institute, teaching veterinary students as a professor at Western University of Health Sciences, and preparing for her boards. One of the best pieces of advice she received during this time was, “'No' is a complete sentence. No doesn't have to be justified and you don't have to feel guilty about it.” So, she started saying no to things. And she worked to make her life more manageable.

Why is saying no so hard? Veterinary medicine is a profession full of helpers. You may pause because you know that on the other end of that 11 p.m. text is a sick animal that can't speak for itself. Or you may feel you're letting others down. Or you may be so tied to doing excellent work that you lose sight of what you need to do to care for yourself.

To give the general idea of a professional boundary a concrete visual, Dr. Charles pulled from this video by Henry Cloud, PhD, a psychologist and executive coach. He suggests that you think of boundaries in the simplest sense of the word-it's like the fence on your property line. The boundary delineates who controls that space.

A strong professional boundary helps you keep the good in, and the bad out. And without boundaries, you can find yourself in a situation where you're justifying being ill and still being at work. Or taking clients' texts day and night. Or forgoing your vacation for three years in a row.

There was much discussion about how sick is too sick to be at work. See the chart below:

Illustration by Nicholette Haigler

If you think your boundaries need adjustment, Dr. Charles suggests that you think about the good things you'd like more of in your life. For example, maybe you'll only work somewhere you respect your colleagues and where they respect you. Maybe one of the things you want most in your job is clear expectations. How could you invite more of that goodness in?

Next, Dr. Charles suggests that you think about what you wish you could to keep out. For example, are you struggling with practice politics or negativity? Or maybe you're frustrated with lack of communication (or too much communication) from someone in the practice. Now, with your own list in place, what would you need to do to achieve those goals?

Dr. Charles left attendees with this challenge, “If you could say no to someone or something with absolutely no hard feelings or consequences, who or what would you say no to?” she asked. She says people often have something come quickly to mind. And if that's true for you, think about what's keeping you from saying no.

Your time and energy are precious resources, says Dr. Charles. “We all spend so much time running on the treadmill, trying to hit the speed and incline that we feel someone else is setting.” Step off today, and take a moment to think about what you want. What you want more of. And then work toward drawing a new line in the sand that helps you get where you want to go. #reasonablelimits

You. Can. Do. This!

At Fetch dvm360 conference, we're the support system you need. With every conference this year, we intend to nurture your mind (meaning quality CE for days) while also encouraging you to take stock of your physical and emotional health. Register now.

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