Episode 157 | Perpetuating a Culture Of Bullying in VetMed

In this episode, Dr. Cari Wise discusses the issue of bullying in veterinary organizations.

She defines bullying as adverse behavior exhibited by veterinary professionals towards their colleagues, such as being short-tempered, avoiding conversations, making backhanded comments, and setting others up for failure. 

Dr. Wise emphasizes that bullying is often perpetuated by individuals in leadership positions, such as shift leads, office managers, owners, or senior veterinarians. 

The lack of business and leadership training in veterinary medicine is highlighted as a contributing factor to the prevalence of bullying. 

The consequences of bullying in veterinary medicine are discussed, including the formation of cliques and divisions within the workplace.  Dr. Wise advises listeners to leave toxic environments if their concerns are not taken seriously or if their morals, ethics, and values are compromised. 

Veterinary professionals are urged to interact with each other from a place of courage rather than fear and to speak up when witnessing bullying. The importance of building supportive cultures in the veterinary profession for the benefit of all is emphasized.


  • Bullying in veterinary organizations is a prevalent issue, often perpetuated by individuals in leadership positions.
  • Bullying is driven by insecurity and a desire for power and control.
  • Leadership positions come with the responsibility to treat everyone equally and evaluations should be based on clear criteria.
  • The lack of business and leadership training in veterinary medicine contributes to the prevalence of bullying.
  • It is important to leave toxic environments if concerns are not taken seriously or if morals, ethics, and values are compromised.
  • Veterinary professionals should interact with each other from a place of courage and speak up when witnessing bullying.
  • Building supportive cultures in the veterinary profession is crucial for the benefit of all.

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Music Credit: Music by Lesfm from Pixabay



Website: https://joyfuldvm.com



Music Credit: Music by Lesfm from Pixabay


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This transcript is auto-generated and may contain typos.

Hi there. I’m Dr. Cari Wise, veterinarian, certified life coach and certified quantum human design specialist. If you are a veterinary professional looking to uplevel your life and your career or maybe looking to go in an entirely new direction, then what I talk about here on the joyful DVM podcast is absolutely for you. Let’s get started. Hello my friends. Welcome back to another episode of the joyful DVM podcast.

Today I wanna spend a few minutes talking about bullying in veterinary organizations. And it’s something probably all of us have experienced or at least witnessed, and we have to start having some very real conversations about why it is that we keep perpetuating this culture of bullying within the veterinary field. So when I’m talking about bullying, what I’m talking about are different veterinary professionals that behave in a adverse way toward other veterinary professionals.

So it could be a veterinarian, it could be a veterinary technician, it could be an office manager, and that person is maybe shorter with other people, with particular people, maybe with avoid. Having conversations with them will roll their eyes rather than answer their questions, will intentionally leave them stranded to work on their own or set them up in situations where they have very little opportunity to succeed.

Perhaps they’re very snarky, making backhanded comments about them, talking about them behind their back, rolling their eyes, those kinds of things where the interaction with this person who is doing the bullying is not safe for the other people who work there. This culture, this idea of culture of bullying is something that gets perpetuated when these bullying type personalities are in leadership positions.

And unfortunately, that is often the case. So a lot of times in my experience, what I have found is that these people who are unpleasant to work with, who are kind of prone to singling somebody out and then making them the bad guy or giving them much less support than they do, other employees tend to be somebody in some type of leadership role.

So they could be a shift lead, they could be an office manager, they could even be an owner or a senior veterinarian. And I’m not trying to make this super confronting for anybody, but I want you guys to just take a minute and consider in your veterinary careers, have you witnessed this happening? Have you noticed where one person tends to pick on another person?

And when I say pick on and we think about bullying, a lot of the times we think about this in a physical sense, but so much of bullying isn’t physical at all. It’s a mental game. It is cutting people down. It is saying things to them that minimize their concerns or dismiss their concerns On top of it, it is setting people up in situations where they have very little opportunities to succeed.

Either the timeline is too short or the resources that they need to be ordered in order to be successful aren’t provided. And then they reprimand or complain about the, the, the contributions of those people to other staff members. You guys have probably experienced this either firsthand or you’ve witnessed it. And when these things are going on, when it becomes evident that you’re getting singled out,

that somebody is treating you in a way that is not the same as they treat everybody else, maybe they stop talking when you walk in the room, or maybe they leave as soon as you walk up to them. Or maybe if you try to ask them a question, they just turn and walk away or they just give you a very short yes or no and then without any additional information And then the conversation,

maybe they perpetually schedule you in a, in a way that does not give you the support staff that you need. I’m thinking from an associate veterinarian kind of perspective, maybe they’re playing favorites with other staff members. These things are all different types of bullying and they are the result of the, from the person who’s doing it, they are a result of the of insecurity.

So let’s just start there. I’m not trying to condone, and I’m not trying to excuse it, but I want us to make sure we understand that anytime we elect to pick on somebody else, it’s a power trip. It’s an ego thing and it is driven usually from a very strong insecurity. Now, where this gets to be even more problematic is that because like I already shared,

a lot of times we’re talking about people in leadership who behave this way. And so there’s a certain level of entitlement to behave this way that goes along with it, my friends, just because you have a title does not entitle you to treat people badly. If anything, it’s the exact opposite. The more responsibility that you have in any organization, the greater responsibility you have to treat everybody within that organization equally.

This is critically important, my friends, nobody that works for you should ever know what you personally believe about them. That is not something that should ever come into a workplace. This is a place where we are coming together to serve clients, to treat patients, to practice medicine. And our personal opinions of each other don’t matter. That may sound really blunt and some of you may wanna completely disagree with me,

and that’s okay. You can disagree with me if you want to, but hear me out when it comes to our opinions of each other. Opinions have no place in the workplace. I don’t care what career you’re in. And you might think, but Cari, if I’m in a leadership position, don’t I have to have an opinion about how somebody’s doing their job?

Not really. You don’t have an opinion. You have an opportunity to evaluate how they do their job. And that evaluation should be based on a very clear set of criteria that you have provided and communicated in advance. So everybody’s starting from the same set of rules. Then just periodically as a leader, you evaluate their progress. You evaluate how they are meeting the expectations that you have set.

There’s no personal opinion needed in there. The expectations are X. And if they’re performing at Y, then there’s a gap. And you can dis can discuss the gap but be feeling offended by it or being snarky or hateful because of it never has any place in the workplace. And so what happens in veterinary medicine is because there is so little training from a business perspective and so often support staff get elevated into and even associate,

even veterinarians get elevated into leadership roles. So owners, for example, veterinary owners probably didn’t have a ton of business education or opportunity to develop business leadership along their career path. Veterinarian, veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants, the same kind of thing. And they probably didn’t have a lot of opportunity to develop any kind of leadership skills. And then just because of seniority or other factors purchases,

they become the leaders of the hospital without any actual skills to do it. And so they continue to interact with each other through the lens of defensiveness because again, this is all anchored in insecurity. So we are defensive against the, what other people think of us. We’re worried that we’re not doing our job well enough. And so pointing out the faults of other people becomes our own coping mechanism,

but we don’t even realize we’re doing it. And when these cultures have really perpetuated for a while, what tends to happen is one person at the practice becomes the problem, right? That the the one bad seed that’s ruining things for everybody. And then leadership often will start to treat that person differently and then support staff notice that and fellow veterinarians notice that.

And so then they also start to treat that person differently, isolating them being unfair in their interactions with them even being hateful and mean. And when it all comes down to it, we’re all just a bunch of people. And that kind of behavior is never acceptable. So if you’ve been on the receiving side of this, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

And if you’ve been on the side of it that has contributed to this, just take a minute to notice without beating yourself up because we can’t solve a problem that we don’t understand, but with at least open consideration that maybe you have contributed to these kinds of environments in the places where you work. Now, if we are on the receiving end of that,

what do we do? And so many of us are starting to get braver. We’re starting to develop some courage. We’re starting to take our concerns to leadership. And, and believe me, this isn’t an easy thing to have and an easy conversation to have, especially if you have a concern about the way you’re being treated by your direct manager. So I’m thinking of a situation specifically where perhaps your manager is the one who is being the bully.

And then you go to the owner about your concerns and then you’re dismissed. There was recently a post pa published on Facebook that I believe it was from, it might have been one of those questions from clinician’s brief. I’m not a hundred percent sure on that. But it basically kind of played out this scenario of like, what would you do if this was the your,

the situation where you were being bullied and dismissed and really picked on by a manager. When you took that to the boss, the owner of the practice, you were dismissed. And I don’t mean fired. I mean you were told, oh, that’s just the way it is. Don’t take it personally. You’re being too sensitive. You know, just,

you know, get over it. This is just how it is. And your concerns were completely dismissed. And basically you were completely told that there was no intent of making any kind of change or request for change on the part of the manager. What would you do? This kind of thing happens all the time in veterinary medicine. We take our concerns to somebody who’s in leadership and we get fed this whole line about how that’s just the way they are.

And you’re too sensitive and you just need to buck up. And this is just the way it is. And my friends, here’s, this is exactly why this whole culture of bullying is perpetuated in our field. It’s complete nonsense that you should just accept somebody’s bad behavior toward you because that’s just the way that it is. But what kind of of repercussions do you have?

What do you have as far as empowered decisions for yourself when you have taken your concern to leadership? And leadership has flat out said, yeah, that’s how it is. And basically you’ve just been left to deal with it because there is not even gonna be a conversation about change. What do you do? Well, one thing you can do is continue to stay there and continue to be victimized and continue to be frustrated and angry about the way that you’re treated.

That is one option, and that is an option that a lot of people choose. And when we choose that, we start to pay attention to other people who are getting treated the same way. And then clicks start to develop. So now we have groups of people who are being picked on by different groups of people. Usually within more leadership roles. You’ve got the people who are on the good side in air quotes of the leadership,

the people who are on the not so good side of the leadership. And that creates a massive division within a hospital. Now, in an ideal world, when you take that concern to somebody in leadership, your just, your concern isn’t dismissed. Your concern is addressed, conversations are had, change starts to happen. But that’s the ideal world. That’s not the world that all of you live in.

And I’m very, very aware of that. So what do you do when you live in a world where that new data point, meaning the information that you receive back from leadership, when you take your concern forward, that information tells you they aren’t gonna do a single thing about it. What do you do? My friends, for me, this is cut and dry.

You leave. Yep, you heard it, you leave. Here’s why. Anything that requires you to compromise your morals, ethics, or values should be strongly reconsidered as far as staying part of your life, especially in your career. And so in veterinary medicine, for me, morals, ethics and values, part of what I value is a respectful work environment.

Part of what I value, I value is equitable treatment of everybody there. I value that my concerns are heard, that if they aren’t directly addressed, that there’s at least a conversation so that I could understand better their perspective and they could understand mine. And we can come to some kind of middle compromise if my concerns are completely dismissed, if I am actually then further pull,

like could have called out for being too sensitive or for being a drama queen, or I’m told just to have to deal with it. ’cause that’s just the way that it is. That’s a big no for me. It is a flat out no. And because historically people have been afraid to leave jobs and I’m, this could be not just veterinary medicine,

but anything. But historically people have been afraid to leave jobs because they’ve been afraid to, to lose income. People have elected then to stay and stay and stay in these abusive kinds of situations in the world that we live in. Now, my friends, I want you to think about these situations differently. There are more jobs than there are veterinary professionals to fill them.

And part of this transition in veterinary medicine that is upleveling, the culture of our veterinary practices requires us to not continue to condone this kind of behavior. Because the truth of it is when we are being bullied and we are aware that we are being bullied and we take those concerns to people who can make changes, and those people tell us they are not gonna change,

then we become complicit in our own bullying because we do still have a choice. We have a choice to go and work somewhere else. And I know change is scary, I get that a hundred percent. But what I want you to know is that your quality of life and your mental wellbeing is far more important than any job. There’s another job out there.

And you are not meant to suffer in the job that you have. This job is hard enough without the humans being mean to each other. But as long as people are willing to work in an in veterinary environments where the culture is one of bullying and toxicity, then a culture of bullying and toxicity will continue to be perpetuated. We have all experienced this at some point in time in our our careers.

A lot of us, us have internalized it and believed those people when they said that we’re too soft, that we need to just buck up, that we’re just taking it all too personally. We have, some of us have very much internalized that we’ve decided it is our fault that nobody else is having a problem. It’s just us. And that actually also then continues to compound the negative effect on wellbeing.

I want you to give yourself the opportunity to reconsider anything that has made you believe that your concerns aren’t valid. It takes a lot of courage to have those conversations with your leader when you are feeling like you are being picked on. And as a veterinary leader, I can tell you that I would 100% prefer that you come to me if you’re feeling like you’re getting singled out,

rather than bear the burden of that on your own. If you’ve tried, especially if you’ve tried to have a conversation, one-on-one with the bully, and you have been laughed at, or you have been just blown off, then take it to another level. And a strong leader will actually listen to your concerns. They won’t get defensive, they won’t automatically jump to trying to defend the behaviors of that other person.

A strong leader will consider that you have a perspective that they don’t have. They will consider that what you have to say has truth to it. And it may not be the whole truth, but it’s absolutely your truth. And it’s something that deserves to be heard, and it’s something that deserves to be taken seriously. If we value our teams, we must take seriously everything that they experience and do the best that we can to elevate the communication and the interaction across the team as a whole.

Strong leaders will do that. Weak leaders, leaders that lead from fear, from frustration, from anger, from burnout, will dismiss. They will cut you off. They will kind of gaslight you and tell you it’s all in your head. They’re not really acting that way. Or they’ll just flat out tell you like, yep, I know she’s a jerk,

but I need her and it’s never gonna change. And when you hear those kinds of things, that should be your ding, ding, ding, ding, dinging. That’s your permission bill ringing, telling you it’s time to start looking for a different position again. As long as we continue to perpetuate these kinds of behaviors, we are going to perpetuate this culture of bullying.

And we are going to continue to teach veterinary professionals that this is just part of the job. And I promise you, my friends, I worked in enough places where this was not the norm, that I guarantee you it is not necessary. And as far as thinking about how we create a sustainable, equitable career for everybody, it cannot be allowed to continue.

Does that mean that if people leave, that some of these organizations are gonna be really, really short staffed? Yeah, it is. That’s probably exactly what’s gonna happen. But you know what? Sometimes it takes a strong wake up call for people to start to adjust the way that they interact with each other. And as long in, as long as any of us keep interacting with the world through a lens of fear.

And that’s whether it’s in your workplace, in your personal relationships and regard to the way that you deal with people out in the public. If we continue to interact with each other from the lens of fear, we will continue to deteriorate our relationships with each other. And this experience, this lifetime, requires us all to really become the best versions of ourselves,

to really learn how to manage our own emotional wellbeing, to stop waiting for other people to change before we know how to feel good about it. And part of this requires us to build our courage, to find our voice, to speak up when we see something that is not okay. So maybe you’re not the one getting bullied. Maybe it’s somebody else you work with,

but you see it. Don’t just stand there and watch it. Say something to somebody that can do something about it. Check on your colleague to see if they’re doing okay. Even just letting somebody know that you see what’s happening can make a world of difference in, in our profession, it can be the thing that saves a life. So my friends,

this is something I want you to consider as you go through the next few weeks. Keep your eyes open, keep your head in the game. Bring forth any concerns that you have and for you leaders out there, be open to listening. Don’t take any complaint that people bring to you as a personal offense because it is not. They are coming to you from trust.

They are coming to you for guidance. So if we can just remember, this is not a game of attacking. This is simply a communication and a relationship building opportunity, then we have a chance to start to shift the cultures away from cultures of bullying, into cultures of support, and the entire veterinary profession benefits. All right, my friends, that’s gonna wrap it up for this week.

I’ll see you next time.