Episode 67 | Triumphing over Toxicity in Veterinary Medicine

In this episode, I share four tips for triumphing over veterinary workplace toxicity. Tips 1 & 2 allow you to change your veterinary experience immediately. Tips 3 & 4 show you how to contribute to resolving toxicity long term.



  • The 5 Components of Veterinary Organizational Culture
  • Managing Emotion Moment by Moment
  • 4 Things You Can Do to Triumph over Toxicity



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00:00:00	There are really four things that you can do to change this experience for yourself. And this is great news because when you can change the experience for yourself, what that means is that the things outside of you, the things that we would say, cause the toxicity, or are responsible for the toxicity, we don't have to wait for those things to be resolved before we can feel better.

00:00:23	I'm Dr. Cari Wise, and this is the Joyful DVM podcast. Hi, there. Welcome to episode 67. Today, we're going to be talking about triumphing over toxicity in vet med, and I'm going to be sharing four things you can do to try out to be empowered. Even when you're in an environment that feels very toxic. We don't have to let that toxic environment actually steal our joy.

00:00:58	So before we can get to how we can overcome that toxicity, we have to first make sure we understand what we're talking about. Let's start out and look at veterinary culture or veterinary organizational culture. Back in episode seven, I spent some time talking about the five components of vet organizational culture. And I want to review that right now. Component number one is leverage.

00:01:21	Number two is schedule number three is pay number four is policies and number five is leadership. So what do I mean by all of those? And how does, what do they have to do with toxicity? As far as organizational toxicity in vet med? What will we think about the veterinary organization, a veterinary hospital, and quite honestly, any place that you work when you come into working in that environment,

00:01:44	you come with expectations. Those expectations are set during the interview process. They're even set to some extent during the ad when you read the advertisement for the job. And when you go through all of that interviewing in the onboarding and all of that. So there's these expectations that are set. And then there's the reality of what you experience. Unfortunately, in veterinary medicine,

00:02:08	often what we find is that the way that a job advertisement reads and the things that are shared with us during the interview process ended up being very different than what we experience. When we get into that job, that's what we call the gap. There's a gap between the expectation, what we anticipated. It was going to be like, and the reality of what we actually experience and gaps in these five areas,

00:02:32	leverage, schedule, pay policies, and leadership really contribute to the development of a toxic work environment. When I talk about leverage, what I mean is how it's staffed. So how has the organization staff, the doctor to, to support staff, to receptionist ratio? How are people scheduled for their shifts and things like that schedule that has to do with our own individual schedules,

00:02:53	the number of days of the week that we work the hours of the day that we work lunches breaks, the way that appointments are scheduled pay that's our compensation. So the way that we make money, the amount of money that we make, the opportunities for us to make more policies, these are the hospital policies about the internal policies. So like the employee policies and also the external policies.

00:03:13	So our policies around things like showing up late for appointments or no shows and finally leadership, what the leadership structure is like, what the leadership personalities are like, what the review process looks like, what the opportunity for advancement looks like. So those five areas, leverage schedule, pay policies and leadership are components that have a really great possibility of having a gap between what we're promised on the front end and what we experienced once we become employed.

00:03:41	And like I said, I talked about this in pretty big detail back in episode seven. So that joyful dvm.com forward slash seven. Now, the reason that I want to bring it up today, again, is because as we talk about how we're going to try off over toxicity in veterinary medicine, we have to understand the foundation of where a lot of it starts,

00:03:59	but that's just where it starts. And what I want to make sure that we understand is that even though we've identified organizational components that are contributing, we still have an individual opportunity to make things way better for ourselves. And we don't have to leave the organization to do it. This is what I want to share today, because it can help you absolutely change your entire experience immediately while you then still kind of sort out whether or not the organization is the right fit.

00:04:27	So let's look at what a toxic work environment is. From a definition perspective, this is from Wikipedia. Wikipedia describes it like this, a place of work, usually an office environment that is marked by significant personal conflicts between those who work there such infighting can harm productivity. Toxic workplaces are often considered the result of toxic employers and or toxic employees who are motivated by personal gain and use unethical means to psychologically manipulate and annoy those around them.

00:05:02	I'm sure as I read this, you can relate to situations where you have encountered somebody that you would identify as toxic, whether that be an employee, a coworker or an employer. And when we start to label our coworkers and our employers with this adjective toxic, it's very hard for us to see anything different. I'm not saying that we're wrong about their behaviors and our opinions of our behaviors.

00:05:27	Obviously we get to decide and believe whatever we want to believe. But what we wanted to see is that when we start to label things with a negative adjective, the results that we create for ourselves are also often negative. So just kind of going back up to the 10,000 foot view, we've got these organizations and there are five components of every single organization where if the expectations around those components are set accurately at the beginning,

00:05:54	then a gap is created. And when an employee that gap that the, what they experienced as an employee is different than what they are promised. Then there's lots of opportunity for the employee to feel frustrated, disrespected, lied to and such. And it is that gap that starts to create the toxic work environment. That gap between the expectation of reality really allows that toxicity to fester.

00:06:19	So then when an employee like ourselves begin to feel more and more frustrated and disrespected and lied to, we start to notice the gaps in all of those different areas, our beliefs and opinions, then about those things get shared with each other. And that sharing of our opinions is not a positive experience because remember we're feeling disrespected, we're feeling lied to that gap between what we were told we would experience and what we experienced is huge.

00:06:45	And so we are just sharing with our coworkers, our understanding of the gap. They said this about how we would be staffed, and this is what we are experiencing. They said this about the schedule I would have, but they scheduled it. I do have is this one. And so every time that we go through as employees and we pick out where there is that gap,

00:07:03	and we share that with each other, we often do feel a negative emotion that goes with it, victimize wrong frustrated. I'm not saying that any of that is something that we need to change specifically our opinions about our experiences, our hours alone. But what we want to start to recognize is that if we're going to ever triumph over toxicity, we do have some things that we can do and areas that we can control to make our experience of it,

00:07:29	better making our experience as something better for ourselves does not mean that we accept or condone the factual framework of the situation. So by utilizing some of the tools that I'm going to talk about here in a few minutes, I want to make sure that we understand that taking care of yourself emotionally, when in an environment that's not exactly the one that you want to be in longterm doesn't mean that you're agreeing to or condoning what's happening there.

00:07:57	That's a very important point to make sure that you understand. So when we have the beliefs and opinions about those five components of organizational culture, and then we share our opinions about those things with our colleagues. And remember we're sharing about these things, not because we're all happy and sunshine and roses, right? We're frustrated, we're feeling disrespected. We're feeling taken advantage of lied to we're feeling very victimized.

00:08:19	Then the sharing of that is negative in and of itself. And with that, we also start to show the rest of the people who work there, those gaps. So they may or may not have identified those gaps themselves. And this is where we can label all of this as a bit of commiseration. It is, and has been one of our greatest coping mechanisms,

00:08:38	but it's not useful. And you've heard me talk about that before. It's not useful to commiserate, but I think it's important for us to at least understand why it is. We talk about the things that we do, because a lot of the topics that end up being at the top of the list, when it comes to commiserating, have to do with gaps within the organizational culture itself,

00:08:57	as organizations, as leaders, as hospital owners, we need to be really careful that what we're telling people, we are going to provide for them as employees is what they actually experience when they get there. And if for some reason it changes and we can't provide it, or we start to provide it and we're not able to continue providing it that we need to have a conversation to keep everybody in the loop.

00:09:17	If we don't, then they're left to draw their own conclusions. And very natural conclusions are the ones that lead to this toxic culture that the org and those things like the organization doesn't care about me. The organization lied to me. They're only in it for the money. Gosh, there's that one coming up all over again. Right? So what we want to remember as we're thinking about this is that the individual behavior is not simply a reflection of personality in this.

00:09:42	I don't care who it is. I don't care if it's the owners. I don't care if it's the, the people who work there, the employees, the doctors, the technicians, the receptionist, I don't even care if it's the, the client's individual behavior is not simply a reflection of personality, but when we're feeling very victimized and we're believing that we're really stuck in a toxic work environment,

00:09:59	it's very easy for us to then kind of attack each other on a personality level. What we forget in those moments is that individual behavior is driven always by emotion moment to moment. So the things that people say and the things that people do within the Workday are a reflection of their emotions in those moments. And it changes moment by moment that overall their entire behavior.

00:10:24	Overall, if we want to lump it all together, that's a reflection of their net, emotional state. Now remember net emotional state is like average emotional state. You basically take all the emotions that you feel on the regular, and you average them out. Where do you land? Do you land somewhere in the middle? Do you land somewhere to kind of down on the lower side,

00:10:41	anxiety, doom, gloom that side, do you land higher, happy, excited, motivated. It is a bit of a moving target and we'd go through seasons in our lives where the baseline lands is going to vary. But what I find is that when we are in veterinary medicine and we are really stuck in what we believe is toxic culture, then that baseline tends to be on the lower side.

00:11:00	And then as moment by moment, we're met with circumstances that keep reminding us that what we were promised is not what we're experiencing, and that has us drawing conclusions and sharing opinions that create negative emotions like victimization and frustration and anger that just pulls our entire baseline down. And so the result of that is not only moment by moment, are we not interacting with other people as our best way?

00:11:28	And as our best selves, we also take that home with us because of the way that it's influencing the net emotional state of our own individual personal experience. So it's the compounding of the moment by moment interactions that greatly influence our net emotional state. And because of that, it influences our entire lies. So why does that even matter? Well, it matters because if,

00:11:53	as a result of the environment that we're working in and the thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and conclusions that we're drawing day in and day out about our work environment, in addition to about our clients and coworkers and all of that, if all of that has a negative undertone to it, and it's pulling out our entire net emotional state, then it's no wonder we can't just flip a switch and turn it off and become a happy,

00:12:14	shiny person when we get home. That's why this is so important to recognize, and to understand as hard as the layers that contribute to our experiences in veterinary medicine. It's not just what happens during the day that matters. It's not as easy as some people say that, just shut it off, forget it, and go home, redirect your thinking. I mean,

00:12:33	that sounds wonderful. We have a lot of opportunity to do that. I'm going to give you some tips to that extent, but what we want to just offer ourselves the opportunity to see, and really to be compassionate about is that when we get home and we're cranky and we're having a hard time engaging in anything else, and we're feeling really frustrated and down,

00:12:50	it's not because there's something wrong with you. It's because the interactions that you've had day in and day out, moment by moment in your job have been compounding to pull down your entire baseline. And so if we look at that net emotional state or that emotional baseline as a whole, and we recognize that it's on the negative side, so it's more low than it is high.

00:13:12	It's absolutely to be expected that the actions that we would take from that baseline or an average emotion, aren't going to be actions that move us forward toward the things that we want. Think, feel, act it's working all the time. Not only moment by moment. So what's your thinking in that moment about what your colleague said, which created some kind of emotion,

00:13:32	and then you spoke or behave from that. That's a moment by moment reaction, but then the net emotional state of the think feel, act cycle the emotion right in the middle of that, the TFA, the feeling right in the middle of that think feel act cycle is your net emotional state. And so if that's low, then your net emotion, your net actions are going to also be more on the types of things that withdraw you from your life.

00:13:53	So withdrawal, seclusion, not taking great care of yourself, eating junk food, buffering, not very healthy coping mechanisms, more Ms. Rating. So amplifying on that, scrolling social media, jumping into groups and complaining those kinds of things. And it feels a little bit useful to do that because as we do those things, we do feel better. But the reason that we feel better from those kinds of buffering activities,

00:14:18	isn't because we're actually getting truly leaf it's because we are starting to feel like we are part of a group. Again, we don't feel so isolated and anger does feel more powerful than hopelessness and despair and victimization. So often just notice, especially if you're engaging in more commiserating about veterinary medicine, that the anger that you're feeling is really helping you get through it,

00:14:41	but it's not helping you long-term to build the life that you want. So the net emotional state, the reason I'm kind of spending some time on this is because the importance here is to see that when we work at a toxic work environment and the moment by moment interactions create more and more negative emotion, that's not only impacting our work is impacting our entire lives because of the lens of the net emotional state and the way the moments are absolutely influencing and programming that that net emotional state then is what dictates how we interact in our lives overall.

00:15:09	So not just at work, but when we're at home. So if you're wondering, why is it that I can't just eat, right? Why is it that I just can't exercise. You want to give yourself an opportunity to take a step back and say, okay, what's happening to me day in and day out at work, because that's probably where you're spending the most of your time.
00:15:23	So what's happening in those places where you spend most of your time, how are you feeling and what are your opportunities to change that? And this is where we get back to the triumphing part of triumphing over toxicity and Vetement. There are really four things that you can do to change this experience for yourself. And this is great news because when you can change the experience for yourself,

00:15:43	what that means is that the things outside of you, the things that we would say, cause the toxicity, or are responsible for the toxicity, we don't have to wait for those things to be resolved before we can feel better. This is probably one of the greatest secrets in veterinary medicine, because as a collective, we do believe that until we get these things solved and veterinary medicine than veterinary medicine is always going to have to be hard,

00:16:04	but that's just an opinion. That's not a truth, but that opinion doesn't create any kind of excitement or hope about the future, right? It creates just more dread and despair. So what can we do to help ourselves in these moments when we are in the middle of a toxic work environment to feel better. So that the moment by moment interactions, don't program our dead emotional state to have us withdraw from our lives outside of work,

00:16:29	that's really the key here. Well, number one, and number two are fast things you can do. So things that you can do right away, and you can immediately start to change your moment by moment feelings. So you're gonna start to change the way that you interact in that moment. By moment situations, that arise. Number one is to intentionally manage your emotions.

00:16:49	You get to decide what you want to believe in each moment. So what I want to remind us with this with number one is that even though we have these five components of vet organizational culture, and there are often gaps between what we expect it to be like in regard to those five things and the way that it really is, what we believe about that gap is optional.

00:17:10	We can simultaneously believe this is not right. This is not what I was promised. And also add to it, another perspective. That's going to raise our emotional reaction to it. And that's what we want to do. It's not arguing with reality. It's simply not allowing the circumstances to dictate your emotions. You're the one who gets to decide that. So immediately you can start to look for an alternative perspective.

00:17:36	So let me give you an example. Let's say that you're really focused on how the schedule that you're working is not the schedule that you were promised. And so every day you go in and you're feeling really angry or pissed off, because this is not what you're promised. You were promised 30 minute appointments. You are promised that you would be able to get a lunch that you would leave on time,

00:17:57	that you would work four days a week and maybe work a Saturday every other week. The reality of what you're experiencing is that the appointments are so double blocks, that they're never for 30 minutes, that you never get to get out of there for lunch. And if you do, it's only maybe 15 minutes to grab a bite, to eat in your car.

00:18:13	You end up staying late because appointments just keep coming on in, and you're working more Saturdays than you're not. So that's the difference between what you're promised or the expectation and the reality, which is what you are actually having happen. You could walk into work every day, angry about that. And as you go through your day, and as you keep saying,

00:18:31	15 minute appointment, after a 15 minute appointment, you can keep using those as reminders of that, you were promised 30, you were promised 30, which just keeps stacking on victimization for you. Or you can just accept what it is. I'm not saying condone. It's a completely different thing. And hang with me because we're going to talk about some of this other part,

00:18:49	what you do about that part in a minute, but you can just accept that it is what it is that yes, you were promised one thing and that's not what you're getting. And you can just say, yep, that's exactly true. I am not getting what I was promised. And you can allow that to be separate from the rest of what you believe about it.

00:19:08	You can come up with an alternative perspective to remind yourself in those moments to intentionally create a different emotional reaction. And it's worth your effort to do this because of the way that not only it will change the way that you feel throughout the day, but even more importantly, the way that it then influences that net emotional state and the way that you interact in the rest of your entire life.

00:19:29	So with that exact example, and the alternative perspective that you could offer to yourself is something along the line of gratitude. And this would actually work for every single scenario, identify something that you're grateful for. So yes, there's problems here, gap between expectation and reality. But what am I grateful for? I'm grateful to have a job to come to.

00:19:48	I'm grateful to earn a paycheck. I'm grateful to be able to use my education. I'm grateful for the opportunity to help pets today. It's really hard for the despair and the frustration and the anger to win. When we shift our focus onto something that's gratitude based. And that's the easiest perspective for us to find in the moment. There's other ones, for sure,

00:20:08	you don't have to go to gratitude all the time, but I want you to have something quick and easy that you can do in those moments to get you focus back on what's important to you because let's face it. Yes, absolutely. You want the schedule that you were promised? I get that a hundred percent. I want that for you too, but more than I want that for you.

00:20:24	I want you to not be miserable every day that you're at work. And this is a quick way where you can start to take back control of your emotions while you're at work. While we sort out the rest of the stuff to get it aligned with what you really want. It's a multi-tiered approach. And this is one of those first two fast action ways to raise your net emotional state at work.

00:20:43	So raise your average mood at work your well-being while you're at work, while we're working on the others. Number two on what you can do is refocus on the clients and patients. So just remind yourself, we're here to serve clients and treat patients so independent of the five things of the staff you're working with, the schedule that you're at, you're in the middle of today and all of that,

00:21:03	despite all of that, you're there to serve clients and treat patients. If we can refocus on where, what we're there to do and give less air time to the other things that need to be changed, we're going to feel better. And then with that, you might say, but Carrie, I can't serve clients and treat patients to the best of my ability when I don't have the staff that I thought I was going to have to see appointments today,

00:21:23	or when I have 10 appointments in a time that's allotted for six. And although that seems very, very true. What is also true is that you can always do the best you can with the information and resources you have available at the time. And in those resources includes the amount of time you have and the amount of help that you have to complete those things.

00:21:43	So just reminding yourself that you're there to serve clients and treat patients, and you're going to do your best with what you have can really help relieve a lot of the pressure that you're feeling. And a lot of the frustration and resentment that you're feeling about. What's not existing for you in those moments. Now, number three and four are more about the long game.

00:22:01	So how do we try off over toxicity from the long game perspective, one and two are these fast action things that you can literally start today to start feeling better when you're in an environment that has those evidences of being toxic three and four is more, how can you move out of it? Permanently? Number three has to do with a strategic job analysis.

00:22:21	We just got to get real honest with ourselves. Let's let go of the drama and let's look at the data. Is this job a good fit for you? So many times, we let the emotions that we feel in a job drive the decisions that we make about saying, or going in that job. And that really does us a diff service. And back in episode 43 and 45,

00:22:40	I actually talked about the concept of strategic job analysis. And I would love for you to jump back over there and take a listen to those in 43. I talk about what you absolutely must do before you quit. And in 45, I talked about the vet med deal-breakers times. It's just better to cut your losses and move on. Both of those episodes will help you to get some new data around your job environment.

00:23:00	So you're making decisions about your job and the future of your position from a more strategic and analytical perspective and less from an emotional perspective in the long run. It's not only going to serve you better in this job, but it's absolutely going to serve you better no matter where you go. Next number four, another long game strategy is to be willing to have some high value conversations.

00:23:22	The reason that I bring this up is that because as you identify the gaps between the expectations and reality, so between what you were promised and what you experienced, there is an opportunity there for you to communicate your experience of the gap with the people who make decisions in the organization. So with management, with owners, with people like that. So to have a conversation,

00:23:43	what I call a high value conversation about how, what you're experiencing is different than what you were promised. Sometimes believe it or not. It's so crazy as an owner that you don't even realize things are happening the way that they are happening. So before you spend all of your energy being angry day in and day out, and you start to draw all of these conclusions about how your owners are just horrible people,

00:24:06	at least give yourself and them the benefit of a conversation about it. It will be worth the time that you take doing it. And the fear that you experienced during the conversation. Cause he'll be a little scared. I mean, high value conversations are usually a little bit intimidating. We usually feel a little nervous having them, but it's so worth it because you'll gain more data.

00:24:26	So you'll know for sure if the things that you're assuming about your practice owner or your organizational leadership you'll know for sure if it's true, because the you'll be able to tell that they'll really basically tell you if the conclusions that you've made and which are just assumptions at this point, if they're true, or if there's more to the story that would actually kind of help shed light on it and to help improve it.

00:24:48	Most importantly, though, even if it turns out that you have a high value conversation, you point out to them the opportunities to make some adjustments in those areas, leverage, schedule, pay policies, things like that. You go to them and you say, Hey, this is what I thought this was going to be like here. This is what I was told.

00:25:05	And this is what I'm experiencing. Here's some ways that I think that we can improve our leverage. Here's the way that I think we could improve our scheduling by doing that. There's a couple of things that happen. Number one, it gets you thinking strategically about the better way to function during the day as a team. And that has massive, positive impact on everybody.

00:25:25	You'll actually kind of start functioning that way without even having the conversation. When you allow yourself to step back and look at it. So you become a bit of a problem solver. And remember we're all leaders in our individual positions. I don't care what your title is. We all are leading in some capacity when it comes to these kinds of jobs. The other part of this is that you're helping the management people to see the gaps.

00:25:45	And oftentimes they know the gaps are there, but they, because nobody's actually complaining about it. Nobody's bringing it to their attention. They are believing it's not a big deal. I'm not saying they're right about that, but this is just human nature. We can recognize when something's not going exactly the way that it's supposed to, but if nobody's complaining it,

00:26:06	doesn't often get the attention to get it fixed. So having that conversation has several benefits. And just as a quick reminder, number one, you might be bringing a gap to their attention that they're not even aware of. And then number two, you may just be bringing attention and importance and urgency to a gap that they did know exists, but they had just kind of let slide in both cases,

00:26:27	their reaction during those conversations is going to give you information. That's valuable to you as you're completing your strategic job analysis and deciding for yourself, if you can turn this into the best fit, kind of practice for you, more of what you thought you were getting when you joined, or if it might be a practice that you are only there for short term,

00:26:46	and you start to look for something different. So overall, the goal of the long game options on what to do here are to improve those five areas. Those five components of better organizational culture. As you do that, obviously you're going to improve that experience of toxicity for yourself. If we can bridge the gaps and those expectations and realities within those five components and that toxicity component really goes away.

00:27:09	So numbers one and two, just as a recap, number one, intentionally managing your emotions by deciding moment by moment, what you're going to believe, looking for those alternative perspectives. If you're not sure where to go, go to gratitude. Number two, refocusing on the whole reason, you're there serve clients and treat patients and remind yourself that you can always do your best with whatever you have available to you.

00:27:30	So no matter what the staffing looks like, no matter what the equipment looks like, you can always do your personal best with what is there. You don't need something else to be there for you to do your best. Whenever we get stuck into that, we're actually trying to figure out how to be perfect. And that's an entirely different podcast episode. My friends,

00:27:46	then three and four more long game strategies, strategic job analysis. So you can figure out whether this is actually a good fit for you long-term and a high value conversation. So you can help actually be part of the solution to moving the organization in the direction that needs to go to be sustainable in the long run. All right, my friends, those are my tips for triumphing over toxicity and veterinary medicine.

00:28:06	I hope you found it helpful. And if you did, please jump over to wherever you're listening to this podcast and leave us a review, share it with your friends. I'd really appreciate it. It's gonna to wrap it up for this week. I'll see you next time.