We are all afraid of it. The dreaded letter from the Veterinary Board. Some Veterinarians never hear from them, other veterinarians not only hear from them but also get fined or even worse have their license sanctioned.
So, what happens to these Veterinarians? Do they practice again? Or is it such a mentally exhausting experience for them that they stop practicing all together? Can they pick themselves up from the nightmare and continue on?
As a new veterinarian, a potential employer once said to me, “If you haven’t been taken to the board, you don’t see enough clients.”
I cringed at this statement and was confident in the fact that it would never happen.
Then 6 years into me practicing, I received the dreaded email…
The email stated that I had a complaint against me about a surgery that was performed. Why? Well, what I can tell you is the complaint was a lie.
My heart sank. While everyone around me laughed at it and aimlessly brushed it off as it would be dropped, I had full-blown anxiety for 4 months.
All I thought was, “How could my years of hard work, sleepless nights, endless studying, and love for this profession, end in my dismissal–without a way for me to pay my hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans?”
Four months dragged on endlessly. Finally, the meeting day arrived. I sat in the front row listening to the board as they discussed the mental health issues in our profession. They talked about what needs to be done and how CE could potentially help. I thought that if they were concerned about mental health, they would have given me their decision four months ago.
The sleepless nights, when the fear of a huge fine or a lost license haunted me, will forever be ingrained in my mind. How is this helping with mental health – especially since I knew that the complaint stated was a lie? I knew I didn’t do what they claimed I did, and I knew it was about the money. It always is.
But at this point, the money no longer mattered as much as my mental health.
I stayed in the board meeting through multiple cases until they finally said my name. Then it happened. A quiet board member spoke out about how they had this whole discussion about mental health, but that they had made me suffer for months. If I could have, I would have hugged this woman. She understood what I was going through.
I listened to everyone talk. The vote was unanimous, and the case was dismissed. A sigh of relief came over me as I thought it was over. I walked out thinking, “I’m fine, I’m okay. I can move on from this.” What I didn’t realize was that this would continue to haunt me.
It happened so fast that I was unable to process it. I didn’t understand until I interviewed for a promotion and they asked, “What is your favorite part of Veterinary Medicine?”
Before this, my answer would have been surgery. I loved it. I had dreamt about being a surgeon, and I used to tell people that I loved putting my hands into the abdomen. Ok, gross to some, but it was always fun for me.
This time it was different. I quickly responded, “I like working up cases and figuring them out.” The words came out of my mouth like vomit.
Then, I noticed the change. I had been so busy in life, I didn’t take the time to heal from what happened.
I unknowingly practiced with a different mindset. I was walking into rooms after reviewing a file thinking, “Okay, what can go wrong?” instead of focusing on developing a relationship. I was no longer the Veterinarian I once was.
When another client later threatened legality, I broke down once again. Almost a year after the original complaint closed, I obviously still wasn’t okay.
I wanted out – out of the clinic, out of seeing clients, and preferably out of the entire industry. I wanted to just leave. I never thought that after wanting to be a Veterinarian for so long, after missing so much of my life to pursue this, I would want to leave so bad.
But I pushed on…
I forced myself to believe that people aren’t against me. I tried so hard to continue to develop a relationship with clients. In every room, I tried to get to know the client and animal. I pushed myself to do more surgery, but my anxiety rose higher at every turn. I would panic when I came home after a typical spay, thinking, “What if I accidentally ligated the ureter?” or ” What if my ligature slipped?”
Was I better? Did it work?
A board complaint – any board complaint, can have significant mental impacts on us. The sad part is, sometimes we won’t see them coming and sometimes we won’t see the changes immediately.
Was I saved? Was I able to really pick myself up again?
I put confidence back in myself to move my career in a different direction. I started rebuilding relationships and began to discover a love for the cases that I once lost. However, I was not able to rekindle my love for surgery.
Will a new case bring me down? No. But I have learned not to let it have such a negative effect on my mind that it leaves an imprint.
Any one of us can get that complaint. During the months that follow, we need support around us in order to heal from it, and the mindset to know that we will be okay.
Board complaints have pushed some Veterinarians over the edge so far, they exit the industry for good. That is sad. When we talk about a shortage of Veterinarians or a shortage of good ones, we fail to discuss that the failure of support may be what is driving them away.
Where can we get this support? The great thing is now there are many groups that we can turn to and other veterinarians to help us go through it. I still wonder if I had the support I needed would I still have the love for surgery? Probably, I just didn’t have someone to support me getting back on that horse.
Have you had a complaint before? What did you do to get over the emotional impacts? Comment and let us know. Your comment may encourage someone else going through the same thing to reach out to you, us, or someone else.