Be smart, Be bold.  Be creative! And, be your own boss.  That way, you can do what you do in the most positive way that gives you the space to practice medicine as you see fit, because we set a higher standard for medicine than what you learned in school.

I’m your host, Dr. Narda Robinson.  Veterinarian, osteopath, and leader of Veterinary Medicine 2.0 (which we are now calling “The VetMed Revolution” because 2.0 was already in use).

What happens when you have the solution to so much suffering but too many people aren’t paying attention?  Well, you podcast! 

In today’s episode, we talk about ways to banish burnout.  We say, “Be smart! Be bold! Be creative, and be your own boss.  Set a higher standard for what you do.” Essentially, lead by example.  Which is why, when you do, it might be lonely at first — because, by definition, you’re the leader, so you’re out there.  

Sometimes it helps to hear how others have done it whether or not that’s what you would have done. What obstacles did they face?  What disappointments did they suffer? And, what successes did they finally achieve when they reached their goal, or keep on moving towards it? For veterinary medicine in this stage of its evolution, I think you’ll find more commonalities than differences as you hear me, and those that I interview, discuss our early, middle, and later career developments.

Would We Do This Again?

When we think, would we do this again? By all means, yes.  In fact I can’t think of anyone in our community that regrets pursuing integrative medicine and rehabilitation.  Especially as we pursue it at CuraCore VET, it’s not about mimicking a teacher’s approach, divining wisdom from some guru instructor or about performing treatments, based on rote memorization of (acupuncture) point protocols.

And so, let’s get started!

1. To Banish Burnout, Be smart.   

To help you see why I put this is number one, I have a story for you. When I first learned acupuncture, I was taught that it works by “chi,” an invisible force. Quasi-electric and quasi-spiritual. It moves through passageways on its journey from one location to the next. These highways of chi would get blocked with disease or injury, so the goal of acupuncture is to unblock them so it could zoom along that acupuncture channel (or what some people call the “meridian network”), except all that was wrong.  This idea about chi as a quasi-mystical, semi-religious force arose as a result of a mistranslation in the early 1900s. It was brought to us by a French banker studying in China and hoping, that he could explain that this thing called acupuncture was working by mystical means. He wasn’t a doctor, he wasn’t a scientist, but he did enjoy metaphysics.

As a result, we have tens of thousands of acupuncturists all over the globe  — maybe hundreds of thousands, even, that claim to patients that they are going to balance their chi, misleading them into believing that this is something mystical.

And yet, in 1989, when I first learned acupuncture, that’s what I was taught, too.  

Why should I question what I was told?

My instructor was a sophisticated, knowledgeable, M.D., and the course took place through the continuing education department of a well-known medical school.  All of my colleagues listened intently, as did I, to the eloquent delivery of stories about the exotic marvels of this fascinating substance as it made its way betwixt and between the muscles and vessels, circulating in one complete cycle over a 24-hour period.  

It was sort of like the Disney movie, Monsters, Inc., where in the Door Chase scene, an alternate universe opens up and it already exists in our own homes just like chi in the meridians and all that supposedly exist in our bodies and nobody knew about it.  But acupuncturists do, and they can work, in channels and connections and all these things going hither and thither.

WHOA.

But, when I was informed by my next two really highly influential mentors in my life, who’d done acupuncture for decades…when they told me that there was no chi and why and could back up their arguments, I rebelled and I told them they were wrong.  

I couldn’t conceive of a situation like this being the case!  That acupuncturists around the globe were telling their patients, and themselves, and teaching in school, something that was wrong!   But, when you go back into the history, you can see how it began. That it was this perversion by a western individual who wanted to make acupuncture more metaphysical, in line with his ideas.

It was made up. A fable. Like the Door Room in Monsters, Inc.: a beautiful, compelling, enthralling tale, with colorful figures fueled by impressively imaginative minds.  Pure fiction.

So now, it was on me. I’d already been teaching a few years by this time at the university.  It was actually just the beginning of my decades-long career at the college.   

What do I do? I’d never been in this situation before.  Do I challenge my beloved first mentor and “come out” as a non-believer in chi?  Do I admit I was wrong when I taught this to others? I mean, acupuncture still worked… it was a marvelous anatomical, physiologically-based system and still is.  But the mechanisms are so different…

So, I’d stick out  I’d become an outlier.  It was my choice. Do I call it “quits” from the acupuncturist – mysticism addiction?  There was no other way. I couldn’t live with myself to live with a lie. I regarded the college too highly and had too much gratitude for the honor they bestowed on me to start this integrative medicine discipline there.  My intellectualI integrity was at stake.

So, I stopped. It caused a bunch of turbulence.  It angered pretty much everyone in the veterinary acupuncture community except for very few.  And so, we started over. With a new and fresh curriculum that could stand on its own. Backed by research and fueled by science.  That felt so good. It felt so much better than trying to convince others that what they were seeing was a chi-based result. And, that’s where we are today.  

It was sustainable for me because it was real.  Sure, there are still chi-pushers out there, but that wouldn’t have worked for me. I’m terrible at maintaining charades, nor would I ever want to. So, what does this all have to do with burnout? Doing what you don’t believe in burns you out. Besides working too long and too hard, besides caring so much for so many, on top of bad news and bad outcomes, burnout begins by not telling the truth.  When you do things that aren’t right, that aren’t needed, that aren’t real, and that aren’t ethical. And so, it’s your choice.

2. To Banish Burnout, Be Bold.  

Once I realized that not only was the entire Chinese medicine-based veterinary acupuncture community feeling highly unfavorably toward me, but also, that they were now pursuing letter-writing campaigns to stop me, I had a choice.  Do I shrink away? Or, be bold?

Of course, be bold.  Which was just being honest, but it sure did look like being bold in this battlefield where nobody spoke out.   

Because I was doing what was ethically right, my soul could help me stand my ground.  

Because I was doing what was founded on science, I had a firm footing.

And, because what I was doing was to improve outcomes in veterinary medicine, my heart was all in.

Little did I know that this was merely a training opportunity for what was to come; which was exposing practices in modern medicine that are either dangerous, unnecessary, or for which there are better choices that aren’t being offered to people.

Yet, I survived — with the help of, again, mentors from within that stood up against the pressure of others in favor of academic freedom and who knew I could back up my arguments with science, with evidence. You show me your evidence and I’ll show you mine.

Stay tuned for the final three ways to fend off burnout.

And so, let’s review.  Be smart. Be Bold. Additionally, be creative, and be your own boss.  But, finally, raise the standard of care. We’re better than this.  

Word on the street is that new grads nowadays don’t want to buy into a practice.  They’re swimming in debt and desperate to find a job and earn an income. And so, they step into the cycle of burnout right away, without any clue that in a few years they may regret their decision.

“Oh, but the hiring bonus! The health insurance benefits!  Two weeks off each year!”

“And I’ll be in a big building with lots of surgeons…”

Okay, reality check. Here’s what burns people out:

  • Long working hours and high workloads. 
  • Compassion fatigue.  
  • Emotional exhaustion. 
  • Stress. 
  • Mental exhaustion. 
  • Delivering bad news or dire diagnoses.  
  • Dealing with critical or difficult clients that don’t feel like they should pay as much as you’re asking them to. 
  • Lower gratification for the work you do. 
  • Corporatized pressures for clinical practices and management.  
  • Depersonalization.  
  • Professional alienation from others.  
  • Inability to make needed or desired changes. 
  • Student loan payments 
  • Feelings of frustration or disillusionment with your job.

So, quiz.  (I know you love these.) 

In which of these settings would each of these burnout characteristics most likely arise:

  1. You own a micro, solo, or mobile small animal practice or large animal practice (just a small practice), with low overhead.  You call the shots, you set the standards, you set your hours, you set the schedule. You set the prices. You decide how much time you’re going to spend with each patient.  And you offer integrative alternatives to the limited drugs-and-surgery motif.
  2. Corporation runs the business.  They hire staff.  They set your schedule and they tell you the time that you’re allotted to work with each case.   You start right away — right out of vet school. They’ve done the tough part.  They’ve already determined the best practices that you should follow and those procedures that they’re going to want you to do.   And they’ll keep an eye on the bottom line — don’t you worry — you just have to upsell clients and increase your profit margin.  What do you have to lose? But wait! You get a discount on dog biscuits!”
If we are to make major strides in the betterment of medicine for animals, we will not achieve that aim by following the dictates of boards of directors that put profit far ahead of people and our patients.
We also have to overcome barriers in academic arenas wherein the leaders in the college kowtow to drug companies, surgical demigods, or even those one or two loud, obnoxious and tenured faculty members who disavow veterinary integrative medicine without any knowledge of its science-based, or evidential support.

I have my way, you have your way.  Give me a call, send me an email. Let’s record an interview.  We’ll get this done! VetMed 2.0 (now called The VetMed Revolution). 

Thanks for listening to Surviving Veterinary Medicine.  Go out there and do it.