Vet Business

Stress vs Success and Equine Veterinarians

This blog has been written by Dr. Melanie Barham. You can see her bio at the bottom of the page.

In the wintertime, equine veterinarians like to breath a sigh of relief.  Then, two minutes later, we throw ourselves into all the fun things we wanted to do but were too busy for in horse show season.  This year, I am pursuing a dream to run a half-marathon, with help from the Running Room clinics.  The Running Room is a retail store for runners offering courses/clinics to help runner achieve their goals of running a particular race (everything from 5km to marathon) for a nominal fee. Runners frequent the store at least 3-4 times per week and become really loyal customers.

On our clinic “lecture” night, we heard from a sports psychologist, who introduced Lazarus and Folkman’s model of stress vs. success, leading me to think of learning in veterinary medicine.  The model states that the outcome of a situation is influenced by the way in which an individual assesses a situation (or threat), and by the number/quality of coping mechanisms they have on hand to deal with the issues at hand.  Changing how we perceive the threat, and increasing or using our coping mechanisms can incite success instead of stress.  The idea is that basically, changing your outlook can make a big impact.  Of equal importance- knowing what to do when a negative situation arises.

The model applies well with respect to young veterinarians, how they/we learn, and how we teach them.  When we come out of school, we are “baby vets”, like novice runners, and have very little in the way of tools or coping mechanisms.  Even a simple call or client question can be a “perceived threat” and leave you speechless.  As runners progress from novice recreational joggers to elite athletes, their biggest predictor of success is past performance.  They are able to draw upon the experiences they have had and get through the tough parts of the race. Novice runners don’t have the experience, so they must rely on self-confidence and positive outlook.  Running clinics and groups work to improve success for this reason; they help to build self-confidence and some experience through actually performing the activity we’re training for.  We have weekly talks to prepare for the race, and we run with group leaders who are experienced runners.  I often email my questions to my group leaders to ask advice about technique or aches and pains.  I could have completed my training alone, but I’ll be honest, I probably would have stayed in bed on those cold -16C days! I also would likely have given up or been discouraged at my first shin splint.

An interesting realization I had was that there really is no way around the model of stress/success.  I find it very gratifying to attend hock or back injections and be able to successfully diagnose and treat a problem.  I am also able to anticipate potential problems, deal with the unexpected and handle situations calmly and gracefully.  I also remembered, when working with a new associate, the exact same process I went through learning to perform hock injections. I palpated the site many times before using my needle.  I worried I would never be good at injecting hocks. I asked for help when needed.  Now, it’s one of my favorite (vet) things to do.

To me, the model presented above is the absolute best argument out there for doing an internship.  Of equal importance is to subsequently position yourself in a practice willing to be supportive and helpful as you grow and learn.  An internship is a controlled environment where one can gain experience and self-confidence just like a running clinic.  You get an idea of how to handle the things that could go wrong at any given time, and a way to approach a problem positively.

Just like a running clinic, an internship helps you every step of the way, building upon what you have learnt already.  There should be a good group of individuals interested in helping you succeed, but letting you try to do it yourself.  No one can carry you across the finish line, nor can anyone force you to become a successful clinician.  However, you can surround yourself with a good team of mentors and as much knowledge as possible so that with a little luck, you’ll cross the “finish line” or complete your day standing tall and smiling.

If you have any comments please post in the comment section or on the Equine Vet Business Facebook Page.

More about Dr. Melanie Barham

Dr. Melanie Barham is an associate veterinarian at McKee-Pownall Equine Services Campbellville location.  Melanie grew up riding and showing horses on the eventing circuit in Ottawa, Ontario.  She graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Canada.  Following graduation, Melanie completed an internship in southern California at a performance horse practice, before returning to Canada.  Currently, Melanie enjoys treating lameness cases and working on all types of performance horses as well as incorporating acupuncture with Western medicine.  She enjoys running, hiking and cross-country skiing and lives with with her husband Tim and her dog Cali.  Melanie hopes to complete the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington, March 2012.

Follow Dr. Barham on Twitter @mbarhamdvm





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