This Profession Is Hard: How to be more like James Herriot

This Profession Is Hard: How to be more like James Herriot

By Duffy Jones, DVM, Founder “DVM Success”

James Wite aka “James Herriott”

When you think of James Herriot, you think of all the wonderful things about being a veterinarian.   I do not remember a chapter where he got yelled at by a client over a bill.  I do not remember him sitting down after a long day of working hard to find a notification that he just got a 1-star Google review from a client he spent all day with.  Did his office alarm go off in the middle of the night, or did his employees call in sick because they stayed out too late the night before?   

I am sure similar things happened to him as well, but we do not hear about it.   The great side of our profession is that we get to help people; the downside is that we have to deal with people – not all of whom are nice.  

So how do we be more like James Herriot to our clients, but then let all the negativity roll off our backs?   I think this is a very difficult question to answer but a question that we should all dedicate time to thinking about. 

“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” – James Herriot

Admit it: Being a veterinarian is hard

In my opinion, the first thing we have to learn is that this job is really hard.  When we admit that it is difficult, it frees us up from some of the stress that we are not good enough to be doing this job.  For instance, even after 20 years of practice and countless spays, I still worry about certain spays (think like your 80-pound fat dog).  I would beat myself up about the fact that I was worrying about that case.   When I finally just accepted that spaying a huge dog will always be hard, it allowed me to let go of the stress.  

Why We Do What We Do: Being Present With A Client

“All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS’s Masterpiece

Perfection is an illusion, and as soon as we can realize that, it can help us start to understand how to control our own emotions so we can be there for our clients.   When I am stressed out, either from that big dog spay or a client who thinks I am incompetent, it is hard to walk into a room and leave all that outside so I can be present with that client.   However, being present with that client is why we do what we do.  When you start to lose the ability to slow down and be present in that room, veterinary medicine becomes a job instead of a vocation.

So how do you learn to be present?  I think that is different for everyone and for each clinic. 

  • It might be managing your schedule so you have some blocks in your day to catch up and take a breath. 
  • It might be meditation. 
  • It might be going to the gym every day. 

Unfortunately, we all have to experiment with what things works best for each of us.   Not much help – I know! 

Shifting Your Mindset

A mindset change might be needed in all of us

  • Maybe James Harriot perfected how to be present. 
  • Maybe, just maybe, his way to let the angry client go was to write stories of what a perfect day in veterinary medicine should look like. 
  • Or maybe his best days of writing occurred after he got a 1-star Google review, and they were a way to remember the times he emotionally connected well to his clients. 
  • Maybe what we can learn from him is not that all of our client interactions need to be perfect like his, but instead that he found a way to forget about the difficult times and focus on the good.  

Remember, this profession is hard, and we all need ways to cope with stress so we can do our best to meet our clients where they are emotionally.  

From the Summer Edition of “The GA Vet.”