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Finding the road to resilience
  1. Lucy Dobree, BVM, BVS, MRCVS

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Lucy Dobree is a veterinary surgeon at Bicester Vets, Oxfordshire

About a month ago I had a reminder about the importance of resilience.

A client rung our out-of-hours line because she was concerned about her cat. The cat had been assessed 10 days earlier by my colleague who had offered further investigations, which the client had declined. She had instead opted for symptomatic treatment and agreed to attend a re-examination appointment two days later. She did not attend this appointment, but instead rang the practice at 01:00 on a Sunday morning because her cat ‘was no better’. The on-call nurse informed her of our out-of-hours charges and the client started swearing, shouting and insisting we see her cat completely free of charge because ‘you didn’t fix him before’.

I rung the client back. I tried to ask about the cat. I tried to ascertain if it was an emergency or not. I tried to talk to the owner about payment plans or to ask if she had pet insurance. But every time I tried to say anything she erupted back at me. I listened to her call me ‘a f***ing disgrace’. I listened to her call me incompetent. I listened to her question how, as an animal lover, I could live with myself when I was charging such ridiculous prices for my services. I tried again to ask about her cat, but she ignored me and informed me she would be reporting me to the ‘veterinary council’ and hung up the phone.

Now, I know during that phone call that I did my professional duty. I did not shout back. I did not hang up the phone. I listened to a client swear at me and yet I still attempted to ask her about her pet. I was professional. But acting professionally in this situation didn’t magically erase the fact that underneath my RCVS number I am a human being; a human being that had, to put it plainly, just been verbally abused.

When I first graduated I tried very hard to eradicate this humanity that existed inconveniently underneath my stethoscope. I thought I was weak because situations like this bothered me. I was supposed to be a professional, which I assumed meant being strong, stoic and absorbing stress effortlessly. I assumed resilience was just another way of describing this sentiment, like it was the millennial life coach version of ‘keep calm and carry on’.

Ignoring this stress is not resilience, it’s avoidance

But now I realise I was wrong. As hard as we might try to deny it, we are all human which means stressful situations are going to effect us. Ignoring this stress is not resilience, it’s avoidance. Resilience is not only about being able to take the pressure this job puts on you, but actively coping with that pressure – which means both accepting it and finding ways to help you alleviate it.

And the best way I’ve found to do this is to embrace your humanity – take your stethoscope off from round your neck and spend time doing something that brings you joy.

For me, this comes from spending time with my best friends. Sometimes it comes from something as simple as a text message. Sometimes it comes from something bigger like watching them buy their first house or get married. And sometimes it’s from something as ridiculous as being sat with them on the floor of a holiday let at 03:00 singing along to Vanessa Carlton. But, whatever the scenario, my resilience comes from them because they make me laugh and feel loved. They remind me I am not the things I was accused of being on that phone call, but instead I am their friend who was just trying to do her best – and somehow this helps me rationalise and move past these incidents.

Maybe your way of being resilient is different. But you should know one thing – resilience is not something that comes from internalising your stress and it is certainly not something you have to achieve alone.

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