Everyone knows that becoming a veterinarian is a long, intense andmost of all—extremely competitive journey. From getting into vet school, to securing a coveted internship or job, you need a competitive spirit to stand out in a sea of equally intelligent, motivated, and accomplished peers. After four or more years, this tenacious, self-focused, type-A approach can become second nature.

Some new graduates enter the veterinary community and struggle to lose this guarded, independent, performance-based mindset. Unfortunately, this can slow professional growth—including networking and learning opportunities—and limit the intrinsic rewards and joy of being a veterinarian.

As this year’s graduating class of veterinarians prepares to take on their professional world, I encourage you to relinquish competitiveness and embrace collegiality.

What is collegiality in vet med?

Collegiality refers to a positive relationship between colleagues that is based on mutual respect for each other’s valuable knowledge and contributions. These relationships prioritize shared goals and outcomes and recognize the collective rather than the individual effort. In veterinary medicine, we share a common goal (i.e., enhancing pet health and wellbeing), but may have wildly diverse experiences, specialty interests, and perspectives, based on a variety of factors such as age, region, practice areas, and personal interests. So, it’s easy to see how a collegial approach can yield better results than a solo effort. 

One call away: Collegiality in action

Many years ago, I was working in an overnight emergency practice here in California when a canine patient was admitted for squinting and ocular discomfort. The only notable medical history was a recent porcupine encounter on a family trip to Michigan. A Michigan ER vet had removed the majority of the quills, but after sedating the dog, I found one remaining quill embedded near the dog’s eye. I was by myself in the middle of the night in the pre-Google era and completely unfamiliar with porcupine-related matters, so I did the only thing I could think of—I called a random ER center in Michigan and asked for the veterinarian on duty.

After I explained the reason for my call, this anonymous, gracious, and patient veterinarian walked me through the quill removal process, sharing knowledge I otherwise wouldn’t have hadfor example, determining whether the quill should be pulled straight out or twisted. After I successfully extracted the quill, the ER vet admitted that she’d never removed a foxtail—an unfortunate specialty here in California—and asked me to share my method. This unexpected phone conversation in the middle of the night, from halfway across the country, was such a beautiful demonstration of collegiality that it stays in my mind to this day, decades after I chose that random ER number, dialed, and hoped for the best.

Making the transition from competitive to collegial

Letting go of traits that are no longer beneficial can be challenging, but because collegiality yields mutual gain on many levels—helping us not only learn but also to experience a greater sense of belonging and support—the more you practice, the more collegial you’ll become.

Here are some practical and easy ways to adopt a collegial spirit in vet med.

#1: Respect and listen to others

Veterinarians won’t always agree on how to approach a case or handle a client, and that’s OK. Whether you disagree or someone disagrees with you, keep an open mind and actively listen to different perspectives. It’s not about being the bestit’s about doing what’s best for your patient and client.

#2: Collaborate and share whenever you can

Veterinary medicine is not a solo sport. Engage with others, ask questions, and be humble enough to ask for assistance, advice, and fresh ideas. This makes you a better clinician, not less! Similarly, if you think you have insights that can help others, be generous and forthcoming and share them with your peers and colleagues.

#3: Communicate well

Honesty, authenticity, and kindness are essential to collegial interactions. Communicate with intention, respect both sides of the conversation, and avoid harsh sentiments, such as blame, bias, or judgment. Remember, we’re all working toward a shared goal!

#4: Seek out and cultivate connections

Professional relationships are built, not born—they take intentional and ongoing effort. Connect with your mentor and veterinary colleagues, in-clinic and beyond, and build your network and expand your learning. Whenever possible, grow and maintain your connections through regular communication or interactions, such as check-ins, idea-sharing, online forums and communities, conferences, or getting together for a meal or drinks.

#5: Accept feedback with gratitude and consideration

Competitive professionals often find that accepting feedback is too difficult, but reframing incoming information as an opportunity to grow and improve can help you depersonalize constructive criticism, determine helpful from unhelpful feedback, and take positive action.

Alternatively, feedback that you provide to others should help them succeed and improve their contributions to your shared goals and the greater veterinary community. Recently, I saw a patient who had visited an ER overnight because of toxic mushroom ingestion. I reviewed the bloodwork, and noted an abnormal liver value that the ER vet didn’t address. Assuming this was a simple oversight—and something I’d want to know about if it were me—I called the ER to speak with the vet. She and her medical director were so pleased, not only to learn about the error, but also to be informed in a non-confrontational, judgment-free manner, that they sent me a thank-you gift!

#6: Celebrate all wins

We can all do great things, so acknowledge and celebrate your colleagues’ victories and accomplishments, as well as those of our industry at large. In a collegial relationship, uplifting others uplifts us all. Plus, celebration is a great stress reliever!

#7: Be flexible and adaptable

A flexible personality helps you work with others more effectively and stay open to new ideas, techniques, and perspectives. Adaptability not only creates a more harmonious work environment, but also makes you easier to work with, which increases the likelihood that others will help you when you need it!

Collegiality transforms our work by shifting our focus from how to be our best selves to how to be our best for others. It breaks down the barriers that we build from our individual achievements and shows us how to forge better, stronger paths together.

Finally, when we understand the value and importance of collegiality and genuine collaboration, we can all realize our full potential as veterinarians and human beings, and deliver optimal care to pets, pet parents and, ultimately, ourselves. 

Ready, Vet, Go Veterinary Mentorship is an innovative online program and community that helps new and early career veterinarians build confidence, gain independence, and experience greater joy. Visit our FAQ page to learn more about what we offer or get in touch with our team.

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