Attitude Adjustment

November 2023 |

Create a positive environment for your team and your customers.

Veterinary nurse Megan Brashear still vividly remembers when she received bad news about her beloved dog Phoebe. Years ago, the dog was diagnosed with lung cancer—evident on the X-ray, but Brashear’s brain was initially unable to register the news. “It took me 10 minutes,” she recalls. “I wonder how long it would take a client with zero experience.”

That episode helped Brashear to stop judging clients and to empathize more. “This was a wake-up call for me,” she recalls.

Brashear, BS, RVT, VTS (ECC), now senior manager of veterinary nursing at Purdue University, says that today her goal is to embrace an attitude of positivity in veterinary medicine. Here are Brashear’s tips for getting started:

Involve your team. The first thing to recognize, Brashear notes, is the huge “culture of guilt” that exists in the profession, with leadership often wrongly thinking they’re the only ones who can handle certain situations. That pattern can lead to resentment and burnout. Instead, she advises, ask your team for their input on solving problems. For example, “We’re nine people short on a 16-person team, how are we going to get the shifts covered?” You might be surprised what they come up with.

Don’t judge. It’s easy to think that you would never make a decision like choosing to euthanize or not euthanize or taking a 12-year-old dog with lumps into surgery, she notes. Instead, consider what your clients are thinking and feeling: “These people who have owned this dog for 12 years, who love this dog, are now all of sudden are going to spend $5,000 to torture it? No. They love this dog. They are doing what they think is the best thing for the dog,” she says. “What is my job? To provide the best nursing care to that animal that I possibility can.”

Lose the negativity. Why are we so negative? Because negative experiences stick. “We’re not out hunting woolly mammoths any more, but our brains are still wired to remember bad experiences so as to not repeat them,” says Brashear. “Now we are remembering that bad interaction we had with that client or a team member.” Train your brain to be positive, she suggests. “You choose your attitude when you get up every day.”

Assume good intent. So how do we break the cycle? “Just let it go,” advises Brashear. “Assume that everyone is doing the best they can. This is a lot of work, but it’s also so very easy.” Remind yourself that clients are not stupid. They’re not trying to ruin your day on purpose. They don’t hate their pets. They, too, are doing the best they can.

The sentiment also applies to your team. Once an overnight team saved a dog’s life, but the first thing Brashear noticed in the morning was a badly placed catheter. Catching herself, Brashear made sure to be encouraging first rather than jumping into correcting their technique. “This dog came in the night before, cold, unresponsive, mostly dead. And that overnight team got a catheter in that dog and literally saved that dog’s life,” she says. “Just move on. Stop being mad.”

Stop complaining. Complaining at work becomes a habit, says Brashear. Her team knows they can’t come into her office and complain. “Don’t come dump your problems on me … what are your thoughts on how we can fix it?” says Brashear. “We are going to think of a solution.”

No venting. You may think it’s good to vent, says Brashear, but in fact, venting is just continuing to relive the problem that made you angry. “What have we solved?” she asks. “Nothing.” Instead, she advises, determine what you can learn from the experience and move on.

Stop the cycle of negativity. It’s crucial to find a way to pull yourself out of a negative state before it becomes problematic, says Brashear. “Do something that you like to do,” she says. “For me, I go outside with my dogs. I throw the ball for my dog and I start to feel better.” Need vacation time? Then be sure to take it. “Take a day off. You’re not that important. I mean that in the best way,” she says. “You can be gone for six weeks and your hospital will still be standing.”