Vet Walking On Eggshells!

Question:

I found your website of WorkDoctors and thought “Wow” – I’ve found the place. After intense searching and reading, I have found many interesting stories, questions and answers – however nothing that really hit the nail on the head for my particular issue. I hope that you are able to provide some guidance for me. At the early age of 34, I have just begun my second career as a Veterinarian. I have just been hired at what seems to be a great veterinary clinic; one that has similar goals and interests as I have. Enthusiastically, I offered to go in unpaid for two days after graduation, before the start date of my contract – just to get a feel of the place, introduce myself to the workers and become familiar with the products, etc of the clinic. For the most part, I really enjoyed my time and felt comfortable with the staff. However, I came across a nurse who was aggressive, hostile and rude to me on both days.

For example, I offered my help with clipping a dog and her very gruff and short reply was, “I don’t want you to do anything!” Then on the second day, she seemed quite miffed that I was in the surgery room taking up space – as she made an elbow gesture of not enough room to my new boss who was the one who had invited me into the surgery. Towards the end of the surgery the Dr and nurse proceeded to have a conversation that was awkward for me to stand in on, but I couldn’t leave the room. It was based on the nurse saying to the vet that he was “mean” to her. He replied by saying that he wasn’t and tried to explain that she needed to divulge information about where she puts things so when she isn’t there other people can find them, etc.

It was uncomfortable for me and seemed quite uncomfortable for the vet. I tried to diffuse the situation by saying, “It’s really a complement.” and before I could finish her response was, “Will you just go away!” I know that perhaps I should have not said anything, but it was uncomfortable and it was the only way I knew how to deal with the situation for myself, the head vet and her. The vet said nothing – just looked sheepish. I do not know if he had a word with her later on – I would have hoped so, but this is only a golden standard wish. I was just quite after that comment.

She then commented on what poor habits the vet had. I saw an opportunity and said with placing my hand on her arm, “Well you can train me how you wish a good vet to be.” She seemed happy with this as she said, “Don’t you worry about that.” I left shortly after all of this and said to both, “Thank you for your help today and I look forward to seeing you next time I come in.” It was the best I could do to defuse the situation and make her feel important, which I felt she wasn’t feeling.

I would also like to note that she has also made a few other comments to another vet (one year out) that was more an attempt to condemn and accuse rather than assist and inform. She seems to be quite defensive and didn’t take well to me assisting with a surgery even though she had left the surgery herself. Another vet has made comments to ignore her. However, the head vet seemed to be more embarrassed and walking on eggshells around her. My question is how should I handle this? I am not a thick-skinned person, especially in this situation where my professional appearance is so vitally important to me. I’m fresh out of university into a career that I am passionate about, but trying to find my feet and a bit insecure about my knowledge and skills as I haven’t even started working for this clinic. I know that difficult people exist, but I don’t want to be bullied or have my confidence shattered by this woman. I am on a three-month probation period – so I don’t even feel that I can say anything or act any way except to ignore her until I have a full year or more contract. Can you please advise as I’m terrified of having a bully on my tail – she seems like the person who would target me as I am new and willing to please and get along. Thank you for your time and any assistance you may provide.

Signed,

Bully On My Tail


Answer:

Dear Bully On My Tail:

Put your anxiety and desire to please behind you. You do not have to walk on eggshells. You are a mature individual with years of experience and training. You are certified as a vet, and veterinarians are a rare species in high demand. Aren’t they? Also, put the event between the nurse and vet way back in your mind and don’t talk with others about your difficulty with Ms. Incivility. It is past and between them, not between her and you. Unfortunately, your vet training probably did not include how to deal with difficult co-workers. Soak up as much as you can during this probationary period. Take care to be patient and not interrupt. Ask for permission to ask questions. Speak with those you assist to get their ok to ask questions and under what circumstances. For example, probably some questions are crucial and at other times are inappropriate during surgery or when in the presence of clients. Be pleasant but not overly so. In short be kind and comfortable but not groveling to please. The same goes for working with Ms. Incivility. If there are more incidents in which she snubs or bullies, you do not have to wait until the end of your probationary period to assert, “Speak to me politely and I will do the same to you. My goal is to do the best I can to help this clinic be a success and I’m sure that is your goal too. Is it not?” The time to express yourself this way may be at the moment of incivility or if not then in a moment when you can take her aside and say you want to speak with her privately. That could be a time for both of you to bring out your feelings firmly and to see if you could find a way to work collaboratively in the future. Apparently, you have spoken with others about this individual. I would avoid that now unless she really behaves badly, and then if you must express your self, it should be with whomever is in charge. It may be that a three-way confrontation can be scheduled and the rules for civility can be agreed on. Your desire to be well received by all in this clinic is the way it should be, but think of this three months as that the clinic is on probation too. You want settle in to a work environment that is supportive and has pleasant weather, not one that is cloudy, stormy, and subject to whirlwinds, if not tornadoes. Does this make sense to you? Feel free to update us after a few weeks on how things are working out for you. This morning I answered another query about incivility, this one in an orthodontist’s office. I’m attaching that to give you more ideas about how to approach conflict and more importantly how to prevent or deal with it constructively. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden