How to tackle social media and cyber bullying as a veterinarian.
We all went to veterinary school to pursue a long, fulfilled career as a veterinarian. Yes, veterinary school provides you with an amazing foundation. It gets you prepared for the educational side of our profession. But, what about the rest?? As a young professional, there will be challenges you face out in practice that can take a toll on you over time. The difficult part is that you will not always be able to prepare for them when they happen.
These challenges will come unexpectedly and can cause a mix of emotions from stress to anxiety to fear to dread. We all know these emotions well, especially as a new graduate veterinarian. While you cannot predict what is thrown your way, you can control how you handle these challenges. We created this community so that we can help YOU last in this profession.
Mental health is extremely important to us, so we want to open up the discussion involving some of the areas where your mental health will be challenged throughout your career. This topic was not addressed nearly enough when we were in school, so we are here to open up the conversation. VETS ON THE RISE is a safe space where we will openly share to help you guys see that you are not alone in how you are feeling.
Social media has completely taken over in the last 10-15 years. Many remember when Facebook was only available to college students, and Instagram started out as a way to share pictures of things you love like your food, friends, and pets. Now, social media has become a way to market, review, and find local people and businesses. It has us more connected than ever. As you can imagine, this comes with many pluses and minuses.
As a veterinarian, we have two personas: one is our work/professional side, while the other is our personal side. Social media has begun to blur the lines between these two, where many of us are melding both together. We are now using social media platforms to raise awareness for our profession, and there are so many great positives about this! Benefits include educating owners directly (away from Dr. Google), marketing our hospitals and services easier, and reaching other veterinary professionals for networking.
While social media has many positives, it can also take a toll on our mental health. We have to protect ourselves because the downside is that it makes us more accessible. Personally, we have been affected by this through clients or acquaintances reaching out for medical advice via Instagram or email. We made the mistake of being too accessible early in our careers, as we both thought it would help us gain a loyal clientele faster. This accessibility makes it difficult to unplug after work when our phones are often by our sides.
Dr. Gray had a situation in her first couple years out in practice where a loyal client kept sending photos of a wound on a digit via email. She had seen the patient earlier that week and prescribed treatments for a nail bed infection. It was a common enough problem that typically responded very well to NSAIDs, oral antibiotics, epsom salt foot soaks, and an e-collar. Dr. Gray did not responding quickly to the emails due to being off work, and when she did (within 48 hours), the wound seemed like it was stable enough in the photos, as most of the cases go very well. Unfortunately, the photos did not do the wound justice. When the owner finally understood she needed to be seen in person, the digit had actually started to degrade with the infection. While photos can be great, they also do not tell you as much as an in person exam because you cannot smell and visualize the presenting complaint as well. This experience burned Dr. Gray because had the owner not been emailing first, she may have sought out help earlier. While we all wish for better outcomes in these situations, it can happen easily. This experience helped her to understand how virtual consultation has its limits and has the potential to lead to poor outcomes.
Our best advice is to create your boundaries from day one. Figure out what works for you, and make it a hard and fast rule. It is much easier to train your clients from the beginning. You can have easy phrases you copy and paste to those who message you, where you give them your professional contact information to reach you during business hours. If you do give your email to certain clients (or they find it), ensure that you tell them you do not check it often via an automated message you can have populate (Let's say, every 1-2 days when working, but clarify that you can be off for longer periods of time.), so if the client has an emergency it is important that they call the hospital straight away.
We are slowly figuring out telemedicine and its limitations, so continue to stay up to date on what you can and cannot do. Simple advice may help you gain loyal clients, but just remembering phrases like "While I would love to help your pet, unfortunately it is illegal to give medical advice without a client-patient relationship. I may end up doing a disservice to your pet giving you advice without an exam." Keep your focus on what the goal of your platform is, and never be afraid to say no.
Start this easy habit from the beginning, and it will make a big difference in how you feel after work. We all need time to decompress after a long day, and unplugging after work will make a big difference.
Now, let's talk about this hot button: cyber bullying. With social media, comes online reviews and ways for people to connect through their positive and negative feedback. Yelp, Google, Facebook, and more all provide platforms for people to voice their concerns about anything from a bad restaurant experience to waiting in line too long to a price they did not agree with to a veterinary visit that did not go as smoothly as the client would have liked.
Online reviews and cyber bullying are becoming more frequent, as our statistic shows. Anytime a client has a bad experience, they can now take their voice to the internet. Most client complaints and bad reviews center around communication issues, long wait times, and the expense of veterinary care.
While these can be addressed on an individual basis, they can feel like a personal attack. With people hiding behind their computer screens, they can say things that would not normally be said to someone's face. People can create Facebook groups that bully veterinarians or post something negative that gets taken out of context.
This is very important to remember...so listen up! Each and every one of you will get a bad review or have an experience with cyber bullying at some point in your career. When it does happen, remember that it is NOT YOU that is the problem. It is the person writing it. Try not to take it personally and remember this great quote we like..."I either win or learn, but I never lose."
While you cannot force someone to take down a review, you can address it head on. As a hospital owner, we recommend you address every client complaint, no matter how outrageous. The whole reason someone does this is to be heard. Give them that opportunity. Many places will have management reach out first to have the client explain their bad experience and what the hospital can do for them. Many times it is not even a financial concern, but rather a communication issue they want addressed. These experiences become learning opportunities where you can take what you can from them but leave what is not productive.
Dr. Tarantino had an experience where a client threatened to ‘go postal’ on her online. She left work that evening, numb. She had only been out in practice for six months and was not sure what to do. Her co-workers told her it would be ok, but she would barely sleep that night, as she was consumed with fear. "Was there something I could have done differently?" She’d ask herself that question repeatedly over the next few weeks.
Have you felt this fear before? 🙋🏻 Well, you are not alone. Dealing with threats and online shaming is not ok. We wish we could say that we have never dealt with it, or will not deal with it again, but we can’t.
No matter how many patients lives you save, no matter how many clients you have that love you, that risk is there. There is a lesson in this. Part of your journey as a veterinarian and a human means conquering your fears and learning from every situation you are placed in. It means remembering that you are not one bad situation, or one client's opinion of you. You are so much more than that. Though overcoming fear is not always pretty, Dr. Tarantino has three antidotes to fear that have helped her in these situations.
#1: The first is support. Support from my friends. My family. My coworkers.
#2: The second is perspective. I am more than just this one situation. An angry client or a rough situation does not get to take away all of the patients I help, my desire to keep helping, and to grow as a person.
#3: And the third, and most important to me, is self love. Work on this endlessly. Forgive yourself if needed....Stand up for yourself when warranted, and learn from it all.
Below, we are sharing a story by Dr. Simpson (@thehonestvet) on a recent experience she had with cyber bullying. We are grateful she is willing to openly share with our VETS ON THE RISE fam so you can learn from her experience.