In the fast-paced realm of veterinary practice, it's all too easy to get swept up in the demands of the job. Amidst the constant flow of cases, surgeries and consultations, it's incredibly important not to lose sight of a core aspect: personal values. These are the bedrock principles that act as an internal compass, steering our decisions and actions, even in the face of intricate ethical dilemmas. I work with clients regularly, and at Vet Empowered, on getting clear on their values.
The Significance of Values
A personal value is a fundamental belief or principle that shapes your actions, and decisions. It serves as a moral compass, guiding you in various aspects of life and work. Identifying and
embracing your personal values empowers you to stay true to what matters most, even in
challenging situations, and fosters a sense of purpose and authenticity. It is very easy to end up chasing the things that are important to others or values that we wouldn’t actually choose,
because we’ve never created the time to look at what’s truly important to us.
Imagine a freshly qualified veterinary surgeon, just starting out on their career. The primary
focus usually lies in clinical knowledge and refining technical skills. However, personal values
form an integral part of our lives, beyond job titles. They embody the fundamental beliefs that
shape behaviour and delineate professional ethics for us as individuals. Identifying and
acknowledging these values serves as a steady anchor in the uncertainty of clinical practice, or making career based decisions.
Examples of values may include empathy, compassion, honesty, respect, teamwork, freedom,
excellence, sustainability, fun, diversity and learning. You’ll find hundreds of readily accessible
values exercises online, or you can work with a coach to figure them out. Generally, we may
have 3-5 core values, many times each value may have sub branches to them, for example fun might encompass adventure, laughing, creativity.
The Impact of Values
There are many metaphors for values: directions, anchors, compasses - choose whichever suits you. When aligned with your values as veterinary surgeon, you can more confidently navigate complex situations. We can also realise that each individual has their own set of values and experiences, so a situation which causes us discomfort may not cause the same feelings for someone else; we cover this further below.
Uncovering and embracing one's values can help with creating sense of purpose. Aligning what our actions look like alongside those values can help us move forward and find alignment. For example, we might say that we value respect, ask ourselves, what does that look like in action?
A Conflict of Values
Let’s look at two colleagues, Joanna and Josh, both vets.
Joanna places a strong emphasis on transparency and honesty in client interactions. Her core
value of integrity drives her to provide clients with comprehensive and detailed explanations
about their pet's condition, treatment options, and associated costs. She believes that building
trust through open communication is essential for maintaining strong relationships with clients.
On the other hand, Josh values efficiency and practicality in client interactions. His core principle is to streamline consultations and focus on delivering quick and effective solutions. He believes that providing concise information helps clients make decisions more swiftly and ensures that the clinic operates smoothly.
Conflict arises when Joanna and Josh collaborate on a complex case. Joanna insists on
spending significant time with the client, explaining the intricacies of the treatment plan and
addressing any concerns. Josh, eager to adhere to their value of efficiency, grows impatient with what they perceive as unnecessary detail and delays in the consultation.
The conflict stems from the clash of values: Joanna's emphasis on thorough communication
versus Josh's priority of efficiency. Their differing approaches lead to tension and frustration, as they struggle to find a common ground that balances both values.
This scenario highlights how conflicting value sets can result in misunderstandings and
challenges within a professional setting, even among skilled and well-intentioned individuals.
If they both understood their values, they could engage in open and empathetic communication, discussing their respective viewpoints and the importance of their values in their work. They might agree to establish a clear protocol for client consultations that incorporates both thorough communication and efficient decision-making. This compromise would allow them to honour their individual values while ensuring that clients receive comprehensive information and timely solutions. Additionally, regular check-ins and feedback sessions could provide opportunities for ongoing adjustments and improvements to their collaborative process.
This is a fictitious example, but it shows how different values in our work can lead to potential
conflict, when neither party is ‘wrong’ in their approach. Of course, it is also important to align
this with the values of the practice as well and have those in alignment with the daily actions of the team.
At this point, it is also worth noting that different values mean different things in action to
individuals. For example, freedom will not mean the same thing to you as it does to your
Finding Your Values
So, how do you go about identifying personal values within the context of veterinary medicine?
As explained previously, there are lots of options online to start to identify our values for free, but a good starting point can be:
1. What are some of the times inside and outside of work that you remember with a smile?
What was involved in this?
2. What principles or beliefs have consistently guided your decisions and actions
throughout your personal and professional life?
3. When reflecting on your proudest achievements, what common themes or values do you
notice that were instrumental in those accomplishments?
4. What will you always speak up on?
5. Consider a time when you felt most fulfilled and aligned with your true self. What values
were at the forefront during that experience?
6. If you were to create a list of qualities you'd want others to associate with you, what
words or values would be on that list?
Aspirational vs Current Values
Understanding the difference between these two is really important, because often we want to value something, yet our actions are not aligned with this. Uncovering our current values, and consciously deciding our aspirational values can help us to take aligned action moving forward, and understand ourselves further.
Current values refer to the principles and beliefs that are currently guiding your behaviours, and decisions in your daily life. These are the values that you are currently living and embodying. These might not always be values that we’d choose. Maybe subconsciously we have been told that hard work is really important, but we also know that this often takes over the other things we’d choose to values - such as family.
Aspirational values, on the other hand, are the principles and beliefs that you strive to
incorporate into your life and actions, even if you haven't fully realised them yet. These values
represent the ideals you are working towards and hope to embrace more fully in the future.
In essence, current values reflect who you are and how you are currently living, while
aspirational values represent who you want to become and the values you aim to prioritise in
your ongoing personal and professional development.
We always do this without judgement of ourselves. It is very easy for us to get drawn into
someone else’s set of values, or things we were told should be important. When we start to
figure out a set of values that feel right for us, we can start to look at how that integrates to work, our actions, values and beyond.
As veterinary surgeons, we absolutely do have profound responsibility. Figuring out what’s
important to us about the ways in which we practice, and how those values are aligned outside of work too, can have a huge impact.
In this journey, let personal values radiate as a guiding light when we come to understand
When the time is right to take aligned action on your values and have the space to explore
what’s really important to you, check out www.vetempowered.com