Managing expectations and setting boundaries at the veterinary clinic

An interview with Dr. Nadine Hamilton, Psychologist & LYPLYV Founder

29 March 2022 5 min read


Dr Nadine Hamilton helps veterinary and animal workers by using researched, evidence-based solutions to help them get in control of their wellbeing so they can enjoy life, become more resilient, feel healthy, and easily knock out stress and overwhelm. She is a psychologist, author and international speaker. A leading authority on veterinary wellbeing and founder of charity Love your Pet, Love your Vet (LYPLYV), Nadine joins us on episode 8 to talk about managing expectations and setting boundaries.

Using your strengths and interests to your advantage

Her background and story are inspiring as she reminds us that a role in helping animals doesn’t always necessarily directly mean being a vet or vet nurse. She candidly admits that elements like operating on animals would be too much and is queasy about such things.

However, her passion for animals and helping the veterinary industry was realised through her interest in psychology and the human mind. It was also driven by the loss of her cousin who had committed suicide and had been a turning point. Fate would also have it that, during and after her studies,  a conversation with a vet broached the topic of suicide rates in the veterinary industry and as a budding psychologist, she wanted to do something about it – and her journey in suicide prevention began.

By using her strengths and interests, she knew she could indirectly help animals by helping the people who care for animals – vets.

This is a testament to the importance of regular evaluations, reflection and conversations with yourself as it could lead you to pivotal moments and inspire your career development. We also spoke about this in our episode with Elle Payne, The Positive Vet Nurse, who wanted to develop more on the neurology side of her nursing career and in an upcoming episode with Anthony Chadwick, how he channelled his expertise on dermatology into his founded company The Webinar Vet.

After Nadine’s research and during her doctorate, she developed a well-being programme to help vets in their day-to-day practice life. It was effective and statistically significant. This translated into her founding her charity Love Your Pet, Love Your Vet, then published her book Coping with Stress and Burnout as Veterinarian in 2019.

It demonstrates how cumulatively, things can add up and listening to and investing in your interests can be rewarding and work to your favour.  It can also set the tone for managing expectations and setting boundaries. 

What are unrealistic expectations and how can I manage them?

In this episode, we talk about unrealistic expectations and how they were one of the top five that contributed to the high rates of suicide based on her research. 

“It’s two-fold here. There’s unrealistic expectations from others – the clients, colleagues, friends – just the expectation that you can fix everything. That you can perform miracles and things like fitting in another consult when you’re extremely exhausted. The pressures mount up. And then there’s pressures you might put on yourself. Many deal with imposter syndrome, not feeling good enough, trying to be perfect and so on. It’s a double-whammy.”

Nadine’s advice to help manage expectations is always remembering that perfection doesn’t exist and being constructively critical on what adds up as being normal, happy and high-performing. Also asking the question out loud e.g. Is it realistic to perform two surgeries if two emergencies come through the door?

Questioning what appears to be unrealistic usually always confirms your suspicion. Then once it’s identified, you can act on it appropriately to manage it better.

“Sometimes it’s taking a step back and looking at what pressure is this putting on me to try and achieve what I’m aiming to do? Is it realistic to think that I can accomplish this? What would I say if this was a colleague? It’s reminding yourself that sometimes you can’t do certain things. You can’t be everything to everyone. You can be more realistic and respond differently.”

Her advice also centres on the fact that veterinary professionals by nature are high-achievers and you can still have high expectations, but they also need to be realistic. It could be done through SMART goals setting, resolutions, note-taking, reflection or otherwise.

Individuals can’t possibly have all the answers and that’s okay. We’re not built to do everything on our own and “we’re not designed to be in fight-or-flight permanently. Cortisol and stress levels shoot up. It can lead to all sorts of issues. So we do have to compartmentalise and relax at some point. It’s a good reminder of the quote:

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Theodore Roosevelt.

Accepting the reality of what is

One of Nadine’s highly recommended coping mechanisms is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It is about accepting the things you can’t control but committing to act or respond in a manner that corresponds with your values.

“If you’re going over and over in your head I should’ve said, this I should’ve done that, you just spiral, creating more stress for something that isn’t going to change. It isn’t useful or doesn’t change anything by wishing it was different. Being able to accept and acknowledge the reality of what is, is a big part of recovery and coping. It’s evidence-based and it works. It’s having the ability to deal with the demands of everyday life, there’s always something that we wish we could change, but having an acceptance or different perspective on it shifts things in a good way. It puts you in the signature of gratitude too.”

The ACT model enables veterinary professionals to put their own behaviours in their control, since anything else outside of that isn’t controllable including other people and events.

Setting healthy boundaries using your own home analogy

A different way to think about and embed healthy boundaries is to liken it to your home:

“Think about your boundaries as a fence line, at home or at your workplace. Whether it’s a physical fence or wall. Think about who or what do you want to come into your space. You can let people or things in or you can keep them at an arms-length space. I might talk to someone at a distance or I can fully engage with them, I don’t have to let anyone in fully in my metaphorical home. A boundary is what we’re prepared to accept and what we’re not. As well as who are we prepared to accept things from and what we aren’t. You get to decide.”

Nadine’s advice is to manage expectations and impart those boundaries for the sake of your mental and physical health, even though it might seem quite daunting to do so in the beginning. There’s a difference between you doing an extra consult or working extra hours and you feeling good with it vs you doing the extra time and you’re not happy at all and feeling burned out. Communicating and asserting your position is important for open and honest relationships and Nadine gives plenty of examples in the podcast as to how you can feel more comfortable doing so.

Tune in to find out more and listen to Nadine’s highly engaging conversation and therapeutic wonders!   


Disclaimer: The links below are AU-based websites, however some of the information is still globally relevant and useful to your teams.