Organized chaos. These two words describe my veterinary clinic perfectly. We have far too many staff members taking care of far too many patients in a clinic that is far too small. Personalities clash and tempers soar — a natural phenomenon in our high stress profession.
And the ensuring workplace drama! Oh, how there is always so much juicy gossip.
But this is the story of how I learned to stop participating in that toxic work culture. This is how I learned to grow.
At my clinic, somebody was always unanimously made an unspoken scapegoat for everything that went wrong.
Oh, the appointment wasn’t booked correctly? Must be her fault. The wrong medication was sent home? She must have done it.
Oftentimes, the scapegoat was somebody who could not keep up with the fast-paced, high stress environment we worked in. Scapegoats never lasted in the job for long, and once a scapegoat left, a new one would be chosen.
Unfortunately, I also found myself partaking in this culture. I’d roll my eyes at every mistake I caught and automatically assumed it was the fault of the scapegoat. I’d gossip alongside the other staff members and openly complained about him or her as well.
During this particular time, my clinic had chosen our new, unspoken scapegoat, Susan* (*real name hidden for anonymity). Susan was a receptionist that had been working with us for months, and we had just lost our last scapegoat weeks ago.
Susan had not come from an animal handling background, and so was still somewhat nervous about restraining, vaccinating, and taking the temperatures of our patients. Instead of trying to help her, we saw her fear as a weakness, and soon, we began to notice that she was asking the veterinary nurses to perform the simple tasks that fell under her job description.
The receptionist desk was situated at the front of the clinic, while the veterinary nurse station was at the back of the clinic. To help with communication, receptionists could call the nurses on an internal phone line. Every time I was at the veterinary nurse station and the internal phone rang, we’d all take a bet on whether it was Susan. More often than not, it was.
On this particular day, I answered the phone and heard Susan’s voice on the other end. Of course it was her, again. I caught the attention of the veterinary nurses and rolled my eyes, pointing at the phone. Everyone laughed — everyone except for Carrie* (*real name hidden for anonymity). Carrie was a veterinary nurse who had worked with us part-time for years, and so I didn’t interact with her as regularly as I did with the other nurses.
“You know she has no choice, right?” Carrie asked us.
“What do you mean?” We implored back. We didn’t understand what Carrie was asking.
“She’s been assigned to stay at the receptionist’s desk at all times. Our clinic manager had to do this because all of the other receptionists take off and leave the desk unattended. She’s the only one responsible enough to stay.”
We all stared. I felt my stomach lurch as the realization hit me. I had assumed Susan called for help so often because she was lazy and helpless. In reality, she physically was not allowed to leave her desk. I had been incredibly judgmental and downright mean. Susan didn’t deserve that kind of treatment behind her back. Right then and there, I vowed never to act like this again towards Susan or anyone else.
Since then, I have tried to show Susan how much I appreciate her. I’ve taken care to ask her about her day and to let her vent to me about all the stress she’s feeling from the job. I’ve learnt that her hobbies include glamour makeup, styling hair, and vegan cooking. She also shares a dog with her roommate, whom I’ve never met.
I no longer participate in that toxic gossiping culture that was so prevalent in my clinic. In fact, I have shared my reasoning for this with other staff members who are still practicing it. Gradually, I’ve seen them stop the behavior as well.
These days, we no longer have a scapegoat. I am so proud of my clinic for having taken such a giant leap towards acceptance. Kindness truly goes a long way.