Blue Monday or how to be a better colleague

It was a year ago that I was sitting in my little cottage in Falun, with three farm cats as my only company. With cold temperatures, but virtually no snow outside, I had ran out of excuses to make start on a project that I had pledged to pursue half a year earlier in Toronto…..

Throughout my professional life as a veterinarian, I had at multiple occasions benefited from the help and from the support I had received from colleagues and I had the great fortune of always working with helpful and supportive teams. If I felt that this had not been the case, I had made sure not to waste too much time to find something better or I hadn’t even taken a job in the first place.

Working in a collegial team, where everyone is helping each other, where every member of the team is respected and where there is courtesy and good communication, results in greater job satisfaction and in better clinical results. This meant for me and for my team usually better treatment of my patients and far more satisfied clients. Courtesy and good collegiality is important not only in a team, but it has to extend to neighboring colleagues and most importantly to all junior members of the profession and even to the aspiring work experience student who wants to find out how it is to work as a veterinary surgeon.

Unfortunately during my time at the FECAVA (the Federation of European Small Animal Veterinary Associations) and during my travels, I often learned of and at times even witnessed examples of sometimes appalling conduct, abuse of authority in a team and I met a large number of overworked, depressed and disillusioned younger colleagues. When investigating the background for this, it became clear that in many cases with a different management approach and with a different emphasis on collegiality this could have been avoided. Needless to say that disillusioned and frustrated new comers to any profession are unlikely to turn out to become great mentors themselves.

At the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Congress in Toronto I had pledged to put together a global set of rules for veterinary professionals to define how all team members should strive to conduct themselves towards their peers, both at their own clinics as well as towards their colleagues around them.

While sitting at my kitchen table in Falun, with my favorite feline companion occupying most of the space next to my laptop

I made a start with a document that was summarizing the already existing guidelines on the subjects of communication and collegiality, that had been defined in the Professional Code of Conduct of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) in the UK, in the European Veterinary Code of Conduct of the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe (FVE) and in the Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). I called this the “Falun Document” in recognition of the beautiful and peaceful surroundings I was finding myself in and in appreciation of the always friendly and supportive team I had the pleasure of working with at that time and in fact at all occasions I had worked in Scandinavia.

Once this task had been done, I started on a first draft of the document I had in mind, adding to the already existing guidelines what I thought was missing. While focusing strictly on communication and collegiality (the above mentioned documents cover a much larger range of aspects of veterinary life), I aimed to keep the final paper concise and as easy to read and to understand as possible.

I then found extremely helpful and supportive collaborators for the project in the Past Presidents of the WSAVA Walt Ingwersen (Canada) and later also in Shane Ryan (Singapore).

Although this was not a very large document, in order to keeping it to the point and to make it universally acceptable, it had to undergo multiple reviews and changes.

The global SARS CoV 2 pandemic then didn’t help matters, with all of us having to focus on other – more acute – matters affecting the lives of our families and the veterinary teams we were working with.

A further delay was caused by the postponement of the joint congress of our organisations, which had originally been scheduled for September 2020 in Warsaw and which we had in mind as the ideal background to launch the final document.

Further global lock downs and possibly also the Christmas holidays with very little else to do had at least the positive effect of pushing the project over the line, right in time for “Blue Monday” – widely recognized as the – on balance – most miserable day of the year – in recognition of the stress and mental strain poor collegiality can cause, not only among veterinary peers.

It is now planned to get the final “Global Principles of Veterinary Collegiality” translated (I am already working on a German version…..) and in time for the postponed congress in March (now – as most events- completely online) we are hoping to produce a poster which might find its way into some staff rooms around the globe.

Does it only take a small kitchen table and a purring cat ( and – ok – a laptop, a good working WLAN system and the world wide web…..) to improve the world (at least a little bit….)?

Published by The Blue Vet

I am a veterinary surgeon with a German and Norwegian educational background. I have been the founder and for over 20 years I have been the senior veterinarian at the Virginia Water Veterinary Clinic in Surrey, England. When starting this blog I was also the President of FECAVA, the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations. In the summer of 2019 I left my clinic to work as an international locum and clinical advisor. I am interested in all aspects of clinical companion animal medicine, in endurance sports and in traveling and meeting people with and without their pets and especially in sharing my knowledge with colleagues in other parts of Europe and the World.

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  1. I am only a cat owner over in the U.S. and not one of you, but certainly from the client side, how well the professionals get along with each other and share information certainly impacts the health of my animals. I wish you best of luck in your endeavor regarding veterinary congeniality. It was a hard year behind us, and the start to this one has not been much better, especially over here, as you know. All I can tell you is that we are grateful for all you veterinarians, especially working through the pandemic. Work together, work in peace and mutual respect. Remember why you all are in practice to begin with. The animals depend on you.


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