ImproMed, LLC. Logo
Issue: 42 - Jun 15, 2012
How is Your Attitude when you Show up for Work?
By: Phil Zeltzman DVM, DACVS, CVJ
Dr. Phil Zeltzman

I am often surprised by the answer I hear from some veterinary professionals (from the “front” all the way to the “back” with everybody in between) when I ask a fairly simple question: “How are you doing?” (or, I admit it, I sometimes ask “How YOU doin’?”)


This actually applies whether I walk into a clinic to perform surgery, or I call a colleague on the phone.


So I decided to conduct a highly scientific experiment for Impromed readers. For the past few weeks, I have been systematically writing down the answers I heard. Here are the striking results:


“How are you doing?” – the sad answers:


* “Don’t ask”

* “It’s gonna be one of those days”

* “I don’t wanna be here” (a quote from a practice owner)

* “Can this day be over?” (a quote from a medical director)

* “I’ve been better” or “Could be better”

* “I’m here”

* “Same s***, different day”

* “I love my job” (sarcastic tone)

* “I hate my job” (serious tone)

* “Can’t complain”

* “Can’t complain – it wouldn’t do any good anyway”

* “Not too bad”

* “Sucky”

* “Yeah yeah whatever, what are you gonna do?”

* “Hanging in there”

* “Is it time to go home yet?”

* “I just work here”

* “It’s Monday”

* “Thank God it’s Friday”

* “Crazy as usual”

* “You don’t wanna know”

* And on a not-so-hot spring day, the most troublesome reply to this simple, innocent question, “How are you doing?” was:  “Tired… cranky… hot… miserable‏…”


There are (at least) two negative consequences of such attitudes:

  1. They make us feel even worse, while rarely eliciting any feelings of sympathy. Sort of a sad self-fulfilling prophecy.
  2. They set the tone for a grumpy atmosphere throughout the practice.  Like a contagious disease, a bad attitude or a bad mood can affect everybody in the hospital. I would venture to say this is especially true when the negativity stems from the higher uppers.

On the happier side, here are some very different answers I have heard in reply to our question of the day:


“How are you doing?” – the happy answers:


* “Peachy keen”

* “Dandy”

* “Groovy”

* “Never better”

* “I’m great”

* “Good”

* “I’m goood, I’m goood”

* “I’m wonderful”

* “Fine”

* “Ducky”

* “I’m blessed”

* “Awesome”

* “Fantastic”

* “Phenomenal”


You may have noticed that there are 22 “sad” answers listed, but only 14 “happy” ones.  And I thought we all had the greatest jobs in the world, helping people help their pets feeling better!


The sad truth is, most people don’t really care how you’re doing when they pop the question. It’s a habit, a ritual, a social convention, rarely a true invitation for you to share your misery.  So at the very least, if you’re having a bad day, fake it. Say something non-committal like “Good, thank you, and you?” or “I’m fine, thanks, how are you?”


Surely you know people just like the ones I meet every day. Some always seem so miserable, you wonder why they still do what they do for a living.  Clearly, they do it for a paycheck, not out of love or passion.


And then, some people always appear to be happy, always thrilled to do what they do for a living, always eager to help, no matter how tough a day might be.  Having a cheery disposition actually helps them survive the roughest days, even when their favorite patient gets euthanized or their critical patient dies.


One colleague answered my seemingly benign question with a somber tone: “I’m terrible, miserable.” Why? Did she lose both her parents?  Does her child have cancer?  Did she lose her job?  No, she continued: “I’m paying bills.”


The thing is, we all need to pay bills, both in our personal and professional lives.  It’s like doing dishes and laundry.  We don’t really have a choice. So we can do it grumbling and feeling miserable. Or we can do it, if not with a smile, at least with a positive attitude. After all, it’s not like we’re paying for nothing. We most likely got something in return, whether it is medical supplies, electricity, a roof over our heads, purchases on a credit card or insurance.


This reminds me of a suggestion given by Kathy Ruby, PhD, a faculty member at Washington State University who co-founded the Veterinary Leadership Experience (VLE) and Editor in Chief for The Exceptional Veterinary Team journal (


I had met Kathy at a (fantastic) Leadership conference I attended a few years ago.  Speaking of herself, she said:


"When I wake up every morning, and I'm standing in my kitchen, holding that first cup of coffee, I recognize I have to make a choice.  It's like there are two sliding glass doors to the world on either side of my house.  Through one door, I see a garbage dump - grey, dirty, dusty and filled with broken down appliances and rubbish.  Through the other door, I look out over a beautiful meadow, filled with grazing deer and majestic pines bordering the sky.


Now, realistically, I know that both are real.  Both truly exist in the world… my world.  And I can exit through either door.  The door I choose to walk through colors my world, my experiences and my interactions for the day.  Knowing this, I always try to choose well!" 


Kathy Ruby suggested posting two pictures in your break room, or near the “Staff only” entrance, or next to your time clock: one of a somber dumpster, and one of a beautiful, sunny landscape. And to reinforce the message, you can write in big, bold letters: “What is your attitude today?”


And you, dear reader, what will you answer the next time somebody asks you “How YOU doin’?”


Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ


Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound: How You and Your Dog Can Lose Weight, Stay Fit, and Have Fun Together (”