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Saturday, February 18th, 2017 @ 2:00pm

Dr. Connie De Haan lead an important discussion about using failure as a learning experience to foster personal and professional growth, strengthen the veterinary team, and improve care.


20170218 141638What We Learned

In the animal world, we survive on the love of our work, and depend on support from those who share it with us.  If our working environment is hostile, uncomfortable, or toxic, everyone suffers – including the patients.

Dr. Connie De Haan, DVM, MA, DipACVR, and Medical Director of IDEXX Telemedicine Consultants defined psychological safety as,

“A climate in which people feel free to express relevant thoughts and feelings,” and,

“A workplace that allows no significant injury to mental health in negligent, reckless or intentional ways”

Psychological safety is crucial to a healthy organization, no matter what industry we’re talking about.  It’s not just about getting along with your coworkers, either.  It’s about protecting the space between each person and each level of employee – both physically and mentally – when a problem occurs.


Failure hurts worse in an unsafe environment

When we fail, the impact on the individual and the team is just as important as finding the reason why.  If the work environment is psychologically unsafe, issues may go unaddressed and, inevitably, they get worse.  For example, an employee may fail to report a missed treatment due to fear of the consequences, if their superiors are known to punish mistakes with untempered disciplinary action.

The effects on the organization are perhaps even more significant.  In an unsafe work environment, employees call in “sick” more often, engage in gossip, and focus more on getting through the day than on patients.  Reduced efficiency and poor patient care hurt the business, not to mention the fact that clients can sense an unhappy staff, and may choose to take their pets elsewhere.

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Changing our perspective

So, how can we reframe our view of failure in ways that protect psychological safety while also improving employee satisfaction and patient care?

It can be as simple as changing the words we use to describe the event.  Dr. De Haan explained that often when we see a person at fault, it is really a system that has failed. 

Of course, let’s not kid ourselves, no matter how good the system is, we are bound to experience failure.  And if we focus all our efforts on creating a perfect system, we’re bound to fail spectacularly, with no plan to deal with the aftermath.  It’s up to the leadership in an organization to not only build and maintain a healthy system for their supporting staff, but also to create an environment in which failures can be discussed and addressed openly and constructively.

Dr. De Haan concluded the presentation with some excellent open discussion, during which our audience shared personal experiences and ways we hope to help our superiors, peers, and subordinates create safer psychological workspaces.


 ACT extends a sincere thanks to Dr. Connie De Haan for her time and expertise.



This lecture was approved for 1 CE credit by the Oregon Veterinary Medical Examining Board.

Please check back soon to enjoy the full video presentation.