“Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, treating people with respect.” —Stephen Covey

In surveys, veterinarians consistently rank as one of the most trusted professionals in society. I think we’ve earned this distinction with our compassion, dedication and forthrightness. I also know that if we forfeit those traits, we will slip in society’s regard.

In today’s world of negative news, social media myths, bigoted discord, and malignant misinformation, it’s easy to see how someone could lose their sense of direction. After all, if our leaders are dishonest and our system faulty, then why should we conduct ourselves with integrity and show respect for others, our professional colleagues, or even ourselves? A convenient excuse could be the pandemic that has disrupted our lives and separated us from each other. What is immutable in the face of this world we find ourselves in is our own integrity and values. The principles we live by and hold within our hearts are the compass that guides us in troubled times. Values are not transient, but embedded in us.

In truth, at times like these, those principles matter now more than ever. They serve as the foundation of the Veterinary Oath, taken by our incoming classes at the White Coat Ceremony and as a capstone of their commencement ceremony. Part of that oath states, “I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.” By taking this oath, veterinarians are pledging to honesty and integrity in their actions as they become healers of animals, and in service to society. Without the humility to understand the impact of their actions and the ability to be on the side of truth, our students must understand that they will jeopardize the lives of their animal patients, and lose the credibility of those they serve. It is in keeping with this code of ethics that we gain the moral authority be considered as trusted professions. Once lost, this credibility is hard to regain in the eyes of our colleagues, those we serve, and in those who love and support us.

For these reasons, we all have an obligation to do the right thing, act with integrity, and be honest with each other and with those that entrust us to care for the animals they love or depend upon for their livelihood. As scientists we must follow the data towards evidence-based conclusions and resolve to honestly report our findings. To live in a fair society, we must speak out against injustices in our society, be guided by truth, and not repeat the failures of the past. We must not use contemporary events and the moral failure of our national leaders as an excuse to diminish our humanity.

In this season of confusion and conflict, I would ask each of us to reflect on the values we value in others and ourselves, and why integrity, honesty, and respect are the foundation to the trust we have in each other and our profession, and are required by the society we serve. We are not just trusted professionals, but examples for others, and we must cherish our values knowing that eventually today’s discord will pass.