For most veterinarians, being a vet is more than a job; it can become part of your identity. While challenging, it can be a very rewarding profession. The satisfaction and joy that comes from helping pets and owners in their time of need can often be hard to put into words.
Yet, the demands can often be overwhelming, ushering in burnout and mental health concerns, meaning a focus on self-care and wellbeing is key to sustaining a fulfilling career.
That’s why I found the “Betterinary Series” mental health workshop hosted by Dr Heidi Hulon, Elanco’s Wellbeing Consulting Veterinarian, to be so beneficial.
The seminar encouraged me to reflect on my career, evaluate the forces and events that have shaped it and devise ways to better negotiate the challenges the profession constantly throws your way.
Here are some pivotal lessons I gleaned from the event.
The Grieving Process
Early in my career, I was growing, learning, and generally enjoying my day-to-day tasks; there was much to learn but it didn’t seem insurmountable.
Then came the profoundly devastating loss of one of my regular patients, a beautiful Golden Labrador, while she was under a general anaesthetic for a screening radiograph. The owner trusted me and insisted I be the one to perform the procedure, which made the experience even more traumatic. That phone call to the owner was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my career, and it remains with me to this day.
So, how do you deal with a situation like this? There isn’t a handbook and during my years at Uni, the topic of conveying heartbreaking news to pet owners was never addressed, despite it being an inevitable part of veterinary practice.
As Dr. Heidi explained, grief is a normal reaction, yet it should not be a debilitating force. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, finding personalised coping strategies is essential.
Creating a Boundary Between the Personal and Professional
While it’s impossible for many to entirely switch off from work, it can’t be at the forefront of your mind all the time.
That’s why forming relationships outside of work, pursuing hobbies and leading a healthy lifestyle (with regular exercise & plenty of sleep) is so vital. There needs to be a boundary between your professional and personal life.
During the workshop one of the other participants shared a poignant anecdote of a colleague who physically hangs up his stethoscope at the end of each day, as a symbolic act that helps him shift from his professional role to personal life, indicating it's time to focus on the home front. While this example from the audience really resonated with me, Dr. Heidi provided many other practical tools about how to create and maintain healthy boundaries.
Utilising Your Support Staff
Delegating can be difficult for many vets, but if you want to be performing at your peak, it’s vital.
Maximising the potential of your support staff through training and delegating responsibilities can be a game-changer. Not only does it alleviate your workload, but it fosters a happier and more productive work environment, reducing staff turnover and enhancing job satisfaction for everyone.
Know Your Why
Many of us grow up wanting to be a vet. We love animals and want to help them, but it can’t be at the expense of our own personal wellbeing.
We need to be honest with ourselves and analyse what is motivating us to get out of bed in the morning and, if the passion isn’t there anymore, it might be time to seriously consider options outside of clinical practice. The Veterinary degree can be a gateway to a plethora of opportunities both within, and outside of, the animal health industry. Taking the time to consider other opportunities may help you find your “why”, both professionally and personally.
The veterinary profession is incredibly rewarding but equally demanding. As Dr. Heidi rightly pointed out, maintaining a healthy balance and recognising when to perhaps steer in a new direction is crucial for both personal well-being and professional excellence.
In the pursuit of caring for animals, let us not neglect our own well-being. After all, taking care of our own mental and physical well-being will mean we are in a better position to do the best for our clients and their beloved pets.
About the Betterinary Series
Why do veterinarians face more mental health challenge than other types of professionals?
What impact has COVID had on mental health in the Veterinary community?
What can veterinary professionals do to maintain an emotional wellbeing?
The "Betterinary Series" was created by Dr Heidi Hulon to help address these issues and more with the vision of making the veterinary profession healthier one veterinarian, technician, office manager, or team member at a time.
Missed out on the event? Learn more about the Betterinary Series here.
You can also listen to Dr Heidi on a recent episode of the Vet Vault. Listen here.