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Veterinarians thriving! ... How do they do it?

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    • 56 posts
    March 22, 2018 1:48 PM EDT

    So much of the recent news related to veterinary health and well-being has focused on the mental health struggles, psychological stressors, and suicides.  Rather than reiterating what we already know, which is that most veterinary care providers are stressed and not coping well with the demands of practice, I’d like to focus on some of the amazing women I know in this profession who are thriving in the face of adversity. 

    The tactic of approaching a problem from the perspective of “what’s working well” is known as a “strengths-based approach” and is something well-being advocates often encourage in their teachings.  In short, while we can all benefit from improving upon self-care, social connection, emotional regulation, and other tools that strengthen mental health and well-being, inevitably each of us are already doing something that foster wellness. 

    Recently, a colleague of mine said to me “I really need to work on my self-care, I am not good at making myself a priority”.  But the longer we spoke, the more she revealed that she does indeed engage in self-care in the form of trips to the spa, manicures with a friend, and date nights with her husband.  Sometimes it’s simply a matter of re-framing what we do each day and recognizing that it is a form of self-care.  Walking the dog might be a chance to get outside and enjoy some fresh air and taking the kids to their activities might be a way to engage in family time or connect with other parents. I have no doubt that each person reading this blog right now can come up with at least one thing he/she is doing right now for self-care! 

    Another strengths-based approach to wellness involves an appraisal of those thriving in this profession to determine “how they do it”, rather than focusing on those who are struggling to try to reason “what they’re doing wrong”.  To help with this strengths-based approach to veterinary health and well-being, I asked three of my colleagues who I know to be thriving in this profession just how they support wellness in their every day lives. 

    Dr. Gwen Jeun, a ’97 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College and President of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association says “What has helped me is the cultivation of a daily mindfulness meditation practice, over the last 10 years.  I sit for 15-30 minutes, after I wake up in the morning.  I focus on my breath, while being aware of my thoughts and the physical sensations that arise."  Dr. Jeun is also an advocate for veterinary wellness and post blogs on her website www.downwarddogdvm.com

    Many of you already know of Dr. Justine Lee, co-founder and CEO of VETgirl (a web-based veterinary CE provider), who is also double-boarded in emergency/critical care and toxicology.  Dr. Lee is “…a big advocate for self-care.  With my workaholic (I call it “workafrolic”) tendencies, I have to be very selected in what brings me joy, happiness, and self-worth.  As yourself “Does this spark joy?” and if it doesn’t, triage it out of your life”.  VETgirl recently developed a FREE wellness app, which is available for iOs and Android operating systems that includes daily messages and reminders to help bring wellness into your life. 

    Finally, Dr. Sonja Olson is a veterinarian and member of the Clinician Talent Acquisition and Development Team at BluePearl Veterinary Partners.  She also happens to be a Les Mills Instructor and Body Flow (incorporating tai chi, yoga, and pilates) teacher, as well as a passionate advocate for health and well-being in our profession.  Dr. Olson says “carving out time for personal fitness, including yoga several times a week, was a part of my survival strategy while practicing ER medicine x 18 years. Despite that, and an awareness of the need for emotional/spiritual self-care and boundaries, I found myself heading towards compassion fatigue and burnout in 2015. I made the conscious, and difficult, decision to leave the clinical floor and to support my company and the associates I very much cared for in a new way and became committed to better understand holistic wellbeing for myself and other veterinary professionals. As such, daily mindful meditation, self-care reminders (alarms set on my phone!) 2x/day, regular fitness and healthy eating, rigorous sleep hygiene every night, and balancing my work life with my personal life have all been on-going endeavors. I am a healthier, happier human being as a result but also have now fortified my ability to be a caregiver to animals and to people. The journey continues!” 

    What are you doing to support your self-care?  Or do you know someone else who is a good representative of health and well-being in our profession?  If so, please post your comments.  Let’s focus on what we’re already doing well and can continue to do to thrive in this profession!

    Marie K. Holowaychuk, DVM, DACVECC is a small animal emergency and critical care specialist and certified yoga and meditation teacher with an invested interest in the health and well-being of veterinary professionals.  She facilitates wellness workshops, boot camps, and retreats for veterinarians, technicians, students, and other veterinary care providers.  To sign up for newsletters containing information regarding these events and veterinary wellness topics, please click here.  More information can be found at www.criticalcarevet.ca.