Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian
The best-selling and leading evidence-based solution to better wellbeing for veterinary professionals
About the book
It is not always obvious with such a book just how much effect it can have on a person’s mental health and wellbeing. And that’s part of the beauty of Dr Nadine's approach. A book is non-threatening, something that people use in their own time at their own pace, privately, and always available on a shelf to refer to, or to pick up one day when prompted by a situation at work, or to lend to a friend or colleague. And even if it’s just handed to them with no expectations or requirements beyond accepting it, this book might just be the resource that could change a vet worker’s life.
What’s it like to be a veterinarian?
Ask one, and they will usually answer that it is a rewarding, challenging and demanding career, that having a passion for animals, excellent interpersonal skills, and a strong work ethic are essential. They might also mention their line of work has a dark and very dangerous side.
The suicide rate for veterinarians as measured across Australia, the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada is up to four times higher than the general population. This suicide risk has been shown to surface at graduation and remain for the rest of a vet’s working life. It is fair to say the veterinary profession faces a severe mental health issue.
The effects of working long hours, performing euthanasia on animals, emotional pressure, financial issues, unrealistic expectations, and dealing with distressed clients place considerable stress on both the vet themselves and their families at home. Failure to cope with such stress upsets mental wellbeing and can lead to serious emotional, physical, and behavioural issues.
Strategies across the globe such as awareness campaigns, crisis support, mentoring, and calls for changes to drug regulation are currently trying to encourage more vets to acknowledge the issue for themselves and their colleagues, and to seek help. Professional veterinary member groups are using programs based on concepts such as compassion fatigue, resilience, and the clear need to care for oneself in further efforts to reduce vet stress. The 2018 Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study recommended that employers educate all team members on the importance of mental health and wellbeing.
Meeting the Challenge of Veterinary Suicide
Psychologist Dr Nadine Hamilton is passionate about veterinary suicide prevention, having been touched by the tragic effects of suicide within her own family. A chance encounter early in her psychology career led to her interest in the mental wellbeing of veterinary professionals. She has spent over 16 years in her psychology practice working with thousands of stressed vets as well as consulting to industry associations, practice managers, and owners to increase wellbeing, productivity, and retention in the workplace. In support of her aim to create a ‘paradigm shift’ within the veterinary industry, in 2018 she founded Love Your Pet Love Your Vet, a not-for-profit charity raising awareness about the issues within the veterinary industry and reducing stigma in veterinary professionals seeking help.
Her postgraduate research at the University of Southern Queensland focussed on how key evidence-based psychological strategies could be used to decrease the risk of psychological ill-health and suicide by vets due to their day-to-day stress levels. What she found was that the best way to tackle the unique nature of veterinary stress was to combine certain psycho-educational elements. Namely, specific education on the principles of positive psychology, mindfulness, and ACT, along with a ‘toolkit’ of practical tasks from these fields. Combining these elements with supportive strategies such as stress management and communication tips results in a holistic intervention able to have a scientifically measurable positive impact on wellbeing. She uses this approach in her popular Coping and Wellbeing for Veterinary Professionals workshop.
Building on this workshop, she produced Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian as a cost-effective highly accessible way to empower vets in their everyday work lives to use psychological knowledge and skills to combat stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, and suicide. It is an easy read for individual vets both experienced and freshly minted, and sits well with existing veterinary HR approaches as well as supporting face-to-face counselling and industry association mental health programs. It also provides a clear call-to-arms for veterinary industry leaders.
The book is structured in four sections. The first two provide vets with both an understanding and an acknowledgement of the uniqueness of their work and the mental health issues that come with that work. A section on psychology provides a comprehensive overview of several psychological fields that assist wellbeing. The final section includes specially selected strategies for everyday use. Together, these elements result in a book that is more than a self-help guide, yet non-confrontational enough to invite readers from a range of veterinary positions and workplaces. For some who take it off a practice shelf it will simply be a confirmation that they or a colleague are not alone in experiencing stress and that their issues are understood. For others they will find some practical tips helpful in their working day, and for leaders it might help guide their interactions with staff, or it might help someone to seek professional help.
The corporate sector
The veterinary industry is currently attracting significant private equity investment on a global scale as mega practice groups buy up traditional owner-operator veterinary clinics en masse and major pet supply companies expand into veterinary services. Some vets fear a detrimental culture change for a profession already under pressure.
Yet this ‘corporatisation of veterinary medicine’ can be positive for the profession through the injection of fresh funds and infrastructure into supporting vet staff. It makes good sense, both for HR management goals and corporate social responsibility endeavours, for larger vet practices, corporate-owned vet groups, and vet hospitals to include Coping With Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian as an essential resource in their ongoing work. Evidence-based and reader-friendly, the book is easy to keep on hand as a reliable staff resource or in support of employee assistance programs (EAP), continuing professional development (CPD), or wellbeing support initiatives. In fact, larger veterinary groups and hospitals benefit from special discounts for bulk purchases of the book and options for customised branding with a personalised opening page message. Please contact the publisher Stephen May firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Here's what a few people had to say...
"The suicide rate among veterinarians is a concern for the WVA and we use Nadine’s book as a reference while working on the issue of stress in the profession.”
Dr. Zeev Noga, Deputy Executive Director, World Veterinary Association
"Every veterinary professional and mental health care professional that works with veterinary professionals should read with an eye on helping shape a better future for people and animals."
Dr Melanie Goble, DVM, CFO/Director of Fundraising & Membership - Not One More Vet, Inc
"Nadine’s book greatly helps VetPartners meet its vital HR commitment to the wellbeing of all of our staff.”
Dr Brett Hodgkin, Chief Veterinary Officer, VetPartners
"Highly recommended, a very easy read, this book should be readily available in clinics for all staff.”
Dr Jenny Weston, Massey University Dean of Veterinary Sciences
"I greatly enjoyed reading this book. It is an excellent resource.”
Prof. Anna Meredith, Head of Melbourne Veterinary School
"As a vet of nearly 20 years experience, I cannot believe the difference that your book has made to the way I see myself, my profession, and my coworkers. I am genuinely enjoying being a vet again.”
Name withheld - Australian Veterinarian