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Real-life veterinarians - are you taking a stand?

Updated: Oct 5, 2019

Recently, my colleague Judy from VetAnswers sent me a copy of a blog by Veterinarian Krista Magnifico "Diary of a Real-Life Veterinarian - Taking a Stand and Facing Consequences".

Having been conducting my own Doctoral research into Veterinarian ("Vet/s") well-being, and now working with Vets as a wellbeing coach to try and help combat the high levels of stress, burnout and suicide, I already had an "inside" view of the demands placed on Vets and what makes their job (and lives) so stressful. Reading this blog just reinforced what I, and no doubt the majority of Vets, already know.

As a psychologist, I also have the (sometimes unenviable) experience of seeing the inner turmoil and debilitating effects of depression on many individuals. Make no mistake - mental illness does not discriminate and can affect any of us at any time given the right triggers and circumstances. Learning how to recognise the signs and symptoms, however, and seeking appropriate help when needed, can help you to deal with this more proactively, rather than reactively. Building resilience and having good, healthy coping strategies can also be a potential life-saver when things get tough.

I personally commend Krista on taking a stand by not euthanaising pets unnecessarily. What she said about her "beliefs" (and acting in line with these) was an instrumental factor for me.

No-one can force us to do anything we don't want to do. No-one can make us act or behave in a certain way unless we allow it to happen. For example, if I said to you right now "hop on one leg while poking your tongue out", I couldn't make you do this unless you chose to do so. This all ties in to values. In the context of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT - my psychological intervention of choice along with Positive Psychology), values are things you want to stand for - things that give you your sense of meaning and purpose. Values are actions. The theory holds that if we act in line with our values, it balances and we have a feeling of well-being and vitality. If we aren't acting in line with our values, it doesn't balance and we have suffering. In other words:

  • if what we want, and what we get, are closely aligned and balanced, we have well-being

  • if what we want, and what we get are not closely aligned or balanced, we are further away from our values and experience suffering.

Think about this - when things are going well or when something good happens, ask yourself "why is this so good?". When things aren't going so well or when it feels bad or negative, ask yourself "why is this so bad?". You can virtually bet your answers will be aligned to your values - either they are being met (= good) or are not being met (= not so good).

Here's an example. If I value having harmonious relationships and this is happening, I feel good because what I value is happening (or balanced). But, if I have conflict with someone, or see other people in conflict, I will likely feel uncomfortable or distressed in some way, because what I value (ie. harmonious relationships) and what I'm getting (ie. unharmonious relationships) do not align.

Our actions (or behaviours) are the only things in our control. Ideally we want to act in line with our values to allow ourselves to live the good life with a sense of well-being and vitality. If you are really struggling with the turmoil of what action to take (ie. euthanaise versus not euthanaising under these kinds of circumstances), remember that ultimately you are the person that has to live with the long-term consequences of your actions. If these do not align with your values, you have a very unfortunate decision to make - ie. act in line with your values (and potentially face negative consequences if you work in an environment where 'the client gets what the client wants so long as they are paying for it'), but have a clear conscience in the long run, or choose to act against your values, and then suffer in the long run.

Either way, the choice is yours.


About Dr Nadine Hamilton

As a leading authority on veterinary wellbeing, Dr Hamilton helps veterinary professionals get on top of stress and conflict to avoid burnout and suicide, and also works with practice managers and owners to increase wellbeing, productivity, and retention in the workplace. Additionally, she provide workshops to small and large groups within the private and corporate sectors, and speaks at conferences and symposiums both nationally and internationally.

Her book "Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian - An Evidence-Based Solution to Increase Wellbeing" was released in March 2019 through Australian Academic Press, and is already making a positive impact within the profession - both here in Australia and internationally.

As an advocate for the veterinary profession, Dr Hamilton founded the charity "Love Your Pet Love Your Vet" and partnered with Royal Canin to reduce stigma in veterinary professionals seeking help, raising awareness within the community about the realities of working in the profession, and providing psychological and educational support to veterinary professionals.

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