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Summer 2019, Personal Wellbeing, Practice Management

Nurture Wellbeing in the Veterinary Workplace

Heather PrendergastRVT, CVPM

Heather has spent over 25 years in small animal practice, teaches veterinary technology and assistance programs, and is the author of Front Office Management for the Veterinary Team. She lectures on topics ranging from grief management for health care professionals to nutrition, inventory, communications, and veterinary team management. She has also written several articles and participated in published roundtable discussions on these topics.

Currently, Heather provides consulting services for veterinary hospitals and is an instructor for Patterson Veterinary University and VetMedTeam. She serves on several advisory committees and is the Program Chair of the Technician Program at the North American Veterinary Conference. Heather was named the 2014 Veterinary Technician of the Year and Continuing Educator of the Year for 2016 at the Western Veterinary Conference.

Kenichiro YagiMS, RVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM)

Ken has spent nearly 20 years in practice. He obtained his VTS certification in emergency and critical care, as well as small animal internal medicine, and earned his master’s degree in Veterinary Science. He served as ICU Manager and Blood Bank Manager at Adobe Animal Hospital until 2018, and is now Program Director for the RECOVER CPR Initiative and simulation lab manager of the Park Veterinary Innovation Laboratory at Cornell University. He co-chairs the Veterinary Nurse Initiative and serves as a board member of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians, and the Veterinary Innovation Council.

Nurture Wellbeing in the Veterinary Workplace

Burnout, compassion fatigue, work-related stress, depression, and suicide are words that we veterinary nurses are unfortunately familiar with—caring for our patients and their families carries an emotional toll brought on by various stressors, such as financial struggles, loss of patients, unfavorable work environments, and even workplace bullying. Fostering employee wellbeing has become a focus in the workplace, and, fortunately, various organizations, including NAVTA, have dedicated resources to providing tools and support for veterinary employers and employees.

“Fostering employee wellbeing has become a focus in the workplace, and, fortunately, there are tools, resources, and strategies that you can employ to ensure your veterinary workplace is one that supports the emotional wellbeing of the entire team.”

The Value of a Support Group

A support group composed of peers is one of the best resources for an individual working through emotional challenges and psychological trauma. Support groups help these individuals on a number of fronts: (1) the individual will meet peers who are struggling or have struggled with the same challenges and traumas; (2) the support-group “community” provides a safe place for the individual to express his or her feelings; and (3) the individual will receive helpful information, guidance or tools for working through the difficulty. The bottom line: the individual realizes he or she is not alone in facing these difficulties. That realization can help create self-awareness, and as the individual copes with the challenging situation or heals from the trauma, he or she can eventually become part of the support group helping someone else in need.

In 2014, Jade Velasquez, an LVT from Washington, established the Veterinary Support Staff Unleashed (VSSU) group on Facebook (facebook.com/groups/1564029533810246), which has close to 15,000 members today. NAVTA approached VSSU with a proposal to create a collaborative relationship as partners in providing support for NAVTA members as well.

“NAVTA has long been a proponent of advancing the field of veterinary technology and providing resources and education,” says Velasquez. “Seeing NAVTA take note of VSSU and give us an outlet in the NAVTA Journal was honestly one of my biggest dreams. Not only were they providing educational resources but they were allowing the community of vet med a voice regarding wellness. They publish stories of struggles, victories and self-care. NAVTA embraced our community in detailing how to speak about the educational value in just being ourselves as well as technicians and supporting one another.”

Today, that support continues. VSSU publishes articles relating to wellness in each issue of NAVTA Journal.

“When we talk to one another, listen without judgment, and are kind, we are providing critical support to a colleague in need.”

The NAVTA Wellbeing Task Force

The NAVTA Wellbeing Task Force (navta.net/page/Wellbeing), formed in 2018, is headed by co-chairs Mary Berg, BS, RVT, RLATG, VTS (Dentistry) and Rebecca Rose, CVT. Its mission is to help veterinary team members create a life and career that is fulfilling, rewarding, and sustainable, and seeks to empower all veterinary team members to advocate for and strengthen one another. As its website states:

“For decades, studies have detailed that veterinarians are at risk for depression, psychological distress, and burnout. Veterinary team members show a progression from idealistic enthusiasm to a gradual loss of energy and commitment. Fatigue, frustration, and mental anguish may lead to feelings of incompetence, helplessness, and hopelessness—and can shorten a career or lead to a toxic environment within your veterinary team. The entire veterinary team is at risk. The Wellbeing Task Force will provide support to veterinary technicians/nurses and team members.”

The task force website has resources relating to physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, professional wellbeing, and veterinary team finances and debt load.

Communication Is Key

Having a conversation is one of the best things we can do for one another when we are experiencing difficult times. When we talk to one another, listen without judgment, and are kind, we are providing critical support to a colleague in need. This is particularly true when you are concerned that a coworker is at risk for suicide or experiencing depression.

“This conversation is going to be uncomfortable and that’s okay,” writes Jamie Holms, RVT, CPT1, in a recent article in Today’s Veterinary Nurse (“Is Suicide Preventable?” Winter 2019 issue). Holms contends that suicide is both preventable and predictable and that we need to overcome feelings of helplessness in how to approach someone in trouble and feel empowered to make a difference.

You can start the conversation by asking if the person is doing okay and then listening without judgment and acknowledging his or her feelings if he or she expresses them. If you don’t know how to help, try to guide the individual to resources and professionals who are trained to help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free resource (800-273-TALK or 8255).

Suicide and depression might be serious concerns you’ll encounter in the workplace, but they’re not the only ones. Burnout, compassion fatigue, and workplace stresses also plague veterinary professionals. In addition, home-related stress can impact an employee’s workplace attendance, attitude, mood, and performance. When you see a colleague in trouble, what is your response? How do you act toward him or her?

We are all likely to thrive in a “we’ve got your back” culture and environment, and we should be striving to create such an environment. Start today. Ask yourself, what am I doing as an individual each day to help create a culture of wellbeing in the workplace?