Prioritising self care in the veterinary industry; whose responsibility is it?

Julia Dicconson
Content Manager
June 2, 2023

Content warning: this article mentions death by suicide.

Working in the veterinary industry is physically, mentally and emotionally challenging, and veterinarians and vet nurses are faced with so many difficulties in their jobs. Veterinarians and other professionals working in this field devote their lives to caring for animals, often putting their own needs and wellbeing on the back burner. 

However, it is crucial to recognise that prioritising self care is not just a luxury but a necessity for individuals to thrive in their roles and maintain their overall wellbeing. With studies showing that vets are four times more likely to die by suicide compared to the general population, there’s a concerning problem in this industry and more needs to be done to prioritise wellness and self care, both from an employer standpoint and with personal responsibility.

Understanding self care.

While veterinarians and other professionals are dedicated to providing exceptional care for animals, the toll it takes on their mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing cannot be overlooked. Prioritising self care becomes essential to ensure their ability to cope with the challenges they face and maintain their own health and happiness.

Self care encompasses activities and practices that individuals engage in to nurture their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. It involves taking deliberate steps to address personal needs and recharge one's energy reserves. For veterinary professionals, self care means recognising the demanding nature of their work and actively pursuing practices that promote their wellbeing.

The veterinary industry presents unique challenges when it comes to self care. Veterinarians often face long working hours, high levels of stress, emotional fatigue, and a constant need to make critical decisions. Neglecting self care can result in burnout, compassion fatigue, decreased job satisfaction, compromised patient care and mental health issues.

The veterinarian's responsibility.

While the responsibility of prioritising self care ultimately lies with the individuals themselves, it is important to acknowledge the unique challenges faced by veterinary professionals. Long working hours, emotional demands, and the pressure to provide optimal care to patients can make it difficult for veterinarians to prioritise their own wellbeing.

Taking care of themselves is not a selfish act but a necessary one. By investing in their own self care, veterinarians can ensure they have the physical and emotional capacity to continue providing quality care to their patients.

It is essential for veterinarians to cultivate self-awareness and recognise when they are experiencing burnout, stress, or emotional exhaustion. They should prioritise activities that replenish their energy and promote their overall wellbeing. This can include engaging in hobbies, exercise, mindfulness practices, seeking support from friends and family, or even seeking professional help when needed.

Employer's role in supporting self care.

Veterinary employers also play a vital role in fostering a culture of self care within the workplace. They have a responsibility to create an environment that promotes the wellbeing of their employees and supports their self care efforts.

Employers can start by acknowledging the challenges faced by veterinary professionals and actively addressing them. This can include implementing policies that promote work-life balance, providing flexible scheduling options, and encouraging breaks and time off for employees to recharge.

Furthermore, employers can offer resources and support systems to help veterinarians manage stress and emotional wellbeing. This can include access to counselling services, workshops on stress management and resilience, or providing opportunities for professional development and growth.

The employer’s role is also about creating a culture within the organisation where employees feel comfortable enough to voice their concerns and advocate for themselves when they need support, whether that is paid leave, additional resources, reduced hours or whatever the employee needs. 

Changing culture doesn’t happen overnight, but by recognising these concerns and offering resources and support systems, the shift gradually happens towards honesty and open communication. 

By actively supporting self care initiatives, veterinary employers can not only improve the wellbeing of their staff but also enhance productivity and job satisfaction, leading to a positive work environment and better patient care outcomes.

Industry-wide initiatives.

Recognising the importance of self care, the veterinary industry as a whole has been taking steps to address the wellbeing of veterinary professionals. Various organisations and resources have emerged to provide support, education, and resources specifically tailored to the unique challenges faced by those in the veterinary field.

These initiatives include professional support organisations, mental health resources, and online communities where veterinary professionals can connect, share experiences, and seek guidance. The industry is gradually acknowledging the significance of self care and working towards creating a supportive network for veterinary professionals to access the resources they need.

Additionally, veterinary conferences and continuing education programs now often include sessions on wellbeing and self care. This highlights the industry's recognition of the importance of self care and its integration into professional development.

Here are a couple of examples of industry and community based initiatives.

What does self care in the veterinary industry look like?

Overcoming barriers to self care.

While the importance of self care is evident, there are several common barriers that veterinary professionals may face when attempting to prioritise their wellbeing. These barriers include time constraints, guilt, fear of judgement, and a culture that values self-sacrifice.

To overcome these barriers, it is essential to shift the mindset surrounding self care. Veterinarians must recognise that prioritising their own wellbeing is not a sign of weakness but a necessary step towards maintaining their ability to provide quality care.

Practical strategies to overcome barriers to self care include time management techniques, setting boundaries, delegating tasks when possible, and cultivating a supportive network of colleagues who understand and encourage self care practices.

Encouraging a culture of self care.

It is essential to foster a culture that values and prioritises self care within the veterinary industry. This involves a collective effort from veterinary professionals, employers, and industry organisations to promote and support self care initiatives.

Veterinary professionals can take the lead by openly discussing self care, sharing personal experiences, and encouraging their colleagues to prioritise their wellbeing. By normalising conversations about mental health and self care, and sharing strategies that have worked for them, they can inspire others to take proactive steps towards self care.

Employers and industry organisations can contribute to creating a culture of self care by incorporating it into their policies and practices. This can involve implementing wellness programs, providing resources and educational materials on self care, and promoting a healthy work-life balance. By actively promoting and supporting self care initiatives, they send a clear message to veterinary professionals that their wellbeing matters.

In addition to individual efforts and industry-wide initiatives, it is crucial to develop self care techniques specifically tailored to the veterinary profession. Veterinary professionals can benefit from strategies such as stress management techniques, mindfulness exercises, regular physical exercise, and healthy coping mechanisms. Taking breaks, setting realistic expectations, and seeking support from colleagues and mentors are also effective ways to promote self care within the veterinary industry.

The ripple effect of self care.

Prioritising self care in the veterinary industry has far-reaching benefits that extend beyond individual veterinary professionals. When veterinary professionals take care of their own wellbeing, it positively impacts their ability to provide quality care to their patients.

By maintaining good physical and mental health, veterinary professionals can approach their work with greater clarity, empathy, and resilience. They can better manage the emotional demands and stress associated with their profession, leading to improved patient care outcomes.

Moreover, when veterinary professionals prioritise self care, it sets a positive example for others in the industry. It encourages a shift towards a culture that values wellbeing and emphasises the importance of self care as a fundamental aspect of professional practice.

Final thoughts on self care in the veterinary industry.

Prioritising wellness and self care in the veterinary industry is a shared responsibility. While veterinary professionals must recognise the importance of self care and actively engage in practices that nurture their wellbeing, employers and industry organisations also play a crucial role in creating a supportive environment that supports their employees’ mental health.

By prioritising self care, veterinary professionals can maintain their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, ultimately leading to improved job satisfaction and better patient care. The veterinary industry as a whole must continue to promote self care initiatives, offer resources and support, and foster a culture that values the wellbeing of its professionals.

Remember, prioritising self care is not a luxury but a necessity for veterinary professionals to thrive in their roles and sustain their long-term wellbeing. Let us collectively work towards creating a veterinary industry that acknowledges and supports the importance of self care.

At Goodbye Good Boy, we provide home euthanasia services to support loving owners in providing a peaceful passing for their beloved pets.

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this difficult time by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services, and personalised memorialisation options. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give our team of passionate pet lovers a call on 1800 953 619.