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Self-Care Tips for Veterinary Team Members

April 3, 2017

It seems ironic to be talking about the importance of self-care for veterinary team members, when those very same professionals care for others every day. Veterinary professional life balance is critical to a long-term career in veterinary medicine.

As a general rule, veterinary professionals are known to be caring, giving and compassionate. But when veterinary professionals give until they have nothing left, it leads to the burn-out, compassion fatigue and high turnover that’s prevalent in veterinary medicine.

Employee turnover in veterinary medicine is nearly double the rate of other industries. This is alarming, because it points to the LACK of self-care that is taking place for veterinary professionals. Yes, we are definitely in a career in which we are caregivers. We offer care to patients (obviously) as well as care and support to clients, doctors, co-workers, family members…and the list goes on. But the real challenge is to know when to step back, take care of yourself, and recharge your soul, so that you live to heal and provide quality care yet another day without compromising yourself.

Some veterinary professionals have an instinctive ability to take care of themselves. The veterinarians, veterinary technicians, veterinary practice managers that know how to do this move forward with joy, purpose and clarity. Those that don’t may end up very unhappy with their day-to-day work experience at the least, or end up as part of the statistic, in the worst-case scenario. If you’re feeling like you’re on the path to unhappiness, here are some self-care tips that will help you get on the road toward developing your own personal program of self-care, regardless of your role on the veterinary team.

 Tip 1

Maintain a Full Cup.  As caregivers within the field of veterinary medicine, often times our cups are only ¼ full and yet we continue to pour out of it. How can you possibly continue to give without ever filling up your own cup? The assignment here is to take some time to determine what truly “fills your cup.” In plain English, this means: What restores your body and spirit? (Often times internet surfing, watching TV or adult beverages are more of a distraction than a true restorative measure.) Think about the things that truly leave you feeling rested and rejuvenated. When you feel this way, your cup fills up!

If you’re not clear on what fills your cup, try this quick exercise: List three things that bring you joy, a smile to your face, a feeling of satisfaction, outside of the veterinary hospital or career. Look over the list and ask yourself: When was the last time I did any of these items on the list? And make a conscious plan to layer these life-affirming activities into your schedule.

Tip 2

Identify Your Personal Values and Honor Them.  When you take the time to really ponder what you value, it creates clarity and allows you to uphold those values. For example, you may value social connections and spending time with quality people. You may value quiet time alone where you have time to be introspective. You may value the ability to make a difference in the long-term well-being of this planet, and thus environmental causes may be where you put your time. But first, you must get clear on what those values are, in order to honor them.

Here’s a quick assignment that may help you get started. Get a piece of paper, or pull out your trusty iPad, and create a document where you list what’s important to you. Once done, take a good long look at your list. And then determine if you’re acting on those personal values…or not. If not, make specific plans for HOW you are going to start living your values on a daily basis.

Tip 3

Set Your Boundaries and Maintain Them Over Time.  Establishing boundaries is knowing when to say “Yes” and when to gracefully say “No.” In Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which I STRONGLY recommend you read, he encourages you “Put First Things First.” He suggests establishing top priorities and bringing those to fruition, allowing the least important things to simply fade away. Within a work environment, establishing boundaries can be done in multiple ways. You can still work hard, and be a valued member of the veterinary team when you set boundaries. This means defining job duties, and being more realistic about the time and energy needed to complete the duties to a certain quality standard. Maintain the standards but avoid overtaxing yourself by setting unrealistic expectations. It’s just as important to set and maintain boundaries in your personal life. In doing this, you may need to decline to help someone if you just don’t have any “juice” left.

Tip 4

Maintain Perspective.  Often, our perspectives are tinged by factors around us, expectations, family programming, etc. So while it’s important to care about doing things well, and pulling your weight, it’s also important to have perspective about what you are, and are not, here to do. You were NOT put on earth to be perfect and to drive yourself into the ground. You were put here to live your life, learn, contribute, and create a fulfilling life. The drive to be perfect is particularly insidious…because it seems to be about maintaining quality. Actually, expecting yourself to be perfect is not a healthy place to be…we all need to find a balance between doing what we do in a quality manner with the time and resources that you have, and being able to let go of inward or outward expectations of perfection.

These four  tips seem simple and they are! By starting the process of: 1) Refilling your personal cup 2) Setting and maintaining boundaries 3) Identifying and honoring your personal values 4) Maintaining a balanced perspective…You’ll find that you can make remarkable and positive change in your life…which will allow you to be a gifted, caring, and compassionate veterinary professional, without compromising yourself and becoming a statistic. If you feel overwhelmed by these exercises, then consider bringing in a counselor who can help you sort priorities and develop a solid, working plan for self-care. You are worth it!

Rebecca Rose, CVT
President & Founder
CATALYST Veterinary Practice Consultants

About the Author: Rebecca Rose CVT is the president of CATALYST Veterinary Practice Consultants, based in metro Denver, Colorado. She has 30 years of experience in the veterinary industry, including experience as a veterinary practice management consultant, a practice manager at two AAHA-accredited animal hospitals and as an award-winning veterinary technician. She can be reached at getCATALYST@CATALYSTVetPC.com.