Massey University Dean of Veterinary Sciences Jenny Weston reviews Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian

by on 27th August 2019

Published August 2019 in VetScript, the flagship magazine of the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA).

THIS 173-PAGE BOOK is billed as an evidence-based solution to increase wellbeing, and includes in its last 70 pages a modular coping and wellbeing programme. The author is an Australian psychologist who has worked extensively with veterinarians and has undertaken postgraduate research into veterinary wellbeing. She founded the ‘Love Your Pet, Love Your Vet’ non-profit charity to raise awareness about the challenges facing many veterinarians.

The book comes highly recommended by a number of Australian veterinarians who are well-known proponents of veterinary wellbeing, including Brian McErlean and Emeritus Professor Trevor Heath, who writes an insightful foreword. In the introduction, Nadine explains her career path and how her childhood aspirations changed from being a veterinarian to becoming a psychologist.

The book is divided into sections, the first being a concise summary of the ‘dark side’ of the profession, including the theories and statistics about veterinarian mental health. Section two covers the reality of working as a clinical veterinarian and how things have changed in the past 30 years. In this section, Nadine eloquently describes the personal, emotional and financial challenges that most of us are aware of. Her insights are spot-on, and are no doubt a result of what she has learned from working with many veterinarians in the past.

Section three discusses the nuances between different forms of psychology that can assist us (or anyone) to thrive. I particularly liked the chapter covering positive psychology, an area I was already reasonably familiar with and which covers the factors that allow optimal human functioning by considering how we view our past, present and the future. Much of this can be affected by how we view events – preferably through a positive lens and with hope and optimism. This doesn’t mean we should all have a naïve, Pollyannaish take on life, but that we keep things in perspective and realise that everyone has challenges in their life at some point. Positive psychology isn’t just about fixing what’s wrong, it also focuses on strategies that support and nurture our physical and mental wellbeing.

The other chapters in this section cover Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Career Construction Theory. The author lost me a little in these chapters when a little more psychological jargon was thrown around, but there were intertwining themes about what makes a life worth living – positive relationships, meaningful work, a sense of achievement, and making a positive difference in the lives of others. All this doesn’t need to be earth-shattering, ‘save-the-world’ type action – random acts of kindness and being adaptable are all important. The final chapter in section three covers resilience, which was also very interesting.

The perspective that you can bounce back from setbacks as opposed to grinding on with gritted teeth is useful. While there is evidence for a genetic component in resilience, it is good to know that resilience and optimism can be learned.

Section four, titled ‘Intervention’, outlines the seven modules that anyone can work through to improve their coping and wellbeing strategies. These modules come as a combination of information and worksheets that you could photocopy to assist you to work through the exercises. The modules cover: stress management, time management, communication and assertiveness, relaxation, SMART goal setting, ACT and positive psychology. All of the modules looked relatively easy to work through, and I’m sure they would help you feel that you had more control over your life (both at work and at home) and assist with keeping things in perspective and focusing on what gives you a sense of satisfaction and happiness.

A comprehensive bibliography is provided at the end of the book. A minor criticism is that I would prefer references to be listed alongside the text to make it easier to read more around a particular subject, rather than just looking at all the articles and books listed in the bibliography and then guessing which ones might have the relevant information.

This is a very easy and enjoyable read, and Nadine is no doubt an expert in the field. Her recommendations are based on science and her experience of working with veterinarians. I strongly recommend that this book be readily available in clinics for all staff to browse. Many of the stressors will be experienced by anyone working in a clinic, and our veterinary nurses and receptionists often bear the brunt of grief and unrealistic client expectations. Highly recommended.

Buy Coping With Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian