Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian

Nadine Hamilton

Positive Psych Solutions




"As a vet of nearly 20 years experience, I cannot believe the difference that your book has made to the way I see myself, my profession, and my coworkers. I am genuinely enjoying being a vet again.”


Being a veterinarian can be a rewarding career requiring a passion for animals, excellent interpersonal skills and a strong work ethic. It can also be stressful. So stressful, that the suicide rate for veterinarians is almost four times higher than the general population across the UK, Australia, US, New Zealand and Canada.

The effects of working long hours, performing euthanasia on animals, emotional pressure, financial issues, unrealistic expectations, and dealing with distressed clients place considerable stress on both the vet themselves and their families at home. Failure to cope with such stress upsets mental wellbeing and can lead to serious emotional, physical, and behavioural issues, including self-harm.

Nadine Hamilton, veterinary-friendly psychologist and founder of the charity Love Your Pet Love Your Vet, spent 10 years developing a workshop support program for the veterinary profession around this issue. Her workshop helps vets build protective attitudes, enhanced wellbeing, and increased coping skills.

However, the stubbornly high global vet suicide rate demands immediate professional intervention on a much broader scale — workshops, no matter how effective, can only help a small number of people at a time.

That’s why Nadine’s work became this book.

Coping With Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian is designed to empower vets in their everyday work lives to use psychological knowledge and skills to combat stress, burnout, anxiety, depression and suicide. The book presents an examination of the problem, the ways vet mental health is influenced by their daily work, and the science we can use to tackle it head-on. Drawing from the fields of positive psychology, acceptance and commitment therapy, career construction theory, and resiliency studies, it outlines an evidence-based psycho-educational approach to help veterinary staff develop protective attitudes, enhance wellbeing, and increase their coping skills.

This book not only strikes a chord with individual vets , it is also an essential resource for vet practices and hospitals. Being evidence-based and reader-friendly, employers can keep several copies on hand as a general staff resource or in support of EAP, CPD, or wellbeing programs. Such organisational support can make a substantial and immediate contribution to the profession’s fight against stress, depression and suicide.

Coping With Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian is written for vets, nurses and technicians and helpful in a variety of ways. For some, it will simply be a confirmation that they or a colleague are not alone in experiencing stress, for others they will find some practical tips helpful in their working day, or it might be the impetus that leads someone to seek professional help.

The book has received interest from groups such as the World Veterinary Association, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, the Australian Veterinary Association, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

As animal emergency specialist and former ‘Bondi Vet’ Gerardo Poli describes it – "It is almost an unspoken rule that stress and burnout are just a fact of life if you are a veterinarian. It doesn’t have to be that way. This book will make a difference, help veterinarians have successful and fulfilling careers and also most importantly save the lives of our dear colleagues.”


Includes Foreword by Emeritus Professor Trevor Heath OAM.



Praise for Coping With Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian:

"Finally a practical self-help book aimed specifically at the veterinary profession. Easy to read and with lots of practical advice and the tools to traverse the corrugated road of professional life.”

Dr Brian Mc Erlean, Trustee, AVA Benevolent Fund and Veterinary Suicide Prevention Advocate


"Provides valuable insight into a sadly under-appreciated issue within our profession. I’d recommend it wholeheartedly for all veterinarians and those that care for them.”

Dr Scott Campbell, Partner, Ipswich Vet Group


"It is almost an unspoken rule or even a general acceptance that stress and burnout are just a fact of life if you are a veterinarian. It doesn't have to be that way. I believe this book will make a difference, help veterinarians have successful and fulfilling careers and also most importantly save lives of our dear colleagues."

Dr. Gerardo Poli, Hospital Director, Animal Emergency Service


"Thank you Nadine, for recognising and building awareness around such an important issue. I highly recommend this book, it may just save a life one day.”

Dr Andy Pieris, Owner, Casuarina Seaside Vet


"As a clinical psychotherapist with over 30 years working with high performer medical professionals, I can say that Dr Nadine Hamilton has a deep understanding of the stresses, conflicts, and unique challenges facing veterinarians today. I highly recommend this book to veterinarians and to the educators and mental health professionals who work with them.

Dr. Fern Kazlow, Clinical Psychotherapist, New York, Founder of The No Doubt Zone


BOOK NEWS UPDATES

February 2019:   Ellen Jackson interviews Nadine for the Potential Psychology podcast  

March 2019:  Nadine talks with  Dr. Kimberley Khodakhah from Vetopia INC about resilience, LYPLYV and the work behind her book.

April 2019:  The book has received early interest from the World Veterinary Association, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, the Australian Veterinary Association, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

April 2019:   Great interview with Nadine at I Love Veterinary

May 2019:  The Vet Vault features a mental health masterclass as vets Gerardo and Hubert talk with Nadine about her book and her research.

May 2019:  Yahoo Lifestyle talks with Nadine about a profession "that's not just about playing with puppies and kittens".




About the Author

Psychologist Nadine Hamilton has spent the last nine years researching why the mental wellbeing of vets has become so compromised and what can be done about it. In her own private practice, she has helped many vets develop better coping strategies to get on top of stress and psychological fatigue to avoid burnout and suicide. She also works with veterinary practice managers and owners to increase wellbeing, productivity, and retention in the workplace. She is also the proud founder of Love Your Pet Love Your Vet, a not-for-profit charity raising awareness about the issues within the veterinary industry and reducing stigma in veterinary professionals seeking help.

Reviews



Stress-busting strategies to tackle "dark" work risks

06 March 2019 1:28pm

A new book focusing on stress, burnout and the high suicide rate among veterinarians has outlined a seven-module "coping and wellbeing program", which includes important lessons for all time-poor or socially isolated workers.

in  Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian(Australian Academic Press), psychologist Dr Nadine Hamilton says there is a "dark side" to the veterinary profession, with workers operating within a "culture of death" (animal slaughter and euthanasia) and struggling with financial issues, despite the often-incorrect belief that they are wealthy due to the high charge-out rates for their treatment of pets.

In some Australian states, the suicide rate for vets is about four times higher than the rate for the general adult population, while UK research shows that vets are more likely to suffer from severe or very severe symptoms of depression, their suicide risk is higher than for medical doctors and dentists, and their access to lethal medication "can translate thoughts of suicide into actual behaviour", she says.

Factors that adversely affect a vet's wellbeing include poor work-life balance and a lower-than-expected income, given the nature of the work and the extensive training required to enter the profession, Hamilton says.

The high costs of setting up, running or maintaining a practice significantly reduce profit margins, while veterinary nurses can have "limited scope for advance once they have already reached practice manager status, placing a ceiling on their earning capacity", she says.

Vets must also deal with "difficult or emotionally distressed" animal owners, perform complex work at a fast pace for long hours, work on their own and in remote locations, and perform euthanasia, which is distressing for multiple reasons, she adds.

The threat of suicidality in vets can be tackled through career counselling and providing a "psychological toolbox of resources they can refer to when required", the book says.

The book includes the " complete coping and wellbeing program for veterinary professionals", with strategies for proactively managing stress and increasing resilience grouped into seven modules: stress management; time management; communication and assertiveness; relaxation; SMART goal setting; acceptance and commitment therapy; and positive psychology.

The first module incorporates a 10-point "stress-busting list" that includes:

  • Know your stressors– learn to recognise the things that "get you stressed" and work on strategies for coping with them;
  • Recognise your symptoms– try to recognise the signs of stress, like feeling nauseous, being irritable or sweating, so you can "take a more proactive role in combating stress";
  • Practice mindfulness– focus on "being in the moment" instead of getting "caught up in the past or future";
  • Socialisation– surround yourself with supportive friends and family, and be aware that laughing releases endorphins that help you "de-stress in the long run"; and
  • Seek professional help– speak to your GP or psychologist if "you feel like stress has control of you" and "you do not feel like you have appropriate strategies".

Hamilton has spent a decade researching the mental wellbeing of veterinarians, and founded the global campaign "Love Your Pet Love Your Vet", to raise awareness of the high burnout and suicide rates in the profession, and reduce the stigma of seeking help for vets.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Foreword

Introduction

SECTION ONE – THE CHALLENGE

Chapter 1 – The ‘dark side' of the veterinary profession

The Problem

Why do so many vets contemplate suicide?

What do we do to help vets at risk?

The Coping and Wellbeing Program for Veterinary Professionals

SECTION TWO – THE REALITY

Chapter 2 — Being a vet

Impacts on Vet Wellbeing

Students and Fresh Graduates

Major Strengths Supporting Vet Wellbeing

The Next Step

SECTION THREE — WHAT CAN HELP

Chapter 3 — Positive Psychology

Authentic Happiness Theory to Wellbeing Theory

PERMA

Positive Education

The Core Virtues of Positive Psychology

Another Step to Go

Chapter 4 — Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Psychological Flexibility

Mindfulness

Core Pathological Processes

Overlap Among Pathological Processes

A Further Step Yet

Chapter 5 — Career Construction Theory

Life Themes

Vocational Personality

Career Adaptability

Career Construction Theory in Action

One More Step

Chapter 6 — Resilience

Keys for a Resilient Life

SECTION FOUR — INTERVENTION

The Coping and Wellbeing Program for Veterinary Professionals

Module 1 Stress management

Module 2 Time management

Module 3 Communication and assertiveness

Module 4 Relaxation

Module 5 SMART goal setting

Module 6 Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Module 7 Positive Psychology

Helpful Contacts

Bibliography