What’s the Deal with Wellness?

by Michaela Noonan, Yoga Teacher at VET Festival and Fitzpatrick Referrals

“WELLNESS”. It’s a very fashionable word right now. Festivals are celebrating it. Celebrities are extolling it. Gwyneth Paltrow is a physical embodiment of it. But remove the hashtag and there is so much more to this topic that our industry needs to delve into

The reason why we need to talk about “wellness” in the Veterinary industry is simple: in this industry, at various points throughout our career, we are not very well. At all. Far from it.

Let’s contextualise.

A dog walks into your practice. She pads into the consult room and sinks down to the floor. You have met this dog before. She is usually a young, effervescent, gentle Golden Retriever who works locally as a therapy dog. But in the consult room today she is stiff and lethargic and goes to nip you when she has tired of the examination. Her once beautiful coat is now dull and greasy.

Her owner proudly tells you the dog has been working every day for a month. On a side-note, it is mentioned that she has not been getting her prescribed hydrotherapy sessions for an old injury and there has been minimal time to play with her favourite ball. The owner is here due to concerns regarding the dog’s seeming depression, diminishing coat quality, and general malaise.

Diagnostic criteria pass across your mind but you keep coming back to the thing that seems glaringly obvious to you; this dog is “unwell”. She is overworked, stressed, has not been receiving her hydrotherapy and has forgotten the joy of chasing a ball without a care in the world. Her physical and emotional needs are not being met. She is being asked to pour from an empty cup.

You tell your concerns to the owner and wonder how this conclusion wasn’t obvious to them too. But how many of us look at ourselves on a regular basis, with our collection of aspirations, expectations and emotional baggage, and see the problem as clearly as we would in one of our patients?

The fact is, we are not seeing our own problems clearly. Or if we are, we do not know what to do about them. According to the Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study1, we have virtually all been this Golden Retriever coming into work at some point. Burnt out. Reactive. Depressed. Not functioning at our best. The difference between these two scenarios, however, is that a patient coming in with these symptoms will prompt concern in the minds of those treating it. But all too often, these same symptoms amongst employees in this industry are considered to be fairly normal and part and parcel of a very worthwhile vocation, some even wearing “busyness” and “burnout” like a badge of honour.

Of those studied, 79% of veterinary professionals reported anxiety, panic attacks, compassion fatigue, burnout or depression in the past year. Serious psychological distress was reported to hit veterinary professionals under the age of 45 far more frequently than those further on in their careers. And most staggeringly of all, 25% of the 20,000 veterinary professionals asked had thought about suicide at some point. Twenty five per cent. That is five thousand.

Five thousand of our colleagues have contemplated suicide.

If that number is representative across the industry, this is a deeply troubling thought.

Sadly, almost 2% of these respondents had attempted suicide. To give life to that statistic, that is 400 of our colleagues.

From this study alone, that gives us 400 reasons to expand our discussion of “Wellness” within our industry. And not in a “celebrity, fad, buzzword, hashtag” kind of way. We need to “work up” this problem like we would one of our patients and then take responsibility for it. Both as individuals and an industry as a whole.

We all know the old classic ingredients for “wellness”: sufficient sleep, a good diet, regular exercise. But how do we address the more intangible aspects of our human condition in the workplace? Our emotions, our thought processes, our perspectives? How do we deal with things like depression, compassion fatigue, even suicide?

In an attempt to address these issues, Vet Festival 2020 will be exploring topics of the mind, heart, body and soul in our established Wellness Stream, and offering practical wellbeing workshops in our on-site Wellness Hub. But we know the solution to these problems will not come from talking AT you. So we want to speak WITH you.

Therefore, please come and join our discussion on Wellness at Vet festival 2020. If 79% of us are at some point coming into work like a burnt out therapy dog, we cannot serve our patients and clients to the best of our abilities. And therein lies the great contradiction of a caring profession; in order to care about others, you have to care about yourself.

Please come and join our discussion this June. We need you.

REFERENCES 1. John O. Volk BS; Ulrich Schimmack PhD; Elizabeth B. Strand PhD, LCSW; Linda K. Lord DVM, PhD; Colin W. Siren BA. Executive summary of the Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study. 2018; Vol. 252, No. 10, Pages 1231-1238. doi: 10.2460.

Delegate feedback from VET Festival 2019:

Fantastic CPD and networking opportunities. Great to see a combination of vets, nurses and physios


Informative, comprehensive rehab CPD Days


Excellent learning in a great environment


Fast paced, exciting and relevant content from extremely knowledgable speakers



VET Festival 2019

7-8 June 2019 | Loseley Park, Surrey

Book your place at VET Festival 2020 today.
Visit: www.vetfestival.co.uk for more information.
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