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UPDATED 30 OCT 2023
This is a brief discussion about the importance of mental wellness and the welfare of veterinary professionals, in order to ensure our continual ability to look after the animals in our care, in Singapore's very demanding and fast-paced veterinary medical industry.
We hope that this little excerpt and summary can help the new veterinary graduates and staff in Singapore to integrate successfully into our local profession and realize that they are not alone in their, at times, confusing emotional struggles with euthanasia, difficult medical cases, and demands of their own personal lives.
Veterinary staff are not suffering because we are "not good" and can choose to improve our own state of mind by engaging in the following recommendations to boost our overall well-being.
PRIMARY & SECONDARY TRAUMA
WHY YOU ARE AT RISK
PERSONALITY TRAITS & COMMITMENT
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines 'Compassion Fatigue' as a physical and mental exhaustion and emotional withdrawal experienced by those helping people or animals in distress over an extended period of time.
It is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped, to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress, anxiety or mental shutdown for the caregiver.
Veterinary professionals are vulnerable because of the emotions and compassion we feel towards the animals and their sufferings.
We are required to open our hearts and minds to the animals, but at times faulted, criticized and blamed exactly because of that same compassion.
This repeated cycle of intense empathy and feeling of being misunderstood makes us profoundly affected and even possibly damaging our mental stability.
Examples of straining elements in our work:
The rigorous demands of vet school and, eventually, the long working hours in practice have conditioned us to accept that personal needs are irrelevant and not having time to ourselves to recuperate from work is part of the job, as is putting the needs of animals before our own, even if we are exhausted
Unfortunately, most veterinary career hinge on the talent and ability of individual staff so not many wants to share. The truth is there is a necessity to communicate about difficult experiences so that the individual can grow and improve further as a person as well as a professional.
Working hours are often extended
Some of us are just not aware of the level of involvement before joining the industry.
Daily exposure to death, animal cruelty, and pet owners in mourning or financial difficulties
Daily debates and struggles with ethical dilemmas and moral stress
Daily stress of performing various kinds of surgeries; interpreting a vast amount of different types of diagnostic results; arranging treatment plans, reviews, and follow-ups; explaining medical terminologies and prognoses to owners; handling and doing thorough physical examinations on unwilling, sometimes aggressive animals - all within a tightly stipulated time frame
Some of us identify very strongly with the animals and want to care for them all the time, therefore have never understood the need to or do not know how to developed authentic self-care practices that will benefit this kind of relationship long term
VET CREW WELLNESS PLAN
We recommend that all veterinary professionals pay attention to the following factors:
Have good sleep hygiene.
An adult needs 8 hours of sleep a day. Make time to sleep comfortably and properly.
It is often difficult to find time to prepare and eat nutritious food, but we also know that a poor diet will affect our mood.
Eat regular meals that contain animal-based protein, nuts, and vegetables. Avoid refined, processed food; simple and complex sugar at night, and sugary and alcoholic drinks that can cause sluggishness.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Physical activity releases stress and will give you a sense of control in life.
Choose the stairs instead of the lift, this will increase the heart rate and encourage perspiration.
Take short breaks and concentrate on breathing techniques such as slow, deep diaphragmatic breathing with elongated exhales or alternate nostril breathing.
Sit down at a table to eat and appreciate the smell, the taste, and the different textures of the food.
Do not rush through the meal mindlessly.
Maintain real face-to-face relationships.
Social media or texting are not normal relationships and cannot be compared to real-life connections, where you are actually dining with and can hear the laughter of friends or family.
Do things you enjoy.
Choose something unrelated to veterinary medicine or animals.
Do not allow your life to revolve around a single component or person.
Learn new things and meet new people.
Leave your work in the clinic and do not bring it home.
Establish some boundaries with your working hours, how and when your clients and work-friends can contact you.
Your family desires and deserves your time and love as well.
Do not tolerate workplace bullying or abuse.
Move on to another job as soon as possible if you are always made to feel anxious, jittery and nervous at work.
Do not stay if you do not feel supported or assisted in your clinical work or being taken advantage of - the fact is we do not and cannot work alone in the veterinary medicine industry, so no one, whether new graduates or experienced staff, should be expected to do so.
Do not entertain abusive clients and those who emotionally blackmail you.
Establish your support network.
Make sure you have a trusted MD to look into your own health.
Talk to senior staff in our industry - most have experienced similar or much more difficulties than you while starting out in the veterinary medicine profession.
Find mentors in the industry to get moral support, pick up skills and knowledge that will improve your professional and personal abilities.
Talk to professional counselors for advice and treatment if you suspect that you or someone you know in the industry is going into or is in depression because of work stress, cyber-bullying or family matters.
We all started here.
Early warning signs of someone struggling to cope:
Lack of motivation, punctuality and decision making
Unable to concentrate or focus on any task at hand
Unable to find anything or keep misplacing things
Increase in unexplained absences or sick leave
Mood swings, outbursts or unusual displays of emotion (eg frequent anger or crying)
Over-reacting to problems
Erratic or changed behaviour, such as not wanting to have a casual chat with anyone while at work
Lack of interest in appearance, or diminished personal hygiene
Avoids eye contact
Smell of alcohol
Inability to communicate effectively
Disappearing from the practice in a low mood but returning in a short time appearing much happier
Difficulty in coping with emergency situations
Drastic weight loss
MENTORSHIP AND SUPPORT
In the veterinary profession, good mentorship is a major factor in the success of those entering and continuing in the profession.
Who needs this:
New staff coming up to speed in this profession
New staff that are just frightened
New staff struggling to become proficient and confident
Staff overwhelmed by the work load
Staff suffering from compassion fatigue
Therefore, recent veterinary graduates, new veterinary staff and even some experienced staff need support and guidance from those who are qualified, have been where they are and understand their situation.
The plethora of benefits for the mentees, should include:
Reaching set goals faster
Learning higher levels of veterinary care for the animals efficiently
Become better at client communication
Efficiently develop proper professional skill level
Confidence building reassurance from experienced people
Become a positive collaborative team member
A calmer professional growth
A mentoring relationship cannot happen overnight. The people involved must agree on general guidelines to ensure success, which should include but not limited to:
Expectations of the relationship
Measurement of accomplishments
Method of feedback, e.g. via email, whatsapp
Setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound goals that is specific and realistic to the mentee
Determine the time commitment required from both parties, e.g once a week, for an hour, etc
We belong to a unique profession that works very hard but does not always get appreciated at most level, especially by our animal patients.
We must band together to help one and another overcome these emotional struggles and achieve a more balanced mindset.
No one should be ashamed because they are feeling overwhelmed by their love for their work and animal patients.
Now is the time to put our hands out to help our colleagues who need some reassurance, affirmation and proper guidance.
If you are in need of veterinary mentorship and guidance, or just wish to talk to someone anonymously about your current professional situation, you can reach us at lightof email@example.com
We can try to assist you regain your footing and progress further or redirect you to relevant professionals we know.
Telephone Counselling Helpline:
Singapore Association for Mental Health
1800 283 7019
IMH Emergency Helpline
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)
1800 221 4444
Blk 703 Bedok Reservoir Road
#01-3508 Singapore 470703
Tel: 6243 3282
(By Appointment Only)
MON & WED & SUN
5 pm to 10 pm
THURS TO SAT
2 pm to 4 pm, 5 pm to 10 pm
& ALL PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
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