How promoting selfcare in your veterinary practice can help address the suicide crisis in veterinary medicine.
Suicide in veterinary medicine must come to an end. We go home at night and worry about our patients, how to make ends meet, how to keep everyone around us happy, from our staff to our clients to our family. But are we happy?
We need to focus more on our wellbeing and what we can do to improve our quality of life. This might mean turning away that emergency in the middle of the night to get a good night's rest and then giving your all to your patients the next day. Or maybe you can work three days a week, or take a few months off for a physical or mental break. Whatever it takes to keep your sanity, do it and don't apologize for it!
If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else!
Surround yourself with supportive staff members who build you up, not tear you down. I love the fact that my staff has my back. If I have worked several weekends in a row, they will make me take a weekend off. If I am sick, they will tell me to rest and they forward the phones to another clinic. They help protect me from myself! You only have one body, so you need to take care of it. If you don't take care of yourself because you don't want to let anyone down, you will end up letting yourself down!
We also need to utilize safe places to talk with other veterinary professionals to get advice and to vent. If you feel you need more assistance, then seek professional help. There is nothing wrong or embarrassing about needing a safe outlet.
Editor's note: This article discusses suicide and mental health issues. If you're experiencing feelings of depression or suicidal ideation, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK; 800-273 8255; suicidepreventionlifeline.org). It's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No matter what problems you are dealing with, people on the other end of the line will help you find a reason to keep living.
We have to stop beating ourselves up for lost lives, cases that didn't have a good outcome, and the clients who left unsatisfied. We live in a world that expects perfection (from imperfect human beings) and something for nothing quick, fast and in a hurry. If you don't do everything to their “standards” for a cheap price, they will blast you all over social media so they can ruin your reputation. They don't care that they are ruining your life or livelihood. We constantly worry about being turned in to the board or sued. Take a step back and stop being so hard on yourself. You are going to make mistakes, just learn from them.
A client can show up intoxicated for an appointment, leave happy and then decide two hours later to decimate your reputation on Facebook because they decided they were no longer satisfied with their experience at your clinic. I have been cussed out in the middle of the night for requiring a deposit for emergencies. I have been told that I don't care about animals if I won't treat them for free. We live in a keyboard-happy, entitled world. We can draw together to protect our work family by not tolerating this type of behavior. The client is not always right, and we need to stop pretending like they are. Don't be afraid to let go of rude and incorrigible clients.
We have to set boundaries with our clients, families, friends and ourselves. Facebook is not a place to ask for free advice. Just say no! Work on yourself by working less. Your overall wellbeing and quality of life are more important than trying to make everyone happy. You only have one life and you need to make sure you are happy.
Try to find some time to get away in the middle of your day. Leave your office, take a walk, eat lunch, run errands, read a book or magazine, take a nap, shop or workout. Do something that helps you to decompress. On some days, a good run clears my head, but on other days my head is spinning from challenging cases, and sometimes I just need a quick cat nap to help me recharge. When you are away from work, make some time for yourself as well.
If debt is a stressor for you, seek financial planning to help you get your life on track. Student loan debt is the bane of my existence. It disturbs me that our government is making tons of money off student debt. With that being said, we cannot change the crazy interest rates. We have to find a way to get the balance down fast. Avoid income-based repayment plans at all costs. They are going to cost you an insurmountable amount of money in the long run and no one will tell you this, especially not your loan company!
When we come home at the end of the day, we are expected to give 100% to our family and put aside whatever kind of day we had. Our emotions have to be compartmentalized and tucked away. Allow yourself to be emotionally and physically invested in your family because that is what matters most.
In this career, our mental health is challenged on a daily basis. We have to fight this battle head on and look out for ourselves and each other. I don't want to see another beautiful human being take their life over the challenges of this profession. You have been blessed with the gift of caring for animals, but at the end of the day it is a job and it is not worth your life!
If practice is too much, seek other options. There are opportunities to teach, conduct research, work for USDA, etc. You are not stuck, and you are not a failure for wanting to change your situation!
Dr. Shana Bohac is the owner of Navarro Small Animal Clinic in Victoria, Texas. She has a passion for surgery as well as compassionate wellness care. She has a husband, Brandon, daughter, Aiden, three crazy cats, two dogs and a handful of horses.