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Improving the resilience of your veterinary team

Posted in Management @ Jun 7th 2018 - By Dr Natasha Wilks, BVSc Dip Coaching CAPP B3, High Performance Vets
Improving The Resilience Of Your Veterinary Team 2

Resilience is about overcoming challenges, managing change, dealing with adversity and reaching out for help.

Recently, there seems to be more information and research available about improving the resilience of our veterinary teams - and this is fantastic news. Having these skills and resources available is important as it can contribute to improving an individual’s well-being, as well as increasing their capacity to cope with the challenges that are experienced every day in veterinary practice. 

In 2017, the Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study key findings included:

  • About 1 in 20 veterinarians are suffering from serious psychological distress,
  • Only half of the veterinarians with serious psychological distress are seeking help,
  • Veterinarians experience slightly lower wellbeing than the general population.

I know the feeling....

I have been a veterinarian for nearly 20 years and I get it. I remember how tough I found it in the first few years. I remember what it was like when my kids were young, trying to juggle a family and a career. I remember going home and worrying about cases. I had trouble sleeping as I just couldn’t switch off.

I have also seen the progression of the veterinary profession with respect to the improvement of the client's experience and communication. Clients now have access to so much information at their fingers tips but they still need our expertise and education to help them decipher what is right for their pet, even though our advice may not always agree with what their ‘research’ has shown.

Some things have improved...and some things haven't....

While in many instances, veterinary practice is so much better than when I first graduated, there is also now more pressure and stress. So now more than ever, it’s important to build awareness of what contributes to stress and how you can increase your resilience and wellbeing.

I first started talking about stress in practice years ago when I was asked to do speaking engagements on compassion fatigue and burnout. And the more I learned about stress, the more I realised we have got it wrong.

While stress can be enhancing and contributes to growth, what we really need to be concerned about is distress

Distress occurs on the right side of the Yerkes-Dodson curve below. 

The Yerkes-Dodson Law & Performance

Veterinary teams work long and hard...hit repeat...

Veterinary teams work long and hard and hit repeat over and over.  Some think they don’t need holidays, that asking for help is a sign of weakness and that they must be everything to everyone, etc, etc.

They have the attitude that they can do it all and maybe they can, but over time at what cost? What is it costing them personally and professionally? The end result may be fatigue and exhaustion caused by long days, high demand work and high caseload, where rest and recovery just isn’t a priority.

When rest and recovery just isn't a priority

Some veterinarians can’t switch off so their body is always ‘on’. They know how to put on the smile and put their needs aside. But this is exactly what contributes to chronic stress and is where the problems begin. Consistent, high levels of stress can turn into chronic stress which is the cause of so many detrimental effects on our mental, physical and emotional health. It impacts performance and leads to disengagement.  

Stress is contagious

Stress is contagious and can spread throughout the team.  A stressed team doesn’t perform at their peak and will eventually negatively impact the business.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Start to listen to your body and develop self-awareness. Work out what contributes to your stress.  

Once you are aware of what contributes to your stress, you can do something about it. There are some stressors over which you have no control, however, you do have control over how you react and respond.  Being able to recognise where you are in the stress curve and how to bring yourself back to the eustress side or left side of the curve is important.  

Learn self-compassion

Self-compassion is so important and you need to treat yourself with kindness and compassion in times of challenge and adversity. Self-care is critical if you don't want to become depleted and tip into compassion fatigue and burnout. 

I love talking about resilience and wellbeing. An absence of ill health doesn’t mean you're healthy and the same is for your mental wellbeing. An absence of a mental illness doesn’t mean you are brain fit, emotionally fit or flourishing. Prioritising resilience and activities that increase your wellbeing increase your capacity to cope with stress, adversity and challenges.

We need to make the time for activities that increase our well-being

We need to make time to focus on the 6 elements that underpin our wellbeing and contribute to you thriving and flourishing in practice. 

Stress, resilience and wellbeing aren’t fixed.  You can influence your stress levels, increase your resilience and wellbeing.

Stress, Resilience & Wellbeing Seminar: How to cope with stress and improve you and your team’s wellbeing to thrive in veterinary practice - if you'd like to have this 2-hour seminar delivered directly to your team, contact me and we can discuss a time and location to suit you.

About Natasha

Dr Natasha Wilks BVSc DipCoaching is a Veterinarian and Coach.  Natasha is the founder of High Performance Vets and works with Veterinarians to improve their well-being and help them succeed in their career.

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