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How a 10-Year Burnout Shifted a Veterinary’s Career into a Mental Health Focus

The following is an interview with Marie Holowaychuk speaking on the topics of mental health, well-being and her career.

  • What is the name of your session at this year’s VET Conference?
  • Simple strategies for work-life sanity: Setting boundaries, saying no, work-life separation.
  • What initially attracted you to the mental health and wellbeing space?
    • My personal experience with burnout and my own mental health challenges. About 10 years into my career as a veterinarian and despite doing work that I enjoyed as an emergency and critical care specialist and academician, I experienced burnout. This occurred in combination with my unmanaged anxiety and depression, which compounded my challenges. After leaving my job in academia and becoming self-employed, my burnout and mental health worsened. I was finally encouraged to seek therapy, participate in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, and take better care of myself, which was transformative for me. As a researcher, I dove into the wellbeing science and after becoming a certified yoga and meditation teacher, I offered my first veterinary wellness retreat to share my knowledge, evidence-based practices, and experiences with others in our profession.
  • How has that attraction evolved throughout your career?
    • I am fascinated by the growing volume of research pertaining to mental health, resilience, and wellbeing among veterinary and other healthcare professionals. I aim to take research-based practices and integrate them into everyday tools for veterinary teams.
  • What’s the best mental health or wellbeing advice you have ever received?
    • I have been fortunate to know many other mental health practitioners, social workers, and wellbeing advocates over the years who have been kind enough to share their wisdom and expertise with me. The “name it to tame it” advice for identifying feelings to temper them was a lightbulb moment, and another game-changer was when a friend and colleague told me to “stop ‘shouldering’” on myself.
  • If you had to pick one wellbeing practice or “tactic” most clinics could or should implement, what would it be?
    • Open conversations related to personal and professional boundaries, including policies that support a culture of disconnecting from work on days off and protecting personal time.
  • If you could impart one universal understanding about the benefits of making wellbeing a priority in their clinic, what would it be and why?
    • It doesn’t matter how medically versed your team members are or what bells and whistles are available for you in your practice. If your team members are struggling with burnout, they will not be able to care for the patients or clients to the best of their ability and may ultimately make the decision to leave the profession altogether. We must put our team members first to make veterinary medicine sustainable and successful.
  • It’s the year 2030, what is the workplace dialogue surrounding mental health and wellbeing?
    • Mental health is openly discussed daily, and wellbeing is integrated into all aspects of the day-to-day practice from ergonomic workspaces to enforced breaks and self-care.
  • What are you excited most for at Veterinary Education Today this year?
    • To connect with veterinary team members in the Trade Show Hall to discuss all things mental health and wellbeing 😊
  • Tell us why your session is a MUST ATTEND event at this year’s VET Conference?
    • This session offers practical and immediately implemental skills for identifying and communicating healthy boundaries, which is something many veterinary team members struggle with. These are strategies that will serve you personally and professionally for the rest of your career.
  • Is there anything else you want to share about your session to VET attendees?
    • You will come away with a deep understanding of the importance of healthy boundaries, where unhealthy boundaries come from, and how you can shift from a state of people-pleasing and overwhelm to someone who is clear on their needs / limits and feels more balanced.
  • Our mental health and wellbeing sponsor, Merck, has been instrumental in championing initiatives to improve the emotional wellbeing of its employees and the veterinary community. Do you feel there is a direct benefit to a company’s bottom line when organizations such as Merck make this type of investment?
    • The support that Merck has extended to wellbeing initiatives over the years is incredible. They have spearheaded some of the most important research to date investigating wellbeing among veterinary team members. When companies like Merck demonstrate their support for wellbeing initiatives by investing in sponsorship opportunities like this, they show their customers that they care not just about selling products and services but supporting the people on the frontlines of veterinary practice.

You can check out Marie’s session for VET Toronto 2023 here!