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Tag: Mental Health

How A One-Time Dog Vomiting Incident Led to Euthanasia

Sometimes: once is enough.

I’d like to share a story about a friend’s dog,
Winter showed me that a single incident of vomiting could be a veterinary
Winter was a spirited little American Eskimo dog, a breed that looks similar
to the dog pictured below.

Photo by Steve Ding on Unsplash

I met Winter and his family when I worked as a professional pet dog training
instructor in a retail store.
Winter and his people were in a class scheduled before my own class. Since
there were breaks between classes, I got to know Winter’s family very well.
To the point where we became incredible friends.
To the point where we became each others’ extended family.
One of the things Winter loved to do?
Eat snow.
Generally, dogs eating or licking snow isn’t a veterinary emergency.
In 2009, Winter ate/licked some snow covering the ground in the parking lot
at the condo where he lived with his humans.

Where the snow was located turned the situation into a veterinary emergency.
Since the snow Winter had eaten was from the ground of a parking lot, the
snow likely contained antifreeze. Antifreeze supposedly tastes sweet to dogs.

The antifreeze that gets poured into cars contains methylene glycol,
methanol, and ethylene glycol.
In other words: extremely toxic and not intended for
Because Winter had only vomited once, his people felt that wasn’t an
emergency. After all, he had vomited before and was no worse for wear.
This time, the family had to say good-bye to a 3 year old dog.

I spent most of that week with Winter’s humans, including visiting him at the
veterinary hospital and conversing with the veterinarians overseeing his
Eventually, I ended up signing the form authorizing Winter’s euthanasia to
end his suffering, because I didn’t want his humans to live with the guilt of
“killing” their beloved dog. I even said they could blame me if they wanted
Since Winter’s family and I remain friends to the present day, I know I did
the right thing.

Check out Nanette Lai’s accessible force-free dog training from her website!

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!

How a VET Evolved from a Technologist to a Mental Health Consultant

The following is an interview with Coral Doherty as she speaks about mental health and the need for workplace improvements.

What is your name, job title, and name of your session at this year’s Veterinary Education Today?

Coral Doherty, COVID-19 Magnified Existing workplace mental health inadequacies…make way for the new normal.  RVT, CPHSA, QM, Certified Psychological Health and Safety Improvement Specialist, Better Mental Health for the Future.

What made you gravitate from being a veterinary technologist to moving into the mental health space?

I loved working in practice. I spent half of my adult years working within various animal care settings across Canada. Originally a true introvert, as my tech skills improved, my people skills improved too! I really hit my stride about 6 years into my career, and I found that I began to value the people I work with and the clients I spoke to more than I had ever before. Working in the mental health space allows me to use my tech skills to provide excellent people care. I understand the emotional demands of working in a vet clinic. My experience from introvert to extrovert has changed my life. I want to help others develop a renewed sense of self worth and team spirit that helped me become who I am today.

How has that move evolved throughout your career?

My evolution into the mental health space first started as a freelance practice manager. I would help practices improve their businesses by offering services to help day-to-day needs, special projects, or present lunch & learns. Building practice culture is especially meaningful work to me. I was asked to present mental health at work to a rural Manitoba practice in October 2019. As I prepared the facts for the presentation, I was enlightened & energized to protect my teams from the detrimental effects of compassion fatigue, burnout, SVT, and stress. During the presentation, I could feel their pulse begin to beat as one. They felt more connected, understood, and the feeling of being alone was ERASED! I guess you could say, I found my calling that day… preventing harm to our mental health at work by sharing best practices to get ahead of the workplace mental health injuries, one practice at a time.

If you had to pick one mental health practice or “tactic” people can use when feeling overwhelmed, what would it be?

The moment you begin to feel overwhelmed: I have heard people say they notice they feel overwhelmed when they wake up in the morning and “dread” going to work or they “dread” working with a certain person. Once this word/feeling of dread occurs, speak to your manager and/or call a warm line for someone to listen to the situation. The feeling of “dread” means you’re feeling unsafe and need something to change. Unfortunately, I have experienced this feeling and felt it was my responsibility to overcome the situation alone, and I didn’t always have a great experience when I asked for help in facing a dreadful situation. Now, I know the workplace can do more to support and should do more to assist an employee who is feeling overwhelmed and unsafe at work. Now, the tools, resources, and awareness is growing, and more can be done when psychological safety is a priority.

It’s the year 2030, what is the workplace culture dialogue talking about in reference to mental health?

Great question! This keeps me awake at night….

The trend, going back many years, tells us that stigma has cost our profession its attrition. We MUST pivot today, to change the paradigm.

I believe that by 2025, veterinary medicine will value and prioritize psychological wellbeing more than EVER before. Because of this, the workplace culture dialogue in 2030 will center around how amazing the patient care is for animals. Humans will see veterinary medical care as a golden standard of care they value. The reason: because humans at work feel valued, receive job satisfaction, and have become healthy resilient workers that are able to do so!

Who would be best suited to attend your session at VET this fall?

Let’s be honest, we all need to learn more about PREVENTING workplace mental health injuries. Each person CAN create their own bubble of psychological safety when they see their work demands through the lens of psychological safety. HOWEVER, organizational leaders and decision makers CAN do MORE than ever before to PREVENT workplace injuries, they HAVE to attend and take away MICROCHANGES, they can take ACTION!

What are you most excited for at the VET conference this year?

MEETING IN PERSON!!! Feeling the vibe of togetherness with my colleagues!!! I graduated from Centralia College in 1993… WHO WILL I REUNITE WITH HERE!?

Tell us why your session is a MUST-ATTEND event at this year’s VET Conference?

The session I am speaking about pertains to ALL workplaces today. Psychological safety transcends to the core of all humans working together towards a common goal. Trust and feeling safe to be your authentic, honest self at work. To remove barriers that are essential to good two-way communication based on trusting the other person to be curious instead of judgmental. If you want to know how you can ACTIVELY impact workplace mental health, this session is THE one!

Is there anything else you want to share about your session at VET with attendees?

This session will not be a polite glossing over of workplace inadequacies that lead up to our professional burnout and a workforce shortage. It will be realistic. The essence of the presentation is rooted in continuous improvement. This session is a true-life example of failure to boldly bouncing forward to fabulous.

Coral is speaking at the VET conference Saturday, October 28th – Her topic “COVID 19 Magnified Existing workplace mental health inadequacies…make way for the new normal.” Is part of the MERCK Animal Health sponsored track on Well-being and Mental Health. 

The Power of Storytelling for Creating Awareness and Connection

As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, I find myself wondering …

How many people told their story? Were you aware the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) campaign for 2023 followed a theme that encouraged canadians to tell their stories and mental health journeys?  #MyStory advocated for mental health support for all Canadians.  A worthy cause, and a lofty goal without doubt.

It is not the goal of this blog to prove the importance of this conversation, emphasize the concerns around the mental health of veterinary professionals, or cite statistics to convince anyone of anything.  I do however want to highlight the power of community and common humanity that is created when we share our stories.  Storytelling can create connection, reduces stigma, and allows for the creation of powerful spaces for recovery and change.

Regardless of who we are or what we do, we all experience things in life that challenge us.  Having a safe space to discuss those challenges, process appropriately, receive support, and ultimately heal, learn, grow and recover is key.  The good news?? Available resources have grown over the last number of years, including those that are ‘veterinary specific’.

The ongoing challenge??  The ‘need’ for support in the areas of mental and emotional health for veterinary professionals has been acknowledged as growing area of concern and has been an ongoing conversation for well over a decade.  Subjectively, the ‘uptake’ of resources is percieved to be quite low, despite the high level of concern and need.  As a neutral observer, that makes me curious as to the possible reasons for this gap.  As a 27 year veteran of the profession, and more recently as a provider of support to the profession, and someone that has shared #mystory, I understand the complexity of the space that represents that ‘gap’. 

Exploration of the ’Gap’ is also not the purpose of this blog. The purpose of this blog is to remind you that you are not alone.  There are a growing list of resources that are being created with specific focus in the veterinary community when it comes to mental health, and workplace well-being.  This list includes just a few – and I encourage you to search for a format, resource, and information that works for you. When you don’t know where to start – wherever you are, is as good a place as any.


Finding YOUR NOT Work/Life Balance

Key Words: YOUR and NOT

For over a decade now there has been a lot of talk around Work/Life Balance. What does it look like and more importantly how to achieve it.  As a veterinarian in practice for 27 years, a past practice owner, a mom, a daughter, a leader, a community member, contributor, a pet parent … and mostly as a human being I was fooled into believing that Balance was the goal. 

Does that make me foolish?? (well…😉) No – it makes me human, and … what I believe to be a fairly typical veterinary professional that is used to following rules and protocols, a diligent student, and high achieving professional that tends to be a perfectionist.  While I won’t go into details here, for the first 17ish years (to my credit) that was doable – and then, as challenges mounted, it wasn’t doable anymore.  Upon reflection, I’m not sure why I thought it would ever be in the first place.  Wait, that’s the point.  I did not stop to think about it. I was not consciously choosing anything. I had a goal disguised as a belief that this was the way we do things at all costs. AND – I am 100% aware that seems like what we are told to do, and how we are trained to do it. Push Through. Keep Your Balance.  That mindset is part of the problem in our profession, and it’s only now that I’ve been able to put some pieces together that I think might be helpful.  This is what I know so far (cue: Pink-What I know so far!)

In 2017, I started the business The Veterinary Coach – and this topic of Balance was actually ‘my Why’ and was the reason for my logo (left below), and original tagline – Coaching Veterinary Professionals for Balance.  Shortly after that, I found this image (right below), which spoke loudly to me about what Balance felt like in Veterinary Medicine-which is incredibly hard, if not impossible.  One might say Magic actually … (oh wait that’s another blog). 

Regardless – you will notice that the goal was still perfect balance.

I have been talking about this, and coaching people around this for 5 years now, and it is a very recent awareness to me that neither my words, my intentions nor my expectations do not actually match what we see in these images.  I have come to understand that my balance is often ‘off kilter’, and if it is, chances are that is intentional.  I have come to understand that Balance to me is not a goal to be achieved, it is a process that allows me to actually be flexible and ultimately agile. 

Language Matters: What is Balance Anyway?

Balance in the context of finding Work/Life Balance has been positioned in my head (and I don’t think only my head) as a goal. A destination. Namely – a noun.

What might happen if we think of Balance as a verb …?  As an active process that involved adjusting, and adapting, and ‘tinkering’ with intention.  That sounds like a conscious process, that opens up space for directing weight purposely in one direction or another, that does not imply equality.

If this were allowed, even temporarily, then we might be better able to be intentional with our choices. We might be able to move from a place of rigid control and inflexibility to ‘keep the balance’ no matter what, into a place of perfect imperfection, depending on the challenge of the day, hour, or season of life. You might be able to find YOUR NOT work/life balance that serves you, and is effective in your life. What does that require? 

It requires us to be curious about our actions, our behaviours and our intentions and understand what serves us in any given moment in that day, hour or season of life.  When we can understand that, we might know better what we need to do to achieve it effectively.

One thing I can assure you, this process is far from perfect or linear, and requires us to embrace ‘messy’.  I can also assure you, in my experience…messy is worth it. Especially true if you are looking for and ready to invite change into your life.  I am not inviting you to do anything that I have not done myself, as a fellow veterinarian. And if I can do it – so can you!

These are excerpts from the virtual presentation given on April 14, for the full presentation please click here!

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