You know the statistics in veterinary team turnover, burnout, and compassion fatigue. Indeed, you may be bombarded with the rigours and uncertainty every day. You and your team members can easily be sucked into the unhealthy vortex of doom, gloom, and stress.
I am here to tell you, there is a far better way—and there is hope!
Below are six hacks to live well, combatting team turnover, burnout, and fatigue to charge up your workdays.
I ‘double-dog dare’ you to clip this article (and accompanying infographic) and discuss it at your next team meeting or gathering. Commit to tracking three hacks a month and make supporting each other in living well a priority. Create a chart or poster board identifying your commitments and track the progress. (Remember: new habits take consistency, so be gentle on yourselves for ‘falling off the wagon’ and get back to it.)
Where to begin?
Your life and career are important to you. Make a focused, healthy effort in choosing a few simple steps in the right direction each day. Begin with ‘Just for Today,’ then transition to a month, and, finally, a full year of living well by design.
‘Just for Today,’ I (we) commit (pick three) to:
1) Cultivate a great night’s sleep.
2) Ten minutes of conscious breathing, mindful meditation.
3) Properly fuel the body.
4) Intentional movement as medicine.
5) Hydrate the body.
6) Daily debrief; let it go!
Cultivate a great night’s sleep
Your ‘living well’ workday begins with a great night’s sleep by design, not default. It has been discovered the ‘sleeping sweet spot’ is between seven to eight hours of quality sleep.1
In Dr. Phil Zeltzman’s “Seven magic tips to get more sleep,” he creates a map in establishing a ritual for sleeping success.2
A few magic sleep highlights include:
- Before going to sleep, prepare for the next day by laying out your clothes and making your lunch (supports fuelling your body).
- Place your phone settings to do-not-disturb, shut down all screens, and remove your phone from your bedroom.
- Create a sleep environment free of light, sound, and distractions. Set an alarm on an alarm clock instead of your phone.
- Do something that feeds your soul (e.g. take a bath, read a book, meditate) before drifting peacefully into la-la land.
You and your team may choose to chart seven to eight hours of quality sleep.
Benefits of adequate sleep: Feeling refreshed, rested, improved concentration, fewer mistakes, and greater productivity.
Ten minutes of mindful meditation
It is true: merely 10 minutes of conscious breathing (anchoring in your breath) or mindful meditation does a body good!3
Consider integrating a mindful practice into your morning routine, either at home or at work. Veterinary teams have begun embracing the idea to include gathering in the treatment area, collectively quieting their thoughts, listening to a guided meditation, and then exchanging their gratitude and intent for the day. It is hugely powerful to connect in this manner, be present, and charge for the day ahead.
You and your team may choose to incorporate a seven- to 10-minute guided meditation into your rounds or team huddle. In preparing for the day, allow your body the gift of calming connection. Try it, you may like it.
Benefits of conscious breathing and mindfulness: Reduces stress, clears the mind, promotes emotional health, and enhances self-awareness.
Properly fuel the body
There is no excuse for not taking the time to prepare healthy food. Grabbing a cup of coffee and a sugar-loaded energy bar on the way out the door is not adequately fuelling your body! Of all the hacks listed, this, in my opinion, is of highest importance, as it sets all the other hacks up for success.
Consider shopping once a week, creating a grocery list that provides fresh fruits, vegetables, protein, and carbs. In the evening, cook meals with the intent of lunch leftovers. As suggested in the first hack, build your lunch the night before your workday. Include a piece of fruit, yogurt, leftovers, a salad, or even oatmeal.
You may be telling yourself, “There is no time for lunch!” I’m telling you there must be time for lunch; to step off the floor and fuel your body and soul.
When facilitating workshops with veterinary teams, making time for a lunch is often a priority. While managing veterinary practices, I was emphatic about everyone on the team getting a break for lunch. I led through example by bringing my lunch and stepping away from my office and into the breakroom for at least 20 minutes. Sometimes, I sat in my car with the radio on, chilling out, eating my sack lunch; other times, I drove to the nearby park and sat outside.
You and your team may choose to make a 30-minute lunch break, fuelling your body with a healthy meal, a top priority. If this is not currently happening, I strongly encourage this being one of your initial top three living-well hacks!
Additionally, if your management team provides team snacks, make them healthy. Dump the high-fructose sodas for a refreshing seltzer water. Substitute the potato chips with dried fruit. When an industry partner delivers a lunch and learn, select the healthiest meal choice.
Benefits of fuelling your body: Helps to increase your resilience, wards off disease, delivers the energy needed to do your physically demanding job.
Intentional movement as medicine
Yes, you may be moving your body throughout the day, but how intentional is it? Are you properly lifting with your legs, supporting your core, or stretching occasionally? Intentional movement may include taking the time to shrug your shoulders, twist your torso, extend your wrists, or even take a brisk walk around the block.
“As a veterinary professional, you move your body continuously for many hours a day,” says Saleema Lookman, a registered veterinary technician and certified personal trainer. “Physical fitness is probably the last thing on your mind after a long shift, but intentional movement helps you better serve your patients. Exercise is crucial for self-care and supporting your body for the rigours of delivering veterinary medicine.”
You and your team may establish intentional movement as a useful hack, defining the minimum of activities to track daily.
Benefits of intentional movement as medicine: Helping to alleviate back strains, strengthen your core, release tension, and stress in your body.
Hydrate your body
Even as a veterinary professional, drinking an adequate amount of water will support your health and well-being. Water is needed to effectively digest food, circulate blood, maintain your body’s temperature, and transport nutrients. Remember: 60 per cent of your body is made up of water and maintaining an adequate level is a step in the right direction of self-care and living well.4 Staying properly hydrated can ward off headaches, aid in digestion, and keep your body balanced in many ways. Don’t underestimate staying hydrated during your workday.
Tips for how to stay hydrated:
1) Keep water in your car, at your desk, in your locker, or in your bag.
2) Have a beverage with your healthy snack.
3) Eat more fruits and vegetables (high in water content).
4) Choose beverages that meet your caloric needs.
Benefits of hydrating your body: Energizing your muscles, supporting proper digestion, and less chance of headaches due to dehydration.
Daily debrief; let it go
Finally, but certainly not least, gather the team for a daily debrief.
A veterinary team within an animal shelter committed to a ‘glum and glow’ gathering each day at 4 p.m., sharing what went poorly during the day and ending on a positive glowing comment. What works well for your team in debriefing the highs and lows of the day? You may choose to conduct a morning huddle, a mid-day exchange, or an evening ‘rah-rah’ as you head out the door.
The process outlined in the previously published column, “How are you and your team doing?” suggests considering this series of questions to debrief and let go of the day:5
1) What went well today? (Keep doing these things.)
2) What could be improved? (Went OK, but could be better.)
3) What went poorly today? (Stop doing it or concentrate on doing it better.)
4) What should be our focus for the next day or week? (Choose one or two things only.)
Benefits of debriefing and letting go: Supports a good night’s sleep and so the cycle builds upon itself, allowing for an objective, supportive reflection of the day.
Surely you can embrace a few of these hacks in a way to support your life and career in veterinary medicine. Better yet, embrace these hacks as a team; together, the synergy and collective effort will compound in creating a healthier, more sustainable workday.
Rebecca Rose, CVT, certified career coach, founder, and president at CATALYST Veterinary Professional Coaches, has a diverse background in the veterinary community. She has worked in and managed clinics, collaborates with industry partners, and facilitates engaging team workshops. Rose’s enthusiasm for professional development in veterinary medicine is contagious, as she encourages and supports veterinary teams in reaching their highest potential. She can be reached via getCATALYST@CATALYSTVetPC.com.
1 Science Daily, World’s largest sleep study shows too much shuteye can be bad for your brain, University of Western Ontario, October 2019, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181009135845.htm
2 Seven magic tips to get more sleep, Phil Zeltzman, DVM, Veterinary Practice News, November 2020, https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/seven-magic-tips-to-get-more-sleep
3 Mindful breathing: 10 minutes a day can lead to better health, Rebecca Rose, CVT, Veterinary Practice News, September 2020, https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/mindful-breathing-10-minutes-a-day-can-lead-to-better-health
4 6 Reasons to Drink Water, Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, Nourish WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/6-reasons-to-drink-water#1
5 How are you and your team doing? Rebecca Rose, CVT, Veterinary Practice News Canada, September 2020, https://www.veterinarypracticenews.ca/gut-check-how-are-you-and-your-team-doing