The importance of self-care in the veterinary profession

Yesterday I attended a seminar put on by the university student council, and the veterinary association student group. The theme of the seminar was mental health and self-care as a vet student. Although I was only able to attend the first three presentations, the stories that I heard were so impactful, and shared a message I think we have to remind ourselves as vets and vet students.

Many of you have probably read or heard that veterinarians are among the profession groups with the highest suicide rates. With long hours, stressful clients and high student debts among some reasons (I recommend reading this Boston Globe article for more information), many vets end up feeling burned out or depressed, even though they’re working in their absolute dream profession.

Moreover, the feeling of burnout is not exclusive to the veterinary profession, but is sadly a common issue among vet students as well. In a study conducted at our university, one of the deans at our faculty presented numbers stating that although we have lower grade expectations than the average student does, we estimate that we have to work more than the average amount to reach our goals. 4,9 out of 5 find the courses very demanding, and report feeling dissatisfied with their own performance.

It’s often easy to think that you’re the only one struggling, and that everyone else is just coasting through their degrees. Often times, depressive thoughts are stigmatized, and when you’re surrounded by high-achievers, it’s easy to feel like you don’t measure up. However, seeing those numbers was a stark reminder that everyone struggles from time to time, and that we ought to be more mindful about our mental health. As a part of the presentation, two of the older students talked about their own bouts with depression and anxiety disorders during their time at university. Hearing about their struggles, and how they healed was such a strong experience, and I can imagine it took a lot of bravery.

Therefore, I wanted to use this Wednesday blog post to remind you all that everyone struggles, and a burden shared is a burden halved. (I find that there is a lot of truth to clichés, so don’t write them off too easily!) If you’re feeling constantly tired, depressed, or like you’re not good enough, talk to someone! Take some time to practice a bit of self-care. It’s easy to only prioritize school, and put your own wellbeing lowest on the totem pole. But if the engine doesn’t work, you can’t move forward. Before the seminar, we were handed a list of five tips that I thought I’d share with you, and that resonated with me;

Self-care tips for vet students:

1.       Don’t live to work, work to live: Study what brings you joy, and remember to take breaks every once in a while. When we relax our brains processes all the information we’ve taken in while studying. So be sure to take some time to unwind every day, even if it’s just going for a walk, watching some TV, or hanging out with friends.

2.       Don’t put too much pressure on yourself: This is not the same as lowering your ambitions, but trying to keep a normal pace, where you have space to sleep and take care of yourself. Try to make your study sessions less about what grade you want, and more about what you want to learn.

3.       Be your own academic “PT”: Create good routines and a framework in which you can work. Try to time your work sessions, create daily or weekly to-do lists, and try and sum up what you got done each day, and evaluate what you can improve on, or what worked. Try to keep your work time sacred and remove any distractions.

I’ve written blog posts on some of these things, and you can read more about them here:

- Blog post on timing study sessions (click here for the Pomodoro technique) (click here for the toggl blog post).

- Blog post on how I plan out my weeks. (And you can click here for my previous routine)

- Blog post on how I remove distractions.

Note: some of these are from my old wordpress, and are a bit outdated. I'll try to do an updated routine soon!

4.       Don’t panic: Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage to read the entire syllabus, or do all the revision tasks. It’s more important that you get a good night’s sleep before an exam than stressing the entire night for minimal gains. If it doesn’t go that well, it’s not the end of the world, and you will be fine.

5.       You’re not alone: it’s easy to think that no one else can relate to how you feel, and that no one cares that you’re hurting, when in reality a lot of your peers are probably struggling just as much as you. And although the other students may not understand exactly how you feel, most of them will be empathic and care about you if you let them in.

Again, I cannot take any credit for this list; this is the student council and veterinary association student group’s work. However, I hope you found it as useful as I did, and you’re having a lovely, and self-caring Wednesday.

There is no better stress reliever than spending your free period in the sun, petting one of the local cats. We found this little one sunbathing on the bench when we were headed back to school after lunch today, and just had to sneak in a little cuddle.

There is no better stress reliever than spending your free period in the sun, petting one of the local cats. We found this little one sunbathing on the bench when we were headed back to school after lunch today, and just had to sneak in a little cuddle.