It is one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to instilling wellness into the veterinary profession… veterinary care providers who would rather be a martyr than model good behavior for their colleagues and staff.
I’ve seen it all too often: the veterinarian who always stays late to see the end-of-the-day emergency, the technician who picks up all the extra shifts when someone else can’t work, or the administrator who insists on planning every group event for the hospital.
The wording I hear most commonly in these situations is “well, someone has to do it” or “nobody else will do it”. However, it seems to me that if that same person did not agree to do it, then someone else in the practice would have to! More commonly than not, I have the sense that these veterinary care providers are “taking one for the team” over and over again, rather than letting someone else step up to the plate. They prefer to be the martyr, rather than modeling healthy behavior for others.
So, what do I mean when I use the term martyr? By definition, Merriam-Webster says that a martyr is a person who sacrifices something of great value for the sake of a principle. I would argue that when veterinarians and technicians fail to set boundaries between work and life (i.e., leaving work on time when possible, not answering work email on the weekend, not giving out personal cell phone numbers) that they are sacrificing their lives for the practice of veterinary medicine.
And while I love this profession just as much as most of us, I believe it is imperative that we foster a life outside of the work that we do. Specifically, participating in hobbies or activities that have nothing to do with veterinary medicine (or even animals, for that sake!).
A martyr can also be described as a victim or a great and constant sufferer. In many ways, I think this concept relates to veterinarians and technicians as well. In the past, I have posted articles on social media advocating for self-care, sleep hygiene, or other tips for veterinary care provider wellness.
What I often see written in response is nothing short of disheartening…comments that resemble “well, I work 16 hours 7 days each week and have no time for such activities” or “if you would just get rid of all of the nasty clients and rude co-workers, all of my problems would go away”. Sounds like victim mentality to me…
I am not saying that as veterinary care providers we do not have a difficult job. Yes, we can deal with difficult owners, we can clash with certain co-workers, and we can be subject to multiple instances of moral distress whereby we are forced to do things that are against our moral and ethical values (e.g., euthanizing an otherwise healthy animal because an owner cannot afford medical care).
However, there is a lot that we can do to protect ourselves and foster resilience and well-being in this profession that offers many wonderful moments as well (i.e., think of the last patient that you saved or the last client that sent you a thank you card).
Rather than constantly sacrificing our life outside of work by subjecting ourselves to 18-hour work days, less than 2 weeks of vacation per year, phone calls from clients on our personal cell phones, and no self-care whatsoever, I advocate that we consider the opposite. There is absolutely no reason to feel guilty for leaving work on time or setting boundaries around work-life balance, yet we do.
I admit that I have also struggled with the notion of doing something “just for me”, which can feel like letting my team down or not doing “enough”. But this mindset must change or we are not going to be able to sustain ourselves in this profession. We know too well what happens when we work more than 12 hours without drinking water, eating food, going to the bathroom, or stopping to breathe… co-workers are exposed to our “hangry” behavior, clients start to notice, and mistakes happen.
I urge everyone as veterinary care providers, especially those in a leadership role who can set the tone for the hospital culture…please model healthy behavior for your team. Take all the vacation time that is allotted each year. When you finish your work on time, leave work on time rather than getting sucked in to another case or conversation.
Make time for self-care activities such as eating healthfully, exercising regularly, socializing with friends, connecting with loved ones, and getting the recommended 7+ hours of sleep each night. Let’s support each other and not look down on others who set boundaries and choose life over work.
Rather than compete in conversations about who has it worse, let’s engage in discussions about how we can make it better.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
About the Author
Marie K. Holowaychuk, DVM, DACVECC is a small animal emergency and critical care specialist and certified yoga and meditation teacher who also has an invested interest in the health and well-being of veterinary professionals. She organizes Veterinary Wellness Workshops & Retreats for veterinarians, technicians, and other veterinary care providers. To sign up for newsletters containing information regarding these events and veterinary wellness topics, please click here. More information can be found at www.criticalcarevet.ca.