Dr. Abby Whiting
As a type A : addicted over achiever, never say no, sure I can help you do that person…I struggle sometimes with self care and boundaries. Perhaps this is a common flaw amongst the veterinary community? Perhaps we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and therefore on each other?
When I was in veterinary school I was let’s say, financially challenged. I was all on my own and proud to be that way…but all my expenses were my expenses. When I saw my classmates head out for vacation I told myself, when I can afford it I’ll go. Then I graduated and started the “real world”…and my loan payments kicked in…as did life. Again I thought I can’t afford vacation so I’ll take time off when I can afford it.
Time went on…I worked hard…I started to feel burn out heading my way. But again, I couldn’t afford to slow down. I worked at a busy very successful practice, headed up by hard working folks who had sacrificed decades to build the business. These were folks who never took vacation until retirement…they expected me to do the same. “Make hay while the sun is shining” was the motto. And for a time I was easily persuaded that this makes sense, after all I was raised by a baby boomer who worked 60 hours a week my entire childhood. …but there in the distance was burn out. I started to feel my give a damn getting fractured, stress fractured.
About that time in my life I became increasingly curious about the top 2%, the far right of any bell curve…those who are really successful, at, well anything. What sets them apart? What is it that makes them better than average? Its multi factorial for sure…but one thing they had on me….recharging the batteries.
Statistically on average Americans take less vacation than other cultures in the developed world…and in truth veterinarians are top offenders in not even taking their allotted vacation time.
NOMV ran a poll of its members inquiring how much vacation time is was taken last year:
28% of respondents took 2 weeks’ time off (total for the year)
19% 3 weeks, 9% had 4 weeks
30% had 1 week or LESS
And 5 % had no time off at all.
And I for one completely understand: not only is there financial pressure, but there’s pressure from clients and managers who struggle to cover the missing veterinarian…all adding stress to the people pleasing over achiever. There can be all kinds of guilt imposed on us when we ask for vacation time. Recently on the chat page I saw a post from a young vet who was a little anxious as her boss was forcing her to take a day off…a zebra in our world.
What I came to know through my research, intensive life coach sessions, and personal experience….is it’s a financial drain and business drain on the practice NOT to take vacation.
Here’s a few things I know for sure:
1). I am a far better veterinarian, employee, leader, team mate, sister, aunt, pet owner, and human when I am rested and recharged. I am better at diagnostics, I am better at client care…and I know my patients do better when they get me at my best. My mental health and wellbeing is better…my bosses, my co workers, my family, my patients deserve the best…not the left overs. For me to be my best sometimes I need to unplug …and I am not ashamed to say it.
I have met many vets who live in fear of their clients finding out they are on vacation, for fear they will surmise the clients paid for some exotic and fancy vacation trip… I tell my clients: I’ll be out of the office next week, Dr. A will be touching base with you about Fluffy. I need to recharge my batteries so I can continue to provide the best medical care. My physician isn’t afraid to take a vacation, or my dentist. Why should I be ashamed of caring for myself…and in a profession that is struggling with wellness I should set an example by walking the walk.
2). I can’t afford it. Well this may be true on some level, the human psyche has a magical way of moving the goal post. Each goal I set for myself: like I’ll be ok once I have 2 months expenses in the bank as a “pad”. …well 2 months isn’t much…I’ll be better when I pay this bill off…or when I have X.00$ in the bank…then like clockwork I move the goal post farther out.
In a great conversation with my life coach I came to realize for me: no amount of money in the bank would make me feel safe. I have genuine worry about money. So the “I can’t afford it” was deemed…well a myth.
In fact looking at the reality of continued work as a half busted, burnt out person…the fact is I would have been less productive, less accurate, less trustworthy, and less profitable. In many ways we cannot afford to NOT take a break.
So in light of my newly learned truths about vacation…I started to take my time off…and I did it without spending a lot of money. First a stay cation can be great! I also visited national parks, crashed on friends’ couches, and rented places with groups of friends to defer cost. We cooked dinner in, and enjoyed each other. I set a budget and stuck to it. And when I return I promise I am more of me then when I left.
So…join me in the revolution of taking time off…take your regularly scheduled days off, schedule vacation…and then really take it…no client interactions, no scientific research or case reading….really unplug from professional life and plug back into you, your spirit, your family, your true self. I promise your patients will appreciate it…and together we can set a healthier example for our newer professionals.
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.