Since achieving my childhood dream and qualifying as a vet in 2012, I have worked in many different veterinary clinics and branch practices in my role as a locum veterinary surgeon. I have had the pleasure of working alongside a wide variety of veterinary teams, filled with people from different walks of life and from multiple countries.
Throughout this experience, one thing has become apparent to me: different vet clinics yet similar issues. It is no secret that as a profession we are struggling and suffering with a plethora of mental health issues, including depression, chronic stress, and anxiety. This ultimately lends us the tragic and unenviable occupancy of the top spot as the industry in which members are most likely to take their own lives. By now we’re probably all too familiar with the upsetting statistics – we are four times as likely to commit suicide than a member of the general public (1), and at least twice as likely as our medical counterparts (2). The researched and hypothesised reasons are seemingly multiple and varied, and are beyond the scope of this blog. However, if you would like to learn more, ‘Suicide in Veterinary Medicine: Let’s talk about it‘ thoughtfully discusses some of the possible underlying causes, or see this BVA Report for more details.
With awareness ever increasing, it is so promising and encouraging to see that there are now so many companies, projects, and individuals, passionate about evoking change and improving work and life for those of us fortunate enough to have made our animal-loving dream our vocation.
Looking back, as a vet student it didn’t take long for me to realise that the path I had chosen was going to be challenging at best, and damaging to my mental health at worst. I’m sure that most of us can look back over our years at vet school, and identify times when the pressure from exams, the sheer volume of knowledge required and the intensity and duration of the course, all took their toll. However, alongside that, I also fondly remember some of the best years of my life developing as a scientist, learning about animal care, conducting clinical studies about topics I was passionate about, as well as making lifelong bonds with some of the best friends I will ever have. It turns out that despite claiming on some days not to be a ‘people-person’, I care deeply about my colleagues and friends who face the same daily stresses that I do.
During my time at vet school, there was increasing awareness of the mental health issues we all might face during practice, and it was this that lead me to choose the non-clinical study of ‘Clinical vet student expectation (of working in practice) vs New graduate reality’ for my final year research report. Since then I have always had a strong interest in veterinary well-being, but allowed it to take a back seat upon qualifying as I myself experienced life as a new, and then recent, graduate trying to stay sane during the steepest learning curve of my life thus far.
Upon reflection, I think there are many factors which greatly benefitted me during this turbulent time. Firstly, a strong support network of friends and family, both within and outside of the veterinary profession, who despite me moving away for my first job, were always on the phone getting me to open up when I needed to. Secondly, a team of experienced and understanding colleagues, who tried their best to give me their time, skills, and encouragement. Finally, a love for exercise and sports, which gave me the hits of endorphins, and the space to clear my head, that I very much needed.
This brings me around to yoga! I first tried yoga aged 16, and with hormones and the need for competitive aggression-outlets raging, I swiftly declared it wasn’t for me because it ‘didn’t do anything’. Oh, how wrong I was! Thankfully, the madness of the first few years of being a vet found me willing to give it another go, and over the years I have become progressively hooked both to yoga and to meditation. Being able to lose myself in the union of breath and movement, whilst giving my body what it needs, provides a total freedom from my thoughts and own inner voice that I have been unable to replicate elsewhere. It can get addictive!
For me, yoga and meditation have yielded many benefits which first came to me on my mat, but which I have been able to utilise off the mat in areas of work and life. For instance, I am more reflective, less quick to judge and kinder (both regarding myself and others), calmer in situations when I would previously have been…not calm, and am less affected by the physical injuries I have previously sustained through sport or work. When not on my yoga mat, I’ll usually be locuming at a variety of lovely practices that I’ve been fortunate to forge long-term working relationships with.
Anyone who has worked alongside me can attest to the fact that I can be a bit fiery (I can practically sense the disbelief of the nurses at the use of the word ‘bit’), and nothing leaves me quite so drained as a day having to regulate my speech, facial expressions, and emotions, whilst solidly consulting. This is still true – years of yoga practice and a qualification does not equate to a personality transplant after all! I can honestly say that I have been happier being a vet for the last couple of years than I have ever been. I can’t obviously entirely attribute this to yoga, but I feel I can confidently say that prioritising my own self-care through the mediums of yoga and meditation have made a huge difference and helped me to stay on my chosen path of veterinary medicine, and actively enjoy it. Going from scalpel-wielding to Savasana (Corpse pose) fulfils two major aspects of me, and I love it!
As an evidence-based loving scientist, I know that anecdotal musings about how yoga worked for one vet is simply not enough! It was with this thought in mind that I decided to train as a yoga teacher myself, so that I could spread the yoga love from a qualified position to my fellow veterinary professionals, and let you experience the benefits, and help you to research the mounting body of evidence, for yourselves. It is my aim to try and provide vets, nurses, and associated roles, with realistic ways to incorporate meaningful methods to take care of yourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. I fully understand first-hand how finding time for self care can be easier said than done when performing in a job which continually challenges all aspects of our being.
I passionately believe that we need to direct some of the love, care, and devotion we display to our patients and careers, to ourselves. I do not claim to have all of the answers, but I do think that the tide is starting to turn, and collectively we seem to be asking more of the right questions about what can be done to help those of us within this hard-working and caring profession, in order to be happier, healthier, and crucially, enjoying life.
This has been the start of my journey into wellness, and I hope you will join me. Namaste!
1. Bartram DJ, Baldwin DS. Veterinary surgeons and suicide: Influences, opportunities and research directions. Vet Rec. 2008;162:36–40.
2. Halliwell REW, Hoskin BD. Reducing the suicide rate among veterinary surgeons: How the profession can help. Vet Rec. 2005;157:397–398.
If you are struggling, or know someone who is, please do not suffer in silence. Speak to a friend or a colleague, and seek professional (anonymous if preferred) help: