Friday 24th August saw me heading to Girton College, Cambridge, for the inaugural veterinary wellbeing-focused event, WellVet Weekend. A collaboration by Vetsnet and VetLed aiming to provide a weekend ‘of wellbeing, sport, fun, laughter, all with the wider cause of committing to make a positive change’ for the veterinary community. Based on my experience of the event and the feedback I have heard from the delegates, I think it’s safe to say that they not only achieved their goal, but that it was a great success!
Upon arrival on Friday, delegates were met by enthusiastic student volunteers and introduced to members of the organising team. They all helped us to navigate the college, check in, and, for those of us staying on site, find our rooms. After a tasty dinner, with food to cater for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike, it was time to ‘get quizzical’, answering questions such as ‘what is the average weight of a canine testicle?’ (11g, in case you are wondering!) and ‘what is the world’s largest desert?’ (Antartica). It was a great way to get to know people over a glass of wine/bottle of beer, and have a few laughs at our dodgy answers. However, as part the winning team, ‘The Downward Dogs’, I have to say I thought the questions were top notch!
I was up bright and early to lead the ‘Good Morning Meditation’ session on Saturday morning, with other options including a ‘Wakey wakey run’ with Nat Scroggie (IG/Twitter: @thisvetruns), if you wanted something a bit more fast and furious, or ‘Sunrise Yoga’ with Allisdhair McNaull (Vetmindfully) for those who wanted a more supple start to the day. Given the early 7am start, the turnout to all of the sessions was impressive. Personally speaking, I was really encouraged by the people who had never tried meditation before coming to the VetYogi session with open minds and generous hearts.
After a hearty breakfast and time to get ready for the day, it was time for the Welcome introduction with the event organisers, Liz Barton (Vetsnet) and Ru Clements (VetLed). Here we heard first-hand about their drive for creating the event, and their passion for wellness within our profession, and it really inspired everyone to go forward into their day with positivity.
Next the cyclists among us joined Adrian Boswood for the ‘Tour de Cambridge’, Amanda Mansfield had people improving their posture via Pilates, and some of us, myself included, headed to the ‘Purposeful living’ workshop offered by Louise Lloyd. This was a really helpful session, which got us to think about what ‘purpose’ means to us, identify and share our core values, and see how we can incorporate those into our daily lives both within, and outside of, the veterinary setting. For those of you who missed the session, you can find the VY summary here: Lessons from WellVet Weekend 2018: Purposeful Living for Veterinary Professionals
Following this was either a session by Charlotte Wincup (a vet, and a stress-management and wellbeing trainer – Twitter: @cmwhincup) on ‘Pacing yourself in practice’, or you could join yours truly for a VetYogi yoga class designed specifically with veterinary professionals in mind. Seeing as I had to miss Charlotte’s session for obvious reasons, I am delighted that she has agreed to share it with us here at VY in the near future.
For those craving more action, Steven Garner led a ‘Bootcamp for the busy vet professionals’ session, and those of us needing a bit of sit down (VY- me!) headed to the ‘Stress solutions’ workshop, provided by Annie Campbell, a chartered psychologist and Denis Campbell, a Human Factors trainer with a background in aviation. Here we looked at how our stress response is actually designed to keep us safe, but that we need to find ways to down-regulate it when an inappropriate amygdala takeover is initiated via our stress triggers. Breathing techniques and a method called ‘Tapping’ were introduced as legitimate ways to calm our stress response. See here for more info on Annie and Denis.
I think it gives you some idea as to the quality and variety on offer at the WellVet weekend, that this was all before lunch, no less!
The afternoon began with another offering from Annie and Denis Campbell, this time on ‘Finding your voice in practice’ and assertiveness. However, I had to miss this as in true VetYogi style I was prioritising my own self-care by maximising time spent on my yoga mat! I joined the lovely Viv Campbell (vncyoga) as she guided us through a very relaxing session of Yoga Nidra (a deeply meditative form of yoga, where 1 hour equates to the restorative effects of 4 hours of regular sleep).
After this I headed off to listen to Allisdhair McNaull present his mindful approach to the bitch spay (The Mindful Bitch Spay), and we all had a very open and honest discussion about the struggles we can face with such a ‘routine’ op, and how mindfulness could help us in our daily lives and practice. The only downside whatsoever to attending this meant missing out on the ‘Get in the zone’ circuit training hour lead by the energetic Andy Rose and Charlie Mays, of VetFit. However, given that the heavens chose that moment to open on their outdoor session, I was pretty happy to be inside! It’s testament to how enjoyable their session was that you still heard shrieks of laughter coming from outside despite everyone getting soaked!
From there, many chose to re-join Louise Lloyd for an ‘Everyday Mindfulness’ session. However, I headed back to my yoga mat for a Yin Yoga session, once again with Viv Campbell. Here I was able to take time to breathe and release any tension that had built up from leading my own sessions, by relaxing into postures held for a longer period of time. I left feeling very restored and ready for the evening of entertainment ahead.
A rare chance to be out of scrubs and yoga pants and dress up, this kicked off with drinks and awesome music by Dave Beeston. He is yet another example of colleagues who blow me away with their extraordinary talents outside the vetting world! A three-course dinner was served in the Great Hall, with drinks generously provided by Simply Locums. This had everyone sufficiently fed and lubricated in order to listen to Danny Chambers from Veterinary Voices UK present the winning nomination of the ‘Be Kind’ awards, followed by a talk by the inspirational real-life Forrest Gump, Rob Pope (goingthedistancerun.com). If you haven’t heard of him already, Rob is a vet who has crossed the USA multiple times on foot, running 15, 600 miles and counting! Listening to his account of his ups and downs, with the support his family and trusty RV ‘Jenny’, and his funny and unbelievable stories along the way, was the kick up the backside that I needed to finally donate to his page. Rob is running for the WWF and Peace Direct, and I’m sure would appreciate anything you could spare in recognition of his colossal efforts.
From talks to moon walks, a key component of wellbeing is surely blowing off some steam and dancing the night away? We definitely don’t forget how to party after leaving vet school (we just don’t necessarily deal with it as well the next day anymore!).
Needless to say, Sunday got off to a slightly more fragile start. Thankfully, the Good Morning Meditation started later at 8am, giving me time to clear my head and welcome back some familiar faces from the previous session and also meet some new ones. We began with a 20 minute guided meditation with people lying down (how I would have wanted to participate following a night of revelry!), and then repeated the Sa Ta Na Ma and Loving Energy meditations, at the bequest of the Saturday meditators, so that the Sunday newbies could also experience them.
Running simultaneously alongside this was another Sunrise Yoga session, this time lead by Viv Campbell, and for the fast and furious people, Forrest… I mean, Rob, put his words into action and led people out on a run.
After breakfast it was time to settle down and ‘celebrate the good stuff’. We started with a talk from Lizzie Locket and Lisa Quigley, of the RCVS Mind Matters team, sharing the work and direction of the Mind Matters initiative, and introducing the Vet Wellbeing Awards. These awards aim to champion and reward practices that incorporate interesting and innovative ways to look after their staff and encourage wellbeing at work- check it out if you think your practice could enter!
We then had a worthy presentation from Jane Davidson, who co-founded the Learning without Landfill initiative alongside Jo Hinde (sadly absent due to illness). If you notice less single-use plastic water bottles at the major UK veterinary conferences over the next couple of years, amongst other things, you know whom to thank! I found it really engaging, and got me thinking about how I would want to run any future possible VetYogi retreats (WATCH THIS SPACE!)
Charlie and Andy of VetFit then took some time away from lunging and beanbags to present their findings from their extremely interesting study based on their VetFit programme. This was initially introduced at the RVC, and the benefits were obvious to see. A key take home message for me from their session was that as well as not exercising enough; it is easy to overdo it. The recommendation is 3 x 45 minute sessions of moderate physical exercise (to the level where maintaining a conversation would be challenging) to feel the physical and mental benefits. I’d just like to point out that doesn’t include a bit of gentle yoga on the side, and still leaves you plenty of time for meditation 😉 However, doing anything to the point of it feeling like a chore or an extra stressor is counterintuitive to wellness, so everything in moderation.
The ‘Wellbeing for Life’ presentations included more from Allisdhair McNaull on his journey through his career, his struggles, finding mindfulness, and now being the ‘happiest I’ve ever been in practice’. It was excellent to see a senior vet being so open and leading the way for our younger members. Charlotte Wincup then stepped up to tell us some of the ways she has learnt to practice wellbeing, and look after herself and the vet team in practice. Tips included swapping unhealthy snacks for fruit, by donating any excess chocolate/biscuits to a foodbank, and introducing a ‘team fruit kitty’, where each staff member contributes to a supply of healthier ‘grab and go’ options. She also recommended the planning and writing down of each team members’ lunch break, so that everyone knew not to disturb them during this time, and find someone else. Next we had Nat Scroggie give a brave and authentic talk about how running has helped her to deal with some challenging moments both professionally and personally over the last few years. She values an activity that is ‘just for me’, where she doesn’t feel the need to compete with anyone else, including herself. Bringing up the rear, I was honoured to be asked by the WellVet team to present my experiences of how yoga and meditation have enable me to improve my wellbeing, and what motivates me as VetYogi. There is so much that I could say on this, but I have discussed this in detail via my From Neutering to Namaste: Why one Vet decided to become a Yoga Teacher blog, so feel free to read more there.
Last, but definitely not least, we had a thought-provoking talk by Shailen Jasani, the ECC Specialist and Founder of The Ralph. Despite being under what most people would consider to be immense pressure by facing the opening of his big referral hospital imminently, Shailen strikes me as one of the most chilled-out and go-with-the-flow people you are likely to come across! He lives in the moment, working hard in the present without attachment to future outcomes, and importantly, will not compromise on his ethics and clinic ethos. Shailen has also written books, set up theralphsite.com for Pet Loss Support, and also runs the Veterinary Vegan Network with his partner Laila, whom he credits with offering her support and energies to their visions. How you can be that busy and also that stress-free truly was encouraging and inspiring to me!
So, there you have it! A weekend of sports, fun, laughter, and support unlike any other UK vet event I have been to, and one that I hope will happen again, and highly recommend that you attend! It has been my pleasure to participate as a session leader, and contribute to the T-shirts. I also really enjoyed learning as a delegate (not to mention getting some CPD hours) and couldn’t speak more highly of a weekend that has left me feeling so positive about being a member of our wonderful and caring profession.