Mental Health and Wellness in the Veterinary Profession

When someone asks me, “What do you do?” and I tell them I’m a small animal veterinarian, their eyes brighten.  Then they proceed to tell me their favourite story about their pet.  I’m grateful that the public perception of veterinarians is so positive.

But underneath that happy veneer, many of my colleagues are suffering, often in silence.   I know because I’ve had my share of it.  This was confirmed when I attended the 2017 AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference and the 2015 Veterinary Wellness and Social Work Summit, read about it in an article by Dr. Debbie Stoewen, saw it posted in social media on Facebook sites like “Not One More Vet”, and discussed it at Mindfulness Meditation Retreats led by VIN’s Dr. Michele Gaspar.

Today is Bell’s “Let’s Talk” day, where the aim is to use social media and texting to increase the awareness of mental health & wellness.  A big part of it is decreasing the stigma of even mentioning it’s happening.  It’s a difficult subject but bringing it out in the open makes it easier to seek support when needed.

Although talk and awareness is good, I’m glad to be a part of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association 2017 Annual Conference, where the program includes wellness events.  It will be our second year, sponsored by Merial.  There’s yoga every morning with Denise Gilbert-Jeanes, RVT, RYT.  I’ll be leading Midday Mindfulness Meditation (breath-focused sitting, 15 minutes, in a chair) and evening Restorative yoga.  Staying well mentally requires to tools to do so and I hope that the veterinarians attending the conference take the chance to learn about this, just like they’re learning how to become better at their medical and business skills.

The Ontario Veterinary College is also helping the students address wellness by creating a one week elective course, which will include a yoga session.  Kudos to Dr. Colleen Best and her colleagues for developing this program and inviting me to teach yoga.  As someone who spends a lot of time with the thoughts in her head, getting in touch with my body has been a work-in-progress.  I’m a little better at it than I was in vet school but it requires regular attention to body sensations and breath, at work and at home.  My body is usually aware of my reactions to situations, before I can even think it!

So help me out today and share this post on Facebook, Twitter or by texting, using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk.  It makes a difference!

OVMA 2016 and the “Zen Zone”


Rolling through Southern Ontario, on the train to Toronto.  Enjoying the chance to relax and write as I travel to my final destination.  I’m heading up to Toronto for my annual veterinary conference.  It’s been a tradition for almost 19 years now and I look forward to it every time.

What’s different this year is the focus on wellness for veterinarians in their personal lives.  This has been an area of interest for the profession, especially of late.  The 2016 Ontario Veterinary Medical Association Conference is providing opportunities for mindfulness meditation at lunch time, along with morning and evening yoga sessions.  Merial Animal Health is sponsoring the event by creating a “Zen Zone” room where you can relax in a quiet space, giving away free mats to those who pre-registered for yoga, providing comfy couches for lounging and refreshment with lemon/cucumber-infused water.  How’s that for supporting wellness while we learn?  Awesome!

It’ll be the third year in which mindfulness meditation is offered at the conference and I’m grateful for the momentum that’s building.  There’s a theory stating it takes 100 monkeys to jump on board before the creation of a broader awareness leading to popularization of a new behaviour.  The first year, timing and advertising was limited and turnout was not as I hoped.  Last year, there were quite a few interested in the short, 15 minute sitting sessions.  This year, the meditation sessions will be a part of the “Zen Zone” event (thanks Patty!).  I encourage those who want to explore a short, breath-centered practice while sitting in a chair .  (If you’re at the OVMA, check out Twitter and use #ovma2016 for a daily reminder.)

For the first time, yoga is formally part of the conference program.  A colleague in veterinary industry is teaching the morning sessions, which are great to wake up the body and mind before a day of lectures.  I’m looking forward to attending her class.  The evening yoga is where I’m teaching a 30 minute Restorative practice, to help people wind down before going home.  As a type-A personality with an introvert tendency, I have learned how to go-go-go.  Eventually, there comes a point in time where I have to be quiet and reconnect to myself.  Restorative yoga allows me to practice my relaxation skills.  Everything gets better with repetition and relaxation can be learned.

A veterinarian’s work is about helping animals and their owners, with additional responsibilities if you specialize in large animals, academia, industry or public health.   Veterinarians are taught “how-to-do” these things with great skill and efficiency.  But along with that, we need to be taught how to rest our minds and bodies.  In this way, we sustain ourselves and the profession.

Mindfulness Meditation at OVC

My life decisions over the last five years are taking me places I never expected to go.  Introducing mindfulness meditation to the students at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) is definitely one of those.

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