You know the old Boy Scout motto, “Always be prepared.” And as a vet student, it probably felt as though that’s all you did—study, study, study. But just how valuable were the things you learned—and can you readily identify gaps in your education that you wish you could’ve addressed back in the days of organic chem? We recently surveyed readers* to ask about the level of preparation you felt coming out of school and how you think veterinary education could be improved as part of our Vet School Leadership Challenge. Here’s what we found.
*The dvm360 Vet School Survey was sent in March 2018 to subscribers of dvm360, Vetted and Firstline. The survey garnered 346 responses with a margin of error of 5%.
dvm360 intervention #1: In our online Veterinary Medicine Essentials, our goal is to provide the latest and complete information on clinical challenges you face every day. We took this chance to make sure the Essentials associated with the areas of dentistry, behavior, orthopedic surgery and nutrition—are all up-to-date and ready for you to continue your learning. No need to crack open a book—it's all right at your fingertips.
Now about that lack of client experience, let's turn the page ...
dvm360 intervention #2: Turn to the next page for help in the area of self care.
Self-care isn’t a privilege
A new Merck study shows vet professionals have normal mental health but are lousy at self-care. Find out what counts as self-care, what happens when you ignore it and how you can make time for it in a busy, busy life in this Q&A with study researcher Elizabeth Strand, PhD, LCSW, director of veterinary social work at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Sarah Wooten, a regular Vetted contributing writer and Fetch dvm360 conference speaker, investigates.
What are the real benefits of self-care? I mean, it might feel good, but how is that more valuable than getting stuff done?
Dr. Strand: I consider self-care to be part of the necessary behaviors for keeping your brain fit so that you can make good decisions. If you haven’t slept enough or well or you haven’t exercised, then your brain does not work as well in terms of decision-making and creativity. Your priority on “getting stuff done” over self-care causes stress in your brain, and the more stressed the brain is, the less flexible it is, and this lack of flexibility can also create conflict in interpersonal relationships. Having interpersonal conflict and a foggy brain in a medical environment impacts patient care.
What will happen to me if I don’t take care of myself?
Dr. Strand: Over time, it will result in engaging in unhealthy methods of stress management that create additional problems. Unhealthy coping mechanisms to numb stress include, for example, shopping, alcohol and drug use, people pleasing, overeating, binging on Netflix or TV, and excessive social media use. Unhealthy coping mechanisms delay stress—they don’t solve the problem—and eventually these ineffectual, temporary habits move you further away from who you want to be in the world till you’re unrecognizable and completely unconnected with your purpose.
What if I feel guilty about taking that time for myself?
Dr. Strand: I stopped feeling guilty for “me” time by considering the quality of myself when I’ve slept and exercised and had time away compared to the quality of myself and my interactions when I haven’t. I can look at the people I work with, and I can see on their faces happiness and a sense of satisfaction and joy when I’m in good spirits compared to when I’m tired and bedraggled. When I’m not taking care of myself, people are more tense around me and my bad mood spills over. I ask myself, “What is the wake I leave behind me?” And, by golly, I’m going to leave a good wake. In order to do that, I need to exercise, eat right, enjoy hobbies and sleep so I can fill up my tank.
How do I stop feeling tense and distracted during self-care time?
Dr. Strand: The idea that self-care is bubble baths and leisurely comfort is a ruse. Yes, getting a massage is part of self-care, but it’s probably one-eighth of it. Self-care also includes getting a mammogram, going to therapy to work through childhood trauma, meditating after a long, tense day, or getting on a Stairmaster when you’d rather eat Girl Scout cookies. It’s hard work! You don’t do it because it feels good. You do it because it makes you better. You stop feeling guilty because you realize that self-care helps you understand and move closer to your purpose in this world.
If you’re having a hard time with this, start by celebrating others when they engage in self-care, and cheer them on. That’s paying it forward, and it will come back to you. The culture of veterinary medicine must shift and evolve, so that instead of leaving early and coming in late because you chose to exercise and meditate before work, we tell people, “You got out on time today? That rocks! Good job! I’m so proud of you!"