I was blinded by fear. Don't be like me.

I was blinded by fear. Don't be like me.

I helped my overworked, stressed-out, freaking-out self by creating a support group online for veterinarians and veterinary team members who feel the same way.
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Jul 21, 2017

Shutterstock.comI can’t think of anything lonelier than feeling isolated in the middle of the treatment room of a busy veterinary hospital.

That’s how I felt in the summer of 2010.

I live and work in a small resort town, so 70 percent of our annual income rages through the door from July to September. This is followed by spooky empty days stretching into months, until we once again pick up a flurry of business during the winter holidays.

I’m used to this rhythm and had always budgeted for the slow times. But in the summer of 2010 I was heading into high season having unexpectedly lost my full-time associate and running as fast as I could to cover the shifts the two of us had shared. We took emergencies till 10 p.m. every day and were open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. six days a week. Covering those shifts felt impossible. Let’s be honest, it was impossible.

It was crazy. I was crazy! I was so blinded by fear of financial failure and wanting to be there for everyone, I forgot to be there for myself. The economy was in tatters. My 6-year-old hospital and 2-year-old boarding and training facility supported 11 team members, my family of three and our farm-load of pets. We made it through that summer and were able to squirrel away most of the money our teams would need for winter.

I could tell you that that summer taught me a lesson, but I’d be lying. I am far too stubborn to learn the easy way.

When summer was over, I put my head down to work even harder. I worked and missed my daughter. I worked and missed my husband. I worked and paid trainers to ride my horses. If you’re thinking this sounds like a terrible plan, you’re right. I almost ruined my health, my spirit and my family by struggling through it on my own.

Eventually, I looked for help, perhaps a colleague who could help me assess my situation. Instead, I looked around and online and saw hundreds of other veterinarians just like me: self-sufficient, stubborn and afraid of being seen as flawed or weak.

'I like to say, "You've got a problem, I'll make a program"'

So, I decided to make a change. I reached out to my colleagues on Veterinary Information Network (VIN). A few of us started talking about the kinds of support we wished we’d had during our darker moments, and from this, VIN Foundation’s Vets4Vets program was born.

Logo courtesy VIN FoundationIt was my slow time, and as part of my self-healing I decided to make my pain my purpose. Vets4Vets started small, simply offering an opportunity for veterinarians to reach out and speak with another veterinarian in a confidential and caring setting. We’d chat by email and phone, laughing through tears at the challenges, losses and frustrations we’d faced.

As the program grew, colleagues asked for a safe place for recovering addicts to meet in confidence, so we started VIN Foundation’s Vets in Recovery. We brought psychotherapist Susan Cohen on board. Michele Gaspar, DVM, got a pastoral counseling degree and, BAM, our program grew again.

Once we were confident in our ability to support veterinarians, Charlotte Waack, CVT, RVT, director of the Veterinary Support Personnel Network (VSPN), the VIN-affiliated community for veterinary support staff, pulled me aside to discuss staff members’ needs, and Support4Support was born.

Vets4Vets has helped almost 500 veterinary professionals in the past year. We expect to help even more this year. The VIN Foundation, with donations from individual donors as well as grants, covers the costs, allowing us to extend an offer of help to every veterinarian, anywhere in the world, whether or not they are a VIN member.

I like to say, “You’ve got a problem, I’ll make a program,” and that’s how Vets4Vets has grown from a tiny offering of an email and a kind word on VIN to a thriving online support group.

Bree Montana, DVM, is a small animal practitioner and owner of the Agate Bay Animal Hospital and Dog Gone Crazy boarding/training facilities in North Lake Tahoe, California. Dr. Montana helped to create the VIN Foundation's Vets4Vets program, a confidential support group providing critical emotional care to veterinarians struggling with all forms of stress/addiction/mental health issues. The program is international and free for all veterinarians and veterinary students.