Most people with so called nine to five jobs actually have it pretty good. Up at 6, 6:30am for a shower, have breakfast, hit the road around 7:30am and depending on traffic, trains or buses, they usually arrive at work around 8, 8.30, 9 o'clock. By 4 or 5 o’clock, they do the reverse. They get home just in time for the 6pm news…
So you might imagine being a vet or a vet nurse working with cute and cuddly animals all day is a lot of fun and really, really easy. We asked Dr Anne Quain, who's an avid blogger as well as being a great Vet, if it is really that easy being a vet or a vet nurse working with animals?
Dr Anne told us…
No, it's not!
I think that a lot of people have that idea that we just work with 'cute & fluffy animals all day' and interestingly enough, when people apply for vet nursing and vet jobs, they're quite often looking for a career change, and they say they want to get out of the rat race and so on.
A veterinary practice is not quite the place to be if you need a bit of an escape. It's actually a very stressful job in many ways, and you just don't have any time for yourself.
And once you walk into the building, your time is not your own, because even if you are in a clinic which runs by appointments which many do, there’s still walk ins. There’s emergencies and in between consultations, which might be fully booked, there are clients who need you to give them information on the phone.
There’s also vet specialists you might need to return calls to - all sorts of stuff going on.
You might have planned your day, and then suddenly a minutes consultation turns into a three hour surgery, and everyone in the whole practice has to work around that. So once you enter the building, there's a real loss of control.
The other thing is, though, it's not all cute, fluffy, happy, healthy kittens and puppies.
Quite often it's very unwell animals and owners who are in a real emotional state because they're worried - and it’s stressful because you're worried about the patient.
You're worried about the owner - You want the best possible outcome. You don't want to miss anything.
And you have to be performing at your absolute best, but it's really hard to sustain that for a very long period and you might be consulting quite regularly. For instance I do consults for 10 hours in succession, without a break… and that is hard work!
And you've got to write up case notes and make sure everything is documented and everything is as comprehensive as possible. And you might need to look up further information about management and so forth.
As well as all that you also need a little bit of brain time to think about how you're going to manage a patient, whether you're a nurse or a vet and what needs to be done.
So how do we prioritise all that? How do we actually get time for ourselves? Well personally I think that one of the things working against that is the actual culture that exists in our profession – in fact it's in lots of health professions. The professionals work themselves to the bone!
And I think that's really dangerous because at the end of the day, if you've got an exhausted professional who can't focus because they're hypoglycemic or they haven't gone to the toilet and they're really busting for a leak, it's really hard to give your full attention and do the best job possible!
So you have to make some time to look after yourself, make sure that you eat, make sure you go to the toilet and make sure that you get to recharge a little bit, because if you don't, you really do get the sense that you're running out of fuel and you can burn out pretty quick!
And I don't think as a profession that we pay enough attention to that.
I was reading recently where if you're going to work for an hour, work for an hour, take half an hour off, work for a hour, take half an hour off – and that's a great philosophy, but it's just not possible in a veterinary setting.
Sadly with all this burnout, vets and nurses experience, we do have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession here in Australia. And look... it's fabulous and it's got its moments, but we need to really prioritise our own healthcare as well and keep a check on it and review it regularly and be very aware that we're not just ‘looking after animals’
We have to look after other human beings, including our colleagues, make sure that they have breaks, make sure we cover them if they need to eat or have a moment or even have a cry because they're upset about a patient. That does happen.
We need that space, but we also need to be aware we've got to look after ourselves as well, because if we don't do it, it comes across as a little hypocritical if we're telling someone the best way to look after their animal is take them for regular walks. Provide a healthy diet. Get regular vet checks!
Basically I think at the end of the day, vets are animals too. I mean, humans are animals and if we're going to look after animals, if you're really REALLY committed to looking after animals, you should be very good at your animal husbandry and you should be able to look after yourself too.
That's how I see it!
(c) 2015 Dr Anne Quain as told to Kaye Browne & Brian Pickering
PHOTO: Dr Anne & Phil
Sadly Phil is no longer with us however he did leave an indelible paw print on not only Dr Anne, but everyone who ever met him.
Read more at SMALL ANIMAL TALK - Dr Anne's own blog!