Physical exercise never fails to rescue and being non-negotiable with it
As we explore mental health and coping mechanisms with all of our wonderful interviewees, answers have ranged from supportive team dynamics, the power of saying no, taking a holiday, even going Locum! But Chris reminds us physical exercise can be such a relief, even at times when lockdown meant the gym wasn’t available.
More importantly, he emphasizes the importance of making mental and physical health a priority.
By making it a priority… we do it with every day tasks like having a meal. It’s about giving it that strength of importance in your life. Sometimes I might be too worn out, but I have that mentality to find the right balance and not push it too much either.
“Resilience doesn’t sit too well with me”
A solid takeaway from Chris’ interview is that he recognizes how ‘resilient’ is used far too often.
It sounds like you need to be tough and hard. I think this is counterproductive. We should be focused on creating nurturing workplaces. It’s more about people being adaptable and feeling comfortable – not somebody who needs to toughen up.
Perfectionism is a dangerous trait to bring into the profession. Ambition is great, but perfectionism can be destructive and counterintuitive.
Team-dynamics make a huge difference to job satisfaction
Supportive management and a good team is critical where you can feel appreciated and “it’s not so much about changing for financial incentive or profession that give you a better deal, and more about that ability to fit into a team and feel comfortable and supported. I’ve identified this, especially when we had to be more cautious and in separate clinics, I like solo work, but after while, the team is what’s important. I feel like that nourishing environment has made a huge difference over the past year.”
Learning at your own pace is invaluable
In a digital world, there are much more accessible learning options, and Chris is a key beneficiary of this type. He recently completed his Small Animal certificate and it took him three years. This steady pace enabled him to learn over six terms, where he could complete them as and when he had time to.
It’s structured nature allowed him to combat the times when he was prone to dysfunction, having a bad day or feeling low. Back to his statement about priorities, “having that structure really helped me and I really enjoyed it. Most of us in the profession enjoy learning. Even though the nature of our job is very practical, there are definitely academic elements to it, and we want to improve our standard of care. You can find courses and CPD that is relevant to that, that you can apply to practice, makes it so much more rewardable.”
Chris dedicated approximately 6 hours work on top of his day job, however his point was the flexibility combined with the structure provided agility yet goal-driven motivation.
‘Softer skills’ courses not only boost your skill-set, but helps in personal matters
A few years ago, Chris embarked on mental-health first-aid course (similar as physical first aid, but on the mental health aspect). He admitted after finishing the course:
I felt like I’d just been in therapy for two days, I found it SO useful on a personal level in terms of identifying stress and learning about what you can bring to a team. It might be a communications course or something interpersonal and you really can gain a lot from these environments.
Discovering and maintaining your “kindness” tank
A really useful thing to bring for clients, is a better understanding. They might be a little bit short, impatient, unhappy, everyone has their own battles. And if we approach it with kindness as much as we can and an open mind, not shutting off the client, it makes a huge difference in approach.
We challenged Chris on this one and asked him to explain how he makes sure he doesn’t run out of kindness as a result of compassion fatigue. He does admit “Of course it’s tough, but finding ways of replenishing that hypothetical pool of time, having that team as I referred to earlier, is important. We cover each other’s backs. That kindness transfers. Even sometimes clients will see how busy we are and they might say ‘ don’t worry about it, I’ll come pick up tomorrow’ and them being flexible as well is nice.”
Technology that helps add value for the client
One of the key areas Chris enjoys is client communication, he likes getting them on-board and full involved in the decision making process, let them see the progress we’re making. Digital aspects make that easier for Chris and in his practice.
We have quite an intuitive practice management system (PMS) that has integrated diagnostics, so I can quite quickly send an owner an email with the blood results and brief description. If I’m describing that on the phone and chanting numbers, stats etc, that doesn’t sync in with the client. Whereas if they’re given graphics, it makes it easier for them to understand. The PMS makes it much easier to see results instantly where I don’t need to run to the x-ray machine or blood machine when time is short, which makes a huge difference.
The abruptness of telemedicine’s arrival in the pandemic meant Chris and his team had no formal training as with the rest of the industry and the world. He sees pros and cons to it. In day-to-day vetting, it can help with triage, what needs to come in and doesn’t need to come in.
Email, photo and video triage is much more common than before where an owner much email a picture of a cat wound and we can instantly tell if it needs seen or not especially if it’s a minor wound. It can take some of the slack off a really busy day where extra consults might already be squeezed in.
Overall technology and a good PMS enables Chris and his team in their day-to-day job, but also easier on the patient too.
Continuity of care and wellness creates rapport and bond-building
One of big things across the profession is continuity of care – it can be challenging if you’ve got a pet with wound that’s not healing very well, or they’ve got an ulcer, that can rapidly change and they’ll come in for regular checks. Vets obviously don’t work every day so the pet parent and pet can’t see they same vet each time, but if we’ve got photo’s and information at a glance on the file, with a full history and recent checks, having that on a system makes a massive difference. And everything associated with it – blood results, weight loss etc. For weight management clinics as an example, accessible information is really important.
Chris advocates wellness plans, but recognizes the need for them to be utilized correctly. Some clients might ignore the text or emails, but inevitably they come in with the pet that has fleas after ignoring the reminders and aren’t happy they hadn’t kept up to date. But that means that wellness plans do serve a purpose in getting information and reminders front of mind, before someone finally decides to take action.
Having preventative healthcare is vital as to be honest, I don’t want to spend my day looking at fleas! There’s more complicated and intricate cases that need that time spent with them. If there’s preventative care plans, it massively reduces demand and time-strain.
Another advantage to wellness plans is bond-building. If clients are encouraged to come in regularly, relationships are formed “and the pet might get to know the nurses, front of house staff, all the vets, it bonds clients quite a lot. It brings a lot of trust, it does mean when their animals do get inevitably ill, we’ve already done the hard work of engagement and building a relationship through wellness plans.
Embrace and love the profession
Chris’ advice on new graduates and anyone suffering resistance or doubt:
Make sure you do find that work/life balance, embrace all parts of what we do as caregivers, to the animals, team-members, the owners, colleagues, it’s vital to a successful journey.
For resources mentioned in this podcast:
The Neighbourhood Vet