Striking a healthy work-life balance as a vet

Posted on May 16, 2016

Acro Yoga

A few weeks ago I was driving home after a busy evening surgery listening to a local radio feature about the perks and pitfalls of various fields of work. Listeners were phoning in citing the highs and lows of their jobs, ranging from free lunches and store discounts to having to work bank holidays and wear unflattering uniforms.

Although the phone-in was fairly lighthearted it got me thinking about the veterinary world and our own pros and cons. There are so many fantastic things about being a vet – the variety of our work, which keeps us from being bored, the satisfaction that comes from successfully ‘fixing’ a patient, and the range of different jobs we have within our profession. Of course there are negatives too – the emotional burdens, the long hours and the difficult ethical situations we can face. Personally, the thing I find hardest is striking a healthy work-life balance and I am sure I am not alone in this.

Everyone has their own definition of a healthy work-life balance and how it can be attained, but I wonder how many of us feel we are successfully achieving it.

Learn how to switch off from work

When I first qualified, life outside of work was very much at the bottom of my priority list. I felt that I should dedicate all the time that I could to finding my feet in practice and developing my skills – everything else would have to take a backseat. Almost 4 years on, I remain extremely dedicated to doing the best I can and going the extra mile for my patients and colleagues. In a profession like ours, dedication is paramount. However, I am beginning to realise that if I want to perform to the best of my abilities, I must recognise the importance of balancing my career with my life outside work.

I think it's fair to say that despite having care for animals and clients at the heart of what we do, vets can be notoriously bad at looking after themselves. We are used to working late, taking the emotional aspects of our job home and thinking about our work when we should be relaxing. We do not have jobs that are easy to switch off from, hence the challenge we face.

A happy vet is a safe vet

Vet nose to nose with a horseDuring the recent junior doctors' strikes I have seen many placards outside my local hospital: ‘A happy doctor is a safe doctor’, ‘Tired doctors make mistakes’, ‘Protecting doctors protects patients’. Replace the word ‘doctor’ with the word ‘vet’ and nothing changes. It is vital that we look after our mental health in order for us to perform our best.

From the beginning of our working lives we must strive to find the Holy Grail of a healthy work-life balance – by remembering the importance of our out-of-work interests, our family and friends, and the need to relax and switch off. None of this need come at the sacrifice of professional success – if anything, success is more likely to come to us if we find time to put ourselves first now and again. 

More on this topic

If you are concerned about your own wellbeing or the wellbeing of someone you know, you can call the 24/7 Vet Helpline on 0303 040 2551.

Becky Marr with her pet dogWritten by Becky Marr

Recent graduate representative on BVA Council

Becky graduated from Edinburgh in 2012 and has been working at a small animal practice in Newcastle ever since. She joined BVA Council in 2015 as a recent graduate representative.