Taking a leaf out of our own books: applying the 5 welfare needs to ourselves

Posted on April 06, 2018 by Melissa Donald

5 animal welfare needsIt is well known that vets are high achievers, giving ourselves (often unacceptably) high standards to maintain and over time this takes its toll. Recently, a lot has been said about the stress levels we are experiencing as a profession, the mental health issues that are then exacerbated and the perceived poor working conditions which may add up to some of our colleagues leaving the profession altogether or at least looking at alternative careers.

At some point we have to start looking after ourselves and, I think our first step towards doing this is to practice what we preach to our clients and our patients.

So, with a glass half full approach, let’s look at our own well-being. We are used to discussing the 5 welfare needs of animals, so, as mammals ourselves, it makes sense to use these as a benchmark for our own wellbeing.

The need for a suitable environment

Do you have somewhere to get a good night’s sleep, space to get some down time, are you creating a distinction between your work and personal life?

The need for a suitable diet

Do you eat a balanced diet, are you fuelling yourself properly, taking time to have a lunch break?

The need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns

I interpreted this as becoming a responsible member of the human race, being kind and compassionate to your colleagues and taking time for yourself to switch off from work, get enough exercise, socialise or do something for yourself.

The need to be housed with/or apart from other animals (your social life and support network)

We are a social race; do you have a trusted network you can call on? Do you spend quality time with your loved ones?

To be protected from pain and suffering

Do we take the time in our schedules to address our own medical conditions, mental health and seek the preventative healthcare (ie. screenings, eye tests, dental care) that we are pains to emphasise the importance of to our own patients.

I would hope that we could tick all 5 boxes. If this isn’t the case, then at least you now have an area you can actively improve on. Pick a welfare need for yourself and see how you can work towards improving it. Straight away, things seem not quite so bad.

Wellbeing is defined as being comfortable, healthy or happy. In this context, I would aim for all three. There is no one-size fits all solution but as with my theory on good CPD, as long as you can come away with one useful tip, it’s been worth it.

Physical wellbeing according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (apologies for the US spelling!) is: ‘The lifestyle behavior choices you make to ensure health, avoid preventable diseases and conditions, and live in a balanced state of body, mind and spirit’.

Applying the 5 animal welfare needs

So, we have choices to make. Going back to the 5 welfare needs, you can apply them here: do I live where I want to, am I eating healthily, am I making time for my social life, am I practising what I preach and keeping pro-actively healthy, am I behaving appropriately?

Some are easier to change than others. When you are on the hamster wheel of life, even making one small change takes phenomenal effort, but if you can do one, then the second is easier. Running did it for me, managing my time to be able to get out for 30 minutes two to three times a week.

It was hard at first, not just the running, but being selfish enough to say no to other requests on my time. It was empowering too. By allowing yourself ‘me-time’, you will increase your productivity, at work and at home. You will become a better friend and probably sleep better too.

I’m no expert, and this won’t work for everyone, but I hope by reading this I have helped one person make one small change to improve their wellbeing.

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Melissa Donald

Written by Melissa Donald

President of BVA Scottish Branch

Melissa is the current President of BVA Scottish Branch Prior to joining the BVA Scottish Branch Officer team, Melissa was President of the Ayrshire Veterinary Association. Melissa is also sits on RCVS Council and is an independent non-executive director for the Red Tractor farm assurance group.