In this guest blog series by VetLed (see below) we are going to be looking at wellbeing, and specifically wellbeing within the veterinary profession. This is something which is arguably most relevant in Emergency and Critical Care practice.
On with the blog:
Wellbeing is something that is close to all of our hearts at VetLed, something that drives us, and something that makes up spring up out of bed in the morning (that and the very loud alarm of course!). It could be said that wellbeing, mindfulness, self-care and so on are the buzzwords of 2018, and that may be true. But we truly believe that there are many more layers that underpin these ideas – strip back the buzzwords and you get to some really fundamental notions that could help us all to feel just a little bit better, feel a little bit more well and that can only be a great thing!
As veterinary professionals, it is clear to see how we might feel that striving to meet our high expectations could provide us the ingredients for wellbeing and happiness. We have worked for so long and so hard to gain our highly sought-after qualifications. Surely then this relentless pursuit of high standards is the road to fulfilment?
However, as was identified during the Vet Futures study in 2015, the reality for many is that life in this profession presents many challenges which can affect our wellbeing. This puts into question whether or not success can simply be measured by the achievement of academic and professional goals and whether or not there is another area we could choose to prioritise.
Extensive research on the topic of happiness proves that higher levels of subjective wellbeing actually improves nearly every business and educational outcome. For example, happier doctors were found to be 19% more accurate when making correct diagnoses. This starts to highlight why addressing our wellbeing should be the priority and form the foundation for success and achievement…and not the other way around.
The analogy of the safety demonstration on an aircraft serves as a good metaphor; ‘ensure your own oxygen mask is fitted before helping anybody else’. As a profession we see ourselves as providers of care and can be reluctant to look after ourselves or to look to others to take care of us. During a wellbeing campaign at Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Farquhar, a consultant and researcher of sleep medicine says that “our patients are always better served by clinicians who have had appropriate periods of rest during their shifts”. Rest and sleep is an essential aspect of wellbeing and this serves an important message as to how looking after ourselves must come first if we are best serve our patients. But we all know that that can be easier said than done right?
Research shows that three-quarters of veterinary sick days in the UK are a direct result of work-related pressure or stress and that as a general working population, only 2 in 5 employees in the UK are working at peak performance. Furthermore, there are numerous cross-sectional studies which provide evidence that wellbeing affects our productivity and ability to work effectively.[3-5] By prioritising our physical and mental state we can improve our ability to perform at our best and provide our patients with better levels of care.
It is not only our performance which is at stake when it comes to wellbeing. More importantly (and not surprisingly) it is also our long-term health. Whilst it might sound almost too obvious to say, attending to our wellbeing has significant impacts on our longevity and quality of life. Evidence shows us that pleasant emotions associated with acts of wellbeing can protect us against the physiological effects of stress [6,7] and a review of 30 longitudinal studies demonstrated a link between the impact of wellbeing on life expectancy similar to that of smoking. Despite this knowledge, it is a human condition to be driven to achieve what we perceive to be important at the time. This makes it all the more important to make attending to self-care and wellbeing a priority and to put plans in place to give ourselves the best chance of fulfilling this intention.
It is not only ourselves and our patients who are positively affected by our attention to wellbeing. Our colleagues may also be better off, with the subsequent benefits for themselves, their patients and those around them. Evidence suggests that cooperative behaviours are associated with pleasant emotions and that people with higher levels of these emotions are more likely to demonstrate collaboration instead of avoidance or competition.
If we explore a fundamental theory of motivation from Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, it’s easy to see the significance of physical and mental wellbeing. Fundamentally, we must feel physiologically and psychologically well and secure, and only then can we focus on accomplishments and achievement.
Over the course of this series, we will be looking at this in more detail and exploring more fully the practicalities of ‘wellbeing’ and what that means to us as veterinary professionals. But essentially and in summary, your patients, colleagues and practice will be better served by a team who feel and function at their best. Wellbeing is the strong foundations, the grounding if you will, that supports and enables all that comes after – it isn’t the pretty flowers growing up the side of the house, it is the solid metre deep footings that the structure is built on. Good foundations lead to stable structures; rocky foundations can lead to landslides!
But most importantly, you deserve to be healthy and supported to thrive, not simply survive. Being grounded by wellbeing increases the likelihood of subsequent success, therefore starting a positive cycle in which you feel better, function better and therefore achieve more; further reinforcing your foundation of wellbeing from which the cycle continues.
And long may that cycle continue – allowing you the chance to enjoy the pretty flowers!
VetLed was founded to provide support to veterinary professionals who are faced with significant challenges every day. The VetLed team believe that creating a compassionate and professional workplace culture that puts people wellbeing and patient safety at the core of everything we do, will, in turn, improve animal and people welfare. The VetLed performance approach supports veterinary professionals to maximise their own wellbeing and to fully utilise their skills to deliver optimal patient care.
- Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: the seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York, Broadway Books.
- BMG Research Employee Panel, March 2017 on Health and Wellbeing at work. Available at: http://www.bmgresearch.co.uk/workplace-health-wellbeing-edition-march-2017/ [Last accessed May 2018].
- Donald I, et al. International Journal of Stress Management 2005; 12(4): 409–423.
- Robertson I, & Cooper, C. (2011). Well-Being, Productivity and Happiness at Work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Ford, M, et al. Work and Stress: An International Journal of Work, Health and Organisations 2011; 25(3): 185–204.
- Folkman S. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping 2008; 21(1): 3–14.
- Bränström, R. BMC psychology 2013; 1(1): 13.
- Veenhoven, R. Journal of happiness studies 2008; 9(3): 449–469.
- Boehm, J, & Lyubomirsky, S. Journal of career assessment 2008: 16(1): 101–116.