Mindful Veterinary Practice: Caring for Self While Caring for Others

Mindful Veterinary Practice: Caring for Self While Caring for Others

By Laura Smallwood, DVM DACVIM (SAIM)

Article is taken from the fall edition of the “GA Vet”, the quarterly magazine of the GVMA which is a member benefit. Dr. Smallwood is chair of the GVMA Wellness Committee.

Caring for others requires that we first and foremost care for ourselves. However, people in caregiving professions are often so immersed in their work that they neglect their own care. In the early stages of one’s career, this may seem sustainable.  However, as the stressors of work (and life) begin to accumulate, the impact of caregiving can begin to take a toll emotionally and physically.  In order for us to do the work we do as veterinarians and do if for years to come, we must individually, and as a professional community, develop and maintain long-term strategies for DAILY self-care.   You can take a vacation, change jobs, work fewer hours, change jobs again, go to the spa, change jobs yet again(you get my drift? but this isn’t effective self-care.  When you come back from your vacation or the spa, when you show up for that first day at the new job, even when you show up for fewer shifts, there YOU are–still facing the same challenges, still reacting in habitual ways.  If we are to change our experience with our work we must first accept that there is little we can do to substantively change the circumstances of our work.  We do, however, have the ability to change how we experience our work and how we process those experiences.  Mindfulness training is an effective strategy for unearthing and developing that innate ability.

Mindfulness, though rooted in ancient contemplative practices, is well established as an effective secular intervention for stress.  Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was first introduced at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn and thousands of studies have since supported its efficacy. Mindfulness training teaches practitioners to be fully aware of present moment circumstances rather than being lost in unrelated thought—a skill which allows for full awareness of self, others and the immediate environment.   Mindfulness practitioners learn to approach each situation with a “beginner’s mind”—fully open to what is happening rather than allowing the present moment experience to be clouded by past experiences, pre-conceived notions, and stories.  Mindfulness teaches methods for letting go of unhealthy emotions, thoughts and constructs—including those that are taken on as a result of care-giving.  Mindfulness empowers choice and the opportunity to wisely respond rather than habitually react, giving practitioners the power to choose hope over despair and joy over sorrow.

Read More in the fall edition of the GA Vet magazine.