TODAY -

World Veterinary Day 2022 : Strengthening veterinary resilience

Dr K Rashbehari Singh *



The 2022 World veterinary Day was held on the 30th April, 2022 on the theme, 'Strengthening Veterinary Resilience' and is an opportunity to celebrate efforts from veterinarians, veterinary associations and others to strengthen veterinary resilience and bring attention to this important cause.

RESILIENCE

Resilience is defined as the ability of an individual to adjust to adversity, maintain equilibrium, retain a sense of control over their environment and continue to move on in a positive manner. Persons working in the veterinary workplaces daily face challenges, including taking care of critically ill or dying patients, staff shortages, and emotional exhaustion. Therefore, it is important to address the concept of resilience, at both an individual and organizational level, in order to maintain a healthy workforce.

There is no 'one size fits all' model of resilience. The resilience construct is multidimensional in nature and is heightened in teacher educational research, where resilience has been associated with professional, emotional, motivational, and social dimensions of teachers' work, thus drawing on the personal and contextual resources that promote adaptation in times of adversity. When designing professional support programs, there is importance of developing interventions that build capacity of resilience.

Across many practice types and demographics, veterinarians report widespread ethical conflict and moral distress. Ethical conflict and resulting moral distress may be an important source of stress and poor well-being that is not widely recognized or well defined. Effective tools used to decrease moral distress in human healthcare could be adapted to ameliorate this problem.

WORK STRESS IN THE VETERINARY WORKPLACE

Two occupational stress related conditions that veterinary professionals are at risk of experiencing are burnout and compassion fatigue.

Burnout: Burnout has been referred to as an 'unintentional end point' for certain individuals who are exposed to chronic stress within their working environment. If not managed in an appropriate way, burnout can have a negative effect on the mental and physical well-being of an employee, with the possibility of disrupting not only their professional life but also their personal life.

Long working hours, conflict at work, work overload, working in an environment in which there is little or no social support mechanisms etc., are examples of workplace stressors that may put an individual at risk from experiencing burnout. People, who are suffering from burnout, may experience emotional exhaustion, cynicism and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment with regard to their own work.

Exhaustion is the most prevalent of the three dimensions of burnout, but it is the degree of exhaustion that can determine maladaptive coping mechanisms such as cynicism and depersonalisation and lead to a lack of self-worth in relation to one's own personal accomplishments at work.

To help combat the state of exhaustion that they are feeling, the individual may be using absenteeism as a coping mechanism. After returning to work, the employee may be exposed to the same stressors as before. Initially, the damage may only be short term on the psychological well-being of the employee. However, long term damage, not only to the mind but also to psychological processes can put the individual at an increased risk in terms of deteriorating health which may result in long term absenteeism from work.

Compassion fatigue: Compassion fatigue is a term that describes the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others, often through experiences of stress or trauma. Compassion fatigue is a result of an emotional depletion due to the nature of their work. Veterinary nursing is a caring profession and those who seek a career within this profession suffer from compassion fatigue because of a natural desire to care for animals. The individuals, who are the most caring and empathic towards others, will be most at risk from experiencing compassion fatigue.

An individual who is suffering from compassion fatigue may become more cynical and show a lack of compassion towards patients and clients and may become increasingly anti-social both at work and at home. Although compassion fatigue can have detrimental effects on an employee who is experiencing it, it may also affect others in the workplace, if measures were not taken in an effective way to deal with the problem.

In order to avoid the spread of compassion fatigue, it is important to ensure that staff are able to recognize the signs of compassion fatigue in each other and are able to engage in healthy coping strategies. Healthy coping strategies may include appropriate debriefing sessions among willing participants, particularly after an emotionally stressful encounter with the client (e.g. euthanasia of a pet).

One's ability to find happiness in their work is another area that has been recognised to act as a buffering type mechanism against compassion fatigue and burnout. An improvement in the health of a patent or gratitude from a client may provide satisfaction to one's role in veterinary nursing.

FACTORS ASSOCIATED WITH RESILIENCE

Two key factors that influence adaptive outcomes and enhance resilience are mindfulness and self-compassion.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us. Mindfulness has been shown to be associated with lower depression, burnout, and anxiety.

Veterinary students, like other university students, are likely to experience elevated levels of stress, anxiety and depression over the course of their studies. Veterinary students who regularly engage in mindfulness practice once a week or more throughout the semester reported significantly lower depression and anxiety symptoms than those who practice less than once a week.

Engaging regularly in mindfulness practice potentially acted as a protective factor for students already experiencing at least a mild range of symptoms of anxiety and depression at the beginning of the semester. Learning about mindfulness may be useful in assisting students to manage academic stress, anxiety, and depression, cultivate a physical and mental state of calm, be more present and emphatic with clients, and be more focused and attentive in professional practice settings.

Self-compassion : Self-compassion is viewed as compassion directed inwards and relates to how individuals perceive themselves in times of distress and suffering. Self-compassion comprises three interacting elements, self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Higher self-compassion may be associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety and decreases cortisol and heart rate variability.

STRATEGIES FOR BUILDING RESILIENT PROFESSIONALS

Career resilience can be developed and strengthened through strategies aimed at reducing vulnerability to stressors and managing the impact of adversity in the workplace. Developing specific characteristics and attitudes: People with resilient characteristics tend to interpret stressful circumstances as relatively non-threatening and frequently exhibit a 'hardy' personality. Hardiness is defined as responding to stressful situations with commitment (vs. alienation), control (vs. powerlessness) and challenge (vs. threat).

Hardy people are also more likely to believe that they have the inner resources to overcome difficult life events. A hardy approach involves reflecting on your circumstances, diagnosing what can be done to resolve difficulties faced and implementing necessary steps for change. A person's sense of control over life and career can be increased by sustained practice of such an approach.

Self-care : The ability to self-care and take time out for oneself is a constant challenge faced by veterinary workers. Individuals who are resilient are more likely to take care of their health through adequate sleep and exercise, good nutrition, defined 'time off' from work and attention to spiritual beliefs. They are also more likely to set personal and professional goals and devise ways of meeting such goals.

Staying positive : When undertaking challenging work, the ability to manage strong feelings and impulses is a key coping skill. Also, it is thought that the ability to find humour and joy in everyday situations can act as a protective factor, and to some extent, 'inoculate' people against the stress of difficult situations.

Supportive social networks : A resilient person rarely exists in isolation and normally has a network of positive personal and professional relationships that acts as a 'safety net' when stressful circumstances occur. Strengthening existing relationships and developing new ones are proven ways of boosting resilience to workplace stress. Work out ways of spending more time with people, who are supportive, positive and more reliable.

New veterinary graduates should be encouraged to take ownership of their career progression by supporting them in setting goals and building peer networks. Allow new employees to meet challenges incrementally. Develop a culture of support by allowing team members to 'debrief' after stressful work situations and events.

New graduates should be mentored in managing emotionally challenging aspects of veterinary work, such as clinical uncertainty, client complaints, and compassion fatigue. They should be taught about the path of emotional resilience in practice. They should also be encouraged to find their own rhythm of work that is consistent with their personality, values and priorities.

Training: Appropriate training in resilience-building strategies can help veterinary students build greater awareness of resilience, and potentially support the development of a more resilient approach in their personal and professional lives.

Make connections: Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. It is important to accept help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you as it will strengthen your resilience. Being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit you.

Crisis management : Interpretation and respond when highly stressful events happen in our lives are important. Look beyond the present for a little better in future circumstances. Use somewhat better techniques of past experiences when dealing with difficult situations.

CONCLUSION

Modern veterinary practice creates high-stress scenarios, as people drive themselves to meet external demands and objectives. Therefore, it is essential to retain a healthy resilient workforce. This requires leaders and managers to develop expertise in building resilience among staff members. Despite challenging times, this can enhance staff members' ability to move beyond surviving and towards actually thriving.

There is need of more research on how to improve resilience in the veterinary profession. Interviewing veterinarians and persons, working in the veterinary profession for several years, to share their personal journeys and how resilience has played a factor in career longevity, may further increase awareness of occupational stress.

Inclusion of topics such as occupational stress, self-care and resilience building into veterinary training pogrammes will be helpful in strengthening veterinary resilience.


* Dr K Rashbehari Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on May 05 2022 .



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