Well-being strategies are key to preparing new and recent veterinary graduates for healthy, sustainable careers, and well-being is therefore an important component of Ready, Vet, Go Veterinary Mentorship. For this article, I invited Melyssa Allen MA, NBC-HWC, DipALCM (Veterinary Well-Being Buddy) to chat about her work as a board-certified well-being coach and to provide insights for early career veterinarians on improving and maintaining their well-being and recognizing and avoiding burnout.
Dani Rabwin: What is well-being coaching?
Melyssa Allen: Well-being coaching is the evidence-based, collaborative process that taps into your inner motivation and facilitates a change process through visioning, goal setting, and accountability to support lasting behavior changes.
It’s important for readers to know that coaching is NOT therapy! Therapy involves reflecting on experiences to process life events and emotions to treat mental health conditions, while coaching involves reflecting on experiences to gain information that will help you move forward toward self-directed goals. As a coach, I don’t tell you what to do—we work together to brainstorm what is realistic for you and to co-create your action plan. Working together as a team allows you to discover, clarify, and align your actions with your goals and values to design your ideal life.
DR: I know the name of your business, Veterinary Well-Being Buddy, has special meaning. Can you explain why you chose this name and what it means to you?
MA: Buddy was my 13-year-old golden-lab mix whom I rescued during college and quickly became my heart dog. Buddy became a certified therapy dog and when we volunteered at local hospitals I noticed how much Buddy’s visits uplifted the staff, making them smile with his lolling tongue, laugh when he rolled over for belly rubs, and comforting them by placing his head on their shoulders when they hugged him. When I recognized the need for more well-being support services in the veterinary industry, I knew I wanted to capture Buddy’s energy in our brand and business offerings. Veterinary Well-Being Buddy is his legacy, which I am honored to share with the world. He inspires me to help care for the people who helped me give him 13 wonderful years of life. Our logo is a digital recreation of the outlines of my hand and his paw, so he is truly embodied in everything we share with the veterinary community.
DR: When should new or early career veterinarians begin prioritizing their well-being?
MA: A popular quote says, “The best time to start was yesterday … the next best time is now!” This is a fitting quote for starting habits that support your well-being. Establishing a routine of health-promoting behaviors early in your career provides your brain and your body with proper energy, care, and recovery to tackle occupational stressors.
DR: How can the veterinarian’s lifestyle outside the clinic help prevent burnout?
MA: Every action we take and every choice we make impacts our well-being, so it may be challenging to adopt positive habits during the workday, but establishing health-promoting habits outside the clinic will still make a difference. Healthy lifestyle behaviors are vitally important for promoting emotional and physical well-being, and provide a reciprocal, reinforcing link with positive emotions to help buffer the impacts of burnout (Rippe, 2020; Lianov, 2021).
DR: Veterinarians are typically goal- or achievement-oriented professionals who appreciate being able to measure their progress. What are some good well-being goals for veterinarians?
MA: As a coach, I tend to see goal setting revolve around a particular outcome, such as weight loss, passing an exam, or finishing a race. These outcome goals are fitting for the long-term, but we have the least amount of control over these goal types, which may take months or years to accomplish. And, if we know anything about humans, we tend to be impatient and desire instant gratification, so outcome goals may not be the best place to focus your energy!
Instead, focus on HOW you can accomplish those outcomes. Process goals look at the outcome and ask, “How am I going to (lose weight, pass the exam, finish a race)?” and you can determine the actions and behaviors you need to accomplish the desired outcome. Process goals give you control—you choose whether you go on that walk, study for that exam, or participate in your interval training.
It’s probably not the answer everyone wants, but I think it’s more important to emphasize the type of goals you set for yourself than naming a specific well-being goal. Process goals help you focus on a behavior and give you the chance to measure your progress each week and each day.
DR: What are some simple actions busy veterinarians can incorporate into their daily routine to promote wellness, balance, and emotional/physical health?
MA: We all tend to know what we should be doing for our health and happiness, but often it’s more challenging to actually do it! I like to share the lifestyle medicine basics:
- Eating more plants
- Moving more
- Sleeping well
- Managing your stress
- Connecting with others
- Reducing risky substance use
Something as simple as staying hydrated can have a big impact on our well-being. Water accounts for about 75% of our brain mass, so even minor dehydration can significantly impact our mood regulation and cognitive performance!
DR: In a perfect world, prioritizing well-being would eliminate emotional fatigue and burnout, but we know this isn’t always the case. Therefore, early recognition is still key. What are some burnout warning signs everyone should be aware of in themselves and others?
MA: Burnout is classified with three main symptoms:
- Emotional exhaustion
- Reduced personal efficacy
Understanding these symptoms and what they look like is an important step in beating burnout. One of my favorite tools for recognizing burnout warning signs is the Stress Continuum from the Stress First Aid program. This is a visual guide with a breakdown of common characteristics found in each “stress zone,” from green to red. This is a fantastic tool for self check-ins, as well as identifying when coworkers may be falling into the concerning orange or red zones.
The most significant burnout warning signs include uncharacteristic behavior patterns or demeanor changes, such as withdrawal or isolation from others, anger outbursts, consistently low moods, and any persistent functional impairment. Veterinary medicine is already a high-stress occupation, so in a single day, a professional can fluctuate between all the stress zones, which is completely normal. It’s more important to pay attention to behavior patterns and possibilities of getting “stuck” in potentially dangerous stress zones (i.e., yellow, orange, and red).
DR: Behavior change can be difficult. What advice would you give busy veterinarians who are trying to either unlearn old habits or create new, healthier habits?
MA: Be patient and kind with yourself. As humans, we often take the critical and judgmental approach to change, which only makes us feel worse. And as a result, we engage in unsupportive behaviors to cope with those negative emotions! Instead, focus on cultivating that inner cheerleader or coach who helps you identify what is working well, takes a growth mindset approach to failures, and helps you understand that a lifestyle change journey is NOT linear!
Initially, focus on one area you’d like to change. As you gain positive momentum, you’ll find creating and incorporating other habits easier. Over time, these small changes add up to larger lifestyle transformations.
Lastly, instead of focusing on what you are trying to get rid of in your life, shift your focus to the positive behaviors you want to add to your life. Positively framed goals make the change process more enjoyable and sustainable over time.
DR: Thank you for sharing such great, actionable information, Melyssa. How can veterinarians and other veterinary professionals connect with you about private well-being coaching or online classes?
Industry experts and thought leaders like Melyssa Allen are regular guest contributors to the Ready, Vet, Go Veterinary Mentorship program. These exciting and dynamic speakers provide our mentees with added depth and insight into our six learning modules. Visit the Ready, Vet, Go membership page for details of our course content, or contact our team to sign up for the next available cohort.