Managing a work-life balance is a constant struggle for equine veterinarians. Despite well-planned schedules and the best of intentions, veterinarians regularly find their workdays extended by emergency cases. Then there are the last-minute pleas from horse owners for exams or vaccinations needed to attend an event that has been planned for weeks. Pressure to meet client expectations while still having time to enjoy family and friends can lead to anxiety, stress and frustration.
"Feeling fulfilled in more than one aspect of your life will generally lead to a higher level of happiness overall," said Maria Schnobrich, VMD, DACT, of Rood and Riddle. "It is also important from a mental health perspective to have a change of focus and give yourself a break from the anxieties and stress that may be occurring in one aspect of your life."
Luke Bass, DVM, MS, of Colorado River Veterinary Services, added, "Our profession demands us to excel in not only equine medicine, but also communication and customer service. Most days are spent giving advice and helping others with all sorts of problems."
If left unchecked, the long hours can also impact the quality of care provided. "I'll admit, I have found times where I hurry through an appointment at 6:30 p.m. just because I want to go home to spend time with my family," Bass said.
Finding a Work-Life Balance
Striking a work-life balance can be perplexing. How is it possible to provide high-quality service, keep clients happy, find time for family and friends, or find time to enjoy a hobby (or just time away from the practice)?
Making small changes to your daily or weekly routine can make a big difference in your stress levels.
"I find that it is vitally important to disconnect from work--especially all forms of technology--and focus on something not veterinary-related," Bass stated. "Spending one afternoon a week taking a trail ride, fly fishing or taking your kids to the park can easily recharge your energy to not only improve your attitude, but practice better medicine."
Learn to say "no" to late-night appointments. This may be difficult at first; however, people will come to respect the fact that you know your own limits and understand that when you are over-committed, it can result in compromised quality.
"Say 'no' to 6:00 p.m. appointments for routine procedures in order to be home for dinner," Bass suggested.
Eliminate activities and/or relationships that drain your energy. Clients or coworkers might like to socialize, vent or gossip, consuming precious minutes or hours throughout the day. Spend time cultivating client relationships, but limit the amount of time spent discussing topics irrelevant to the appointment or relationship.
Make time for exercise. Research indicates that individuals who exercise are more alert. "Lack of proper nutrition, daily exercise and ample sleep can affect your focus and patience, which are fundamental qualities of an equine veterinarian," Bass said.
Remember, a little relaxation goes a long way. Small changes such as leaving the office one hour earlier one night a week or spending 10 to 15 minutes a day on a small pleasure like taking a walk or reading non-work-related materials can be significant in reducing stress.
While slight changes to the regular routine are a good first step, taking time for weekend getaways or longer vacations is needed to truly disconnect from work and recharge.
Preparing for Time Away
Planning a getaway can be challenging and nerve-wracking. Single practitioners are faced with arranging for coverage in their absence.
"AAEP will soon have a resource that can help," Bass said. "[The organization] will be launching a new website. Included will be a database of practitioners in your area that you can use as a resource for those long weekend getaways."
To avoid awkward situations and eliminate worry that the back-up practice will "inherit" your clients, ask the back-up provider to share notes about any emergency calls and request that the client be referred back to your practice for follow-up.
Practices that employ more than one veterinarian have the benefit of turning to co-workers for support. In larger practices, communication is key.
"Communicate with colleagues and clients about upcoming commitments in advance to ensure adequate coverage and that both the client and the veterinarian in charge feel comfortable," Schnobrich advised.
It is equally important to nurture an environment where asking for coverage, attending family events and taking needed time off is acceptable and encouraged.
How Often is Often Enough?
The frequency of time off depends on personal preference and the size of the practice. Some people prefer longer breaks, whereas others favor frequent long weekends throughout the year.
"I think 'enough vacation time' is when you are able to attend events that you feel you should, and you also have a chance to recharge your batteries to a point that you enjoy and look forward to returning to work," Schnobrich said.
When scheduling does not allow for extended vacations, weekend getaways at different points in the year provide an opportunity to enjoy all that the seasons have to offer.
"I recommend trying to take mini-vacations on a quarterly basis so you can take advantage of what each time of year offers in your area," Bass said. Locale will determine the destination, but beaches and mountains, national and state parks or an overnight at a bed and breakfast or vineyard can provide a relaxing weekend getaway.
"Taking a three- or four-day weekend trip every three to four months allows you to refresh, and your family will appreciate you for more than a paycheck," Bass said.
A getaway with your spouse to a bed and breakfast followed by a weekend with your son to a theme park or with your daughter on a trail ride will help strengthen your relationships and decrease the stress that parents often feel on large family trips.
"Spontaneity is key; trust me, your spouse and family will appreciate the surprise," he emphasized. That means planning ahead on your part to make sure your clients are covered and that you aren't worried or harried while you are trying to relax.
While having a good work ethic is necessary if you are an equine practitioner, the need to unwind and de-stress is real. Time away doesn't have to mean weeks out of the country; it can be simply hours or days out of the office. Strive for work-life balance in order to keep yourself and your family healthy and happy.