By Silvia Janska
I was recently talking with a vet nurse who is super passionate about the vet profession, but she shared some saddening insight with me. She shared with me her concern about the lack of enthusiasm and motivation of the many students she comes across. And these are students! What happens once they graduate? – Well, we know the answer to that question too. Low job satisfaction, high attrition rate, difficulties in retention of talent in clinical roles, and for vets, a high suicide rate. So where has the happiness gone and where can we find it again?
For centuries, happiness has been at the forefront of the minds of many philosophers – Confucius, Buddha, and Aristotle, and continues to be shaped with time. Today it can be defined as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile” (Lyubomirsky, 2007). Throughout the literature, many researchers today refer to happiness as ‘subjective well-being’, and a substantial body of research has grown around 3 key factors that are said to have a causal effect on how happy a person feels. These 3 factors are: the set point, life circumstances, and intentional activity (Lyubomirsky, 2005).
Considerable research has grown to suggest that we are born with a ‘set point’ for happiness and that about 50% of happiness is heritable, genetically determined, rooted in neurobiology, or ‘set’. Beyond this, 10% of happiness is thought to be associated with circumstantial factors. Factors such as individual’s age, marital status, job security, income, health, geographical and cultural aspects. And lastly, you’ll be happy to learn that the remaining 40% of happiness is thought to be associated with engaging in intentional activities. This includes exercising, meditating, engaging in social relationships, pursuing authentic goals, and seeing opportunities to experience flow, kindness, gratitude, and spirituality. Unlike the set point of happiness which may be difficult to change, 40% of happiness lies in our personal control.
There is a lot of talk in the veterinary profession about all the problems we are facing and practical, tangible solutions that we need to create to overcome these problems. While these actionable solutions are important; I offer one humble solution here. Let’s look at some vets and vet nurses who are happy in their jobs and showcase how they have directed their life and job to ensure their happiness.
Ami Sawran – 11 years qualified farm animal vet (corporate vet practice)
“After a few years of feeling unfulfilled in my roles, I clearly communicated what I needed and wanted for a role and chose the practice that accommodated this flexibility. In this practice culture I have felt empowered to (kindly!) question the status quo, and have helped to foster progressive change that has served me and my colleagues. After taking a leadership role I make a point of finding out what makes each team member tick, and then whatever is in our power to change – we do. We come up with solutions to problems together, action them and set timescales over which we evaluate the effect of the changes. If they work, we keep them. If they don’t, we work on another solution. Together our teams have identified the values of our practice, and then behaviours through which we demonstrate them- we are therefore all on board with how we want our practice to be perceived and run.
My team knows that their fulfilment is a priority, so they all work together to achieve it for each other. It isn’t always perfect – we accept flaws and unpredictability in the system – it requires flexibility from everyone to be successful.”
Abby Wharton – 4 years qualified out-of-hours RVN
“I have been with VetsNow as a principal nursing manager for just over a year now and have found that this career path really works for me. In first opinion, I regularly found that I was missing something and the long days of similar working left me feeling unfulfilled. I am also a single person with a dog and a small holding and finishing at 6pm (and later) every night, made me not want to do my hobbies and overall left me feeling deflated and unmotivated. Since making the change, I now work up to 3 nights a week with admin time done at home. The shifts are long, but they are never boring. I find the unknown of what may come in exciting, and I adore the complex medicine cases or the midnight surgeries that come our way.
The change in working conditions and working for a company that I honestly believe wants the best for me, has made profound impacts to my mental health and my life overall. I now have time to walk my dog and look after the farm. I feel supported in my role too.
All of these things have made me care more deeply about our profession and want to do more to improve my level of care for our patients. It has also given me the headspace to help navigate what it is I want out of my career as well as my life.”
Nicole Mant – 8 years qualified mixed animal vet (independent vet practice)
“My major drive as a vet is to know that I’m always doing my best for my patients and my clients. I might not always be doing something ground-breaking or particularly complicated, but I often think it’s the little things that add to your role as a vet… saying the right thing to a client deciding on whether or not euthanasia is an option, discussing how you can best manage an aging pet’s arthritis or having a discussion regarding behavioural challenges. The ability to give a little time goes a long way and these are the things a client will remember. I also highly value the respect of my colleagues… respect is built on a mutual trust, and nothing pleases me more than a colleague trusting me with their pet. I love injecting a certain level of humanity into the job… you can be the most knowledgeable person in the world but without the ability to communicate at a basic human level you will struggle to succeed in our profession. I’ve ensured I can do this by sticking with a role in mixed practice and pushing for a predominantly consulting role. I’ve also become a GDP advisor so I can help mentor the younger generation and instil this ethos into them as my mentors once did for me.”
Ami, Abby and Nicole have taken steps to find job roles that fulfil their particular needs, whether it is autonomy and leadership; time flexibility and case complexity; or a workplace culture that values the human behind the professional. While life is a dynamic process and adaptability is important, for now, these ladies have directed their 10% of happiness that arises from circumstantial factors and their 40% of happiness that comes from intentional activity in such a way that suits and fulfils them and makes them happy.
While we all have the power to help ourselves to direct some of this happiness in the way we work, I am overjoyed when I come across veterinary practices that are flexible for their employees. Flexible to help make that 10% of circumstantial factors work for the employees so that they can better direct that 40%. For those who know me, my passion lies in improving flexible working for permanent veterinary staff. It warms my heart to see the increasing number of veterinary businesses that are starting to flex in various ways to allow for the growing needs of work-life balance and the need to have a good job security but one that allows the individuals to utilise that 40% of happiness from whatever intentional activity they require. So, I wish to leave you with 1. a shameless Instagram plug to follow me @flexeevet should you be interested my work on flexible working, and 2. a thought: if you don’t change it, time will – because happiness comes from your own mindset and actions.
Lyubomirsky S. The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York, New York: Penguin Books; 2007.
Lyubomirsky S, Sheldon KM, Schkade D. Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Rev Gen Psychol. 2005;9:111–131.The Webinar Vet November Newsletter 2022- NOV 2.pdf by The Webinar Vet