September 15, 2015


 In pursuit of the elusive life balance

​Future Leaders introduce new wellness resources

Posted Sept. 2, 2015

Wellness, with its reliance on work-life balance, is of the utmost importance to the veterinary profession, but what is this balance and is it truly achievable?

Dr. Karen Bradley, leading off the July 12 wellness program organized by the 2014-2015 class of AVMA Future Leaders at the AVMA Annual Convention in Boston, cited contemporary Swiss writer and philosopher Alain de Botton: “There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”

Dr. Bradley said, “I get that. Veterinary school certainly unbalanced my life, getting married, moving across the country, having your first kid. It all unbalances your life just a little bit, but if it’s really worthwhile, that can be an OK thing.” 

Yet, the DVM Newsmagazine 2012 State of the Profession Survey found that more veterinarians fear lack of balance than financial challenges, she said.

Elizabeth Strand, PhD, was one of two other speakers at the wellness program, “Get your Wellness on: Working Wellness into the Workplace,” sponsored by Zoetis. Dr. Strand said it’s the workload, not the work itself, that creates unbalance. “Anything you do that you’re passionate about is going to create unbalance,” she said.

Array of wellness resources introduced

Besides arranging the half-day wellness program, during the convention the Future Leaders launched a new landing page and interactive toolkit on the AVMA website loaded with wellness resources for veterinarians and veterinary team members.

For these veterinarians, all of whom graduated 15 years ago or less, it was the crowning achievement of a yearlong effort to create a valuable resource on workplace wellness and heighten awareness within the profession of the challenges of achieving and maintaining wellness. For example, higher rates of depression and suicide have been found in the veterinary profession than among other adults in the U.S.

The online package, available at, includes a self-assessment tool, podcasts, videos, and recommendations for additional materials.

To start, the Professional Quality of Life assessment tool measures “the negative and positive effects of helping others who are experiencing suffering and trauma.” It gauges the individual on a scale that looks at three areas—compassion satisfaction, compassion stress, and compassion fatigue.

Other sections of the landing page address work and compassion fatigue, physical health, stress management, self-care, financial wellness, setting up a wellness program, and work-life balance and boundaries.

Mental wellness contact information is also provided.

Insights from convention

Dr. Bradley, who co-owns a practice in Montpelier, Vermont, is the state’s delegate to the AVMA House of Delegates and president of the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative. A 1996 graduate of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, she has also chaired the House Advisory Committee and the former AVMA Governance Engagement Team.

In her convention presentation, “A New Frontier for an Old Career,” she referred to an article by a sociologist who was looking at the feminization of the veterinary profession. Dr. Bradley said one of the author’s theories for why more women were entering the profession was the potential for flexible or part-time work throughout their career and life stages, especially with the emergence of emergency practices that did not require one to be on call. The author also pointed to the emergence of corporate practices that clearly defined compensation packages, decreasing the need for negotiating skills.“It certainly can be flexible,” Dr. Bradley said, “but there aren’t that many jobs where you (can) see patients and do things from home.”

Dr. Bradley said one of the top three reasons men and women didn’t want to be a practice owner, according to the 2012 Veterinary Economics Business Issues Survey, was that they didn’t want to give up more of their personal  family time. Yet, being an owner lets one make influential decisions, she said, such as when you work, with whom you work, and the work culture.

“One of the things that has probably made this worse is social media,” which can present the illusion of professionals leading a perfectly balanced existence, Dr. Bradley said.

Dr. Strand, an associate clinical professor and founding director of the Veterinary Social Work program at the University of Tennessee, spoke on “Stomping Out Compassion Fatigue.” She said, “One definition of well-being is that the resources you have equal the demands you have on you.”

She surveyed veterinarians in her county and then those at UT about workday well-being. “For many in veterinary medicine, there’s not even a map for what well-being is. That’s what we’re going to do is start creating a map,” she said. Following the session, she said this figurative map that the profession is making for what being a “good vet” means must include self-care to keep oneself well.

She singled out four areas that affect well-being: moral stress, adverse childhood events, integration of differences and making connections, and neural integration. Adverse childhood events affect how the hippocampus operates and one’s ability to let go of worries. Neural integration means all three parts of the brain are operating together.

“What action steps should be considered?” Dr. Strand asked. Among her recommendations, she encourages mindfulness training and a focus on neural integration. Mindfulness-based stress reduction involves meditation, without a religious focus. To locate training on how to be in the present moment, type “MBSR” into a search engine. 

The 2014-2015 Future Leaders

Dr. Strand talked about Dan Siegel, MD. He defines neural integration as differentiation of distinct streams of awareness and cultivation of well-being. According to his research, happiness is 50 percent genetic, 10 percent determined by life circumstances, and 40 percent related to state of mind. His Healthy Mind Platter calls for seven essential mental activities: sleep time, physical time, focus time, time in (meditation time), downtime, playtime, and connecting time. 

Dr. Strand encourages eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids and yogurt, and getting plenty of sleep.

Dr. Bradley challenged veterinarians to let go of their expectations of perfection, find a family-friendly workplace, engage a life coach or take a meditation course, and get involved in organized veterinary medicine as well as the community.

“Give yourself time for your ‘want to do’ list,” she said. “And on your most frazzled days, look at what you’ve accomplished.”

The third program speaker was April Kedrowitz, PhD, assistant professor of communication at North Carolina State University, on “Defeating the Difficult Conversation,” which explored ways to begin and handle difficult conversations. 

A panel discussion concluded the program. The following day, the speakers joined 14 other professionals at a roundtable where participants could engage in deeper discussion of workplace wellness issues. 

More to come

The AVMA Board of Directors at its July 8 meeting in Boston directed executive staff to develop an action plan on professional wellness for consideration at the Board’s Sept. 10-12 meeting. The plan will take into account the proposals from the report submitted to the BOD by the 2014-2015 Future Leaders. Their recommendations included having the AVMA establish a program similar to the Partners for Healthy Pets collaboration of experts, organizations, and industry. 

AVMA CEO Ron DeHaven said, “I’m pleased that our Board, inspired by the extensive research conducted by the members of our 2014-2015 Future Leaders Program, have charged AVMA staff leadership to develop an action plan on professional wellness.”

In his Sept. 1, 2015, JAVMA column, AVMA President Joe Kinnarney wrote, “It is our hope that the AVMA can help serve as a trusted convener of the many groups that have an interest in veterinarians’ wellness and that, together, we can help ensure the development and success of programs that will assist those we call colleagues and friends.”

The 2015-2016 class of Future Leaders will meet at AVMA headquarters Sept. 10-12. Dr. Lynne White-Shim, AVMA staff consultant to the Future Leaders Program, said this new class will also focus on wellness, building on the outputs from last year’s class.


Resources on the many facets of wellness have been developed for veterinarians on the Wellness and Peer Review Assistance landing page on the AVMA website, A self-assessment tool, podcasts, links to other sites and videos, and reading recommendations are among the resources.


The newest Future Leaders

The 10 veterinarians selected as the 2015-2016 class of AVMA Future Leaders were announced this July during the Association’s Annual Convention in Boston.

They are Drs. Aimee Eggleston Ahearn of Woodstock, Illinois; Sarah Allison of Urbana, Illinois; Cyndie Courtney of Lawrence, Kansas; Corinn Hardy of Chicago; Raphael Anthony Malbrue of Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jennifer Quammen of Butler, Kentucky; Will Sander of Washington, D.C.; Aleisha Swartz of Honolulu; Seth Wexler of Raleigh, North Carolina; and Andrea Zedek of Greenville, South Carolina.

Started in 2011 and sponsored by Zoetis, the AVMA Future Leaders Program is a holistic approach to leadership development. The goal is to develop the strengths and talents of veterinarians, promoting their leadership skills for the benefit of the veterinary workplace, society, and especially the profession through leadership in organized veterinary medicine.

Participants complete assessments and identify their short- and long-term goals with a professional facilitator—Ken Andrews, PhD—while also fostering individual relationships with prominent veterinarians and participating in leadership lectures. The program is in addition to the participants’ full-time careers.

Additionally, each Future Leaders class works as a team to develop novel, usable resources for AVMA members, thus strengthening team building and project management skills.

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