Nova Scotia

National veterinary convention focuses on workplace challenges

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association held its annual convention in Halifax this week, focusing on addressing workplace challenges. The main summit discussed the nationwide shortage of veterinary workers and the associated stress and burnout.

2020 study showed vets have over double the risk of suicidal thoughts than general population

Dr. Trevor Lawson treats companion animals and large animals, like horses. (Submitted by Dr. Trevor Lawson)

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association held its annual convention in Halifax this week, focusing on addressing workplace challenges.

The main summit discussed the nationwide shortage of veterinary workers and the associated stress and burnout.

"There was a bit of a tipping point that happened in the last few years," said Dr. Trevor Lawson, a Nova Scotia veterinarian and the president-elect of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. 

"The team generally wants to do everything they can, but with limited resources, often maybe not being able to achieve what they need to do. So, there's a lot of … damage that can be caused by that."

The Ontario Veterinary College published research in 2020 saying over one-quarter of Canadian veterinarians had experienced suicidal thoughts within the previous year. It also cited significantly higher rates of burnout, anxiety and depression than the general population.

Dr. Leann Benedetti experiences the day-to-day struggles of veterinary life. She decided to become a certified executive coach to help others in her field find some relief.

The convention involved summits, workshops and continuing education. (Victoria Welland/ CBC)

"We know we want to have better emotional and mental health," said Benedetti. "We know that that's the goal. And what we're missing is 'the how' because we're so emotionally invested in our patients and our clients and our contribution to the community."

She said the conference has allowed organizations, clinics and colleges from across the country to openly discuss work-related stress. 

She hosted a series of coaching workshops at the convention.

"What I want to do is remind them that we always stand in choice, and that we have a lot of control over our actions and behaviours about how to choose wisely for ourselves and and in honour of our patients and in service to our clients."

Both Benedetti and Lawson emphasized the significant investment into mental health resources for veterinary professionals over the last few years.

Lawson has a vet practice based in Shubenacadie and Truro. (Victoria Welland/ CBC)

In order to relieve some of the workplace stress, Lawson said there needs to be a focus on solving the workforce shortage.

Part of that, he said, is improving the rural vet experience.

"If we put them into a position where they're overwhelmed, then retaining them is not very likely. So I think we have to find solutions to that."

He also said discussions are ongoing on how to graduate more veterinary professionals and encourage immigration to alleviate staff shortages.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Victoria Welland is a reporter with CBC Nova Scotia. You can reach her at victoria.welland@cbc.ca

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