Veterinary social worker offers help for those who offer help to animals
Erin Wasson is latest guest on YXE Underground
A veterinarian feeling overworked. A student feeling overwhelmed. A family feeling crushed by the loss of their pet.
These are the types of scenarios Erin Wasson confronts.
Wasson is a social worker at the University of Saskatchewan's Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). She provides support and referral to students, faculty and staff along with counselling and support for clients using the college's clinics.
It's an uncommon position within veterinary and animal science work, but studies are starting to show the mental health challenges veterinarians and animal protection workers face.
"I think a lot of veterinarians and animal protection officers will tell you that they don't have a lot of people that they can talk about their day with," Wasson said while sitting in her office at the WCVM.
Mental health challenges
Dr. Sarah Bater said veterinarians face a host of challenges, which can lead to mental health fatigue, in their daily work. Bater is a veterinarian at Saskatoon's Central Animal Hospital and says busy caseloads, trauma exposure, euthanasia, lack of work-life balance and the inability to communicate directly with her clients can all lead to workplace stress.
Then there's the stress associated with money.
"It's hard to explain to families that we're not trying to steal money from them and that we're not overcharging them, but that's just actually what it costs. It costs money to pay the rent and the staff and [for] the medical supplies," Bater said.
Wasson said she hopes people come to see her when these challenges reach a tipping point. Her main goal is giving people the tools to feel supported and ensure they have access to mental health services.
The wider world wants to hear about puppies and kitties and 'Oh, it must be so great that you spend all day with puppies and kitties.' That's not the veterinary experience.- Erin Wasson
"Veterinarians, with how discerning they are in their work, they're also discerning in the type of practitioner they want to see," Wasson said.
"Being able to have a conversation with somebody that they trust, who has some credibility with them because I work alongside them, and then be able to redirect them to the appropriate services available to them, removes barriers."
'She's perfect for this role'
Wasson said there are veterinarians across Saskatchewan who are struggling to find someone to talk with about the highs and lows of the job.
"The wider world doesn't want to hear about those parts. The wider world wants to hear about puppies and kitties and 'Oh, it must be so great that you spend all day with puppies and kitties.' That's not the veterinary experience," Wasson said.
Dr. Bater is thankful that Wasson's role exists at the WCVM. They both attended Aden Bowman Collegiate in Saskatoon and have been friends for years.
"I think she's perfect for this role because this institution, the WCVM, has lots of people doing tough stuff," said Bater.
"Erin is able to help everyone from students who are having a hard time getting through the program to family members who are stressed and overworked. She also deals with a lot of clients. I think people didn't know they could talk to a grief counsellor about their pet, but Erin is just that person."
Wasson, whose mother is a counsellor in Saskatoon, grew up loving animals. She has two cats and a horse that she barrel races with.
She said she has found a good home at the WCVM.
"I just feel really lucky to be doing work that is congruent with my social work values, and congruent with who I am as a person, in a way that's really supported."
This article is based on an episode of YXE Underground. It's a podcast focusing on people in Saskatoon who are making a difference in the community but are not receiving the attention they deserve in social or mainstream media. You can listen to YXE Underground here. You can also download episodes on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice.