National veterinary convention focuses on workplace challenges

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

The main summit discussed the national shortage of veterinary workers and the stress and burnout associated with it.

“There’s been a bit of a tipping point over the past few years,” said Dr. Trevor Lawson, a Nova Scotia veterinarian and president-elect of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

“The team usually wants to do everything they can, but with limited resources often may not be 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 released research in 2020 indicating that more than a quarter of Canadian veterinarians had had suicidal thoughts in the past year. He also cited significantly higher rates of burnout, anxiety and depression than the general population.

Dr. Leann Benedetti experiences the daily difficulties of veterinary life. She decided to become a Certified Executive Coach to help others in her field find relief.

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

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

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

She facilitated a series of coaching workshops during the convention.

“What I want to do is remind them that we always have a choice and we have a lot of control over our actions and behaviors about how to choose wisely for ourselves and in honor of our patients and at the service of our customers.”

Both Benedetti and Lawson pointed to the significant investment in mental health resources for veterinary professionals in recent years.

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

In order to relieve some of the stress at work, Lawson said the focus needs to be on solving the labor shortage.

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

“If we put them in a position where they’re overwhelmed, they’re unlikely to be held back. So I think we need to find solutions to that.”

He also said discussions were underway on how to train more veterinary professionals and encourage immigration to ease staffing shortages.

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