That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Aoife Smith about Athenas Mind Veterinary, her well-being hub for veterinary professionals and The Vetglow Podcast.
“I come from Blanchardstown in Dublin, and I graduated with a BSc. Veterinary Nursing from UCD in 2014 at the ripe age of 21.
I worked as an RVN for approximately two months. I then went on to go to drama school for two years, worked a mixed bag of jobs from retail to insurance, moved to Australia, and then came home and qualified with a BA H.Dip Psychology in 2020.
Currently, I am pursuing a Masters in Counselling and Psychotherapy, and while studying, I am working between recruitment and running my own business, Athenas Mind Veterinary.
Athenas Mind Veterinary is a well-being hub for veterinary professionals in Ireland and beyond. I offer 1:1 coaching, practice talks/workshops, a bit of craic over on my Instagram @athenasmindveterinary, and loads of information and help on my podcast, The Vetglow Podcast.
The Vetglow Podcast
Moreover, I launched my podcast in October 2020, and my target listeners are veterinary professionals around the world. I explore all things self-development, mental health, mindset, and self-care.
As I always feel super inspired when I record, I will usually sit down for an hour-long episode and then schedule it for that coming Monday.
Most of the time, there is very little editing to be done, as I love the organic nature of the podcast space. I want Team Athena to feel like they are just chatting on the phone with their big sister when they listen in.
Recently, I have had the pleasure of speaking with some wonderful people like Katie Ford, Claire Grigson, and Bobby Ortiz.
I am looking forward to doing more interviews and having more exciting conversations going forward.
So far, I have four seasons and some impromptu episodes, so approximately 45. I have lost count because I am having too much fun!
People can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever they get their podcasts from- it is pretty much everywhere.
My interest in veterinary began as a young child – I have always loved and wanted to help animals.
I thought that I wanted to be a vet at first; however, when I looked into the various career options a little more, I realised that the nursing end of things was right up my street.
I do not have a farming background; however, my nan is from Co. Galway, and I spent most weekends and summers there as a teenager.
So being surrounded by relatives who work on farms and having an odd chat with the cows out the back were a regular occurrence.
I knew that veterinary nursing was not right for me, but I also knew that taking care of animals very much was.
I am still passionate about animal welfare and getting the best veterinary care possible for animals who need it. Animals still sit at the top of my priority list even now.
My aim is to ensure that they get excellent care by making sure that veterinary staff are cared for and psychologically supported.
I am adding to my psychology qualification with a Masters in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy from ICHAS.
Integrative counselling allows me to support the individual in front of me and facilitates my embracing of their uniqueness and nuanced experiences.
This will hopefully serve me well when I expand Athenas Mind Veterinary to include psychotherapy services specifically tailored to veterinary staff, who currently do not have any specialised mental health care in Ireland.
I cannot wait to get started and really help the veterinary community, which has been through so much recently.
I am most passionate about making sure that animals are taken care of by making sure that veterinary staff and their mental health are taken care of.
Mental health stats
The mental health statistics within international veterinary communities are devastating.
In Australia, approximately 70% of vet staff in one survey disclosed that they had lost a colleague/peer to suicide.
In the UK, vets are four times more likely to end their own life in comparison to the general population.
Unfortunately, in Ireland, psychological research on veterinary staff is virtually non-existent.
However, the VCI did gather and publish some valuable data in 2022.
My own research on compassion fatigue, stress, and self-care participation among Ireland’s veterinary professionals showed that moderate stress levels were present within the sample, and burnout was a risk.
It seems that the Covid 19 pandemic has really shone a light on the cracks in the pavement.
Stress and burnout
Veterinary nurses specifically seem to be feeling stress and burnout the most, and the VCI’s stats do correlate with this.
In my own research, causes of poor self-care participation ranged from very long hours, unpredictable hours/events, financial concerns, and little or no support from colleagues or management.
We know from other international research that self-care promotes mental well-being, so without this, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy mind.
Boundaries are extremely important within the veterinary profession, as without any boundaries, veterinary staff are at their practice’s disposal.
Being able to collaborate with management and your team to ensure that you leave work on time, get your breaks (which are a legal requirement!), and your time off is absolutely essential.
I think we need to take a good look at the way that we are currently running our practices and communicating with each other.
Unpaid overtime, no annual leave/making it difficult to take annual leave, and paying staff over their lunches in order to get them to work without a break, is not appropriate.
Mental health tips
Curate a realistic and enjoyable self-care routine for yourself that incorporates things you love.
You do not have to spend thousands on a retreat to Bali to take care of yourself – A cup of tea can be self-care, so get creative.
Counselling/psychotherapy is an excellent way to sit with and work with yourself in a safe environment, so I recommend that all veterinary staff, in particular, give psychotherapy a go.
Finally, keep your boundaries firm and your communication on point so that it is easier for you to make time for yourself in the long run.
In terms of my own plans, I do not intend to return to veterinary nursing for now – I am having too much fun growing my business and connecting with the community.
However, I do miss it sometimes. It is a very handy skill set to have when my own dog, or a family member’s pet, needs some TLC.”
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