Tell us a bit about yourselfContents hide3 How did you come across the Veterinary Profession and what made you pursue your goal of helping veterinary professionals improve their well-being?4 What can you tell us about the seriousness of the situation? Is it true that more and more veterinary professionals are coping with so much stress?
Hi, I’m Dr. Nadine Hamilton, a psychologist based on the Gold Coast, Australia.
When I was 15 years old I failed all of my fifth form exams at high school. My parents gave me an ultimatum – find a job, or return to high school and repeat the fifth form. Needless to say, I decided to join the workforce as I hated school! However, I vividly remember going to work one day and driving past one of the universities thinking I would never be able to go to university because I flunked high school. How wrong I was!
While I have always been passionate about animals and wanted to become a veterinarian, I learned very early on that I was way too queasy – plus I didn’t think it would be possible because of my failure at high school. I also knew there was ‘something’ about euthanizing pets that would be very distressing for veterinary professionals, which in a strange twist of fate, I found myself researching in-depth at the doctoral level.
Can you tell us about your profession as a psychologist?
I completed my Bachelor of Science (Psychology) degree in 2003 at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) and Postgraduate Diploma in Psychology in 2004 at Bond University. I commenced working in occupational rehabilitation in 2004 in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory, and later worked in training, counseling, and TAFE teaching roles. In 2007 I completed a Master of Training and Development degree, then thought I was finished studying. However, I couldn’t resist the temptation to learn more, so in 2009 I embarked on my Doctor of Education degree which I successfully completed in 2016. In late-2018 I commenced a Ph.D. to further my studies into veterinary wellbeing. I
During this time I owned and operated my own private counseling practice and later worked in both academic and management positions. However, it is my work with veterinary professionals that I am most passionate about and I currently work exclusively with the veterinary industry.
How did you come across the Veterinary Profession and what made you pursue your goal of helping veterinary professionals improve their well-being?
I always wanted to be a veterinarian, but realized I was way too queasy to pursue it! Then back in 1996 when I was searching for my ‘calling’ and had decided to apply to study psychology at university, one of my dear cousins, Andrew, committed suicide. His death rocked our world and had a significant impact on me – it was at that moment I knew I wanted to work with people who were suicidal. However, I still had that yearning to be involved with the veterinary industry…..cue another twist of fate. This time it was a chance encounter with a locum veterinarian at our local veterinary practice, who randomly asked me what I did for work. I told her I was a psychologist, and she mentioned the high suicide rate within the veterinary profession. Well – that was all the motivation I needed to get proactive and determined to do something about it!
What can you tell us about the seriousness of the situation? Is it true that more and more veterinary professionals are coping with so much stress?
Sadly the issues within the veterinary profession are very serious. My research found that veterinarians are twice as likely as other health professionals, and four-times as likely as the general population, to commit suicide. In Australia, the statistics are reported at approximately one suicide every 12 weeks. Again, in my research, I found the main contributors to the high burnout and suicide were dealing with difficult clients, compassion fatigue, financial concerns, performing euthanasia, and dealing with unrealistic expectations. I constantly hear stories from veterinary professionals who are dealing with abuse, threats, snide remarks, and general rudeness on a daily basis – which I believe exacerbates the issues they are already dealing with.
Tell us a bit more about your project: Positive Psych Solutions
My company Positive Psych Solutions is a psychology practice on the Gold Coast, Australia. I work exclusively with individuals and organizations on wellbeing within the veterinary industry. While others may only deal with the surface-level issues, as a psychologist I dig deeper to try and reveal the real issues – the stuff underneath the surface that is quite likely holding people back. I firmly believe that real and lasting change will not happen by dealing with ‘band-aid’ solutions – those that only touch the tip of the iceberg and are generally masking the things that are really going on.
In 2017 I started working on a campaign I founded called “Love Your Pet Love Your Vet” to try and create a paradigm shift within the veterinary profession. I partnered with Royal Canin Australia to help raise community awareness of the issues facing our veterinary professionals, to reduce stigma in veterinary professionals seeking help, and to provide psychological and educational support to veterinary professionals. We officially launched the campaign in April 2018 and it has grown enormously since then. We have now reached over 45 countries on Facebook alone!
What is your advice for our readers?
Please don’t suffer in silence or let shame or fear get in the way of speaking up and seeking help. Also, remind yourself that no-one is perfect (there really is no such thing), and you shouldn’t try and push yourself to the limits (and beyond) striving for the perfection that doesn’t exist. I personally admire and respect people who value themselves enough to be able to acknowledge they are not coping and take proactive steps to seek help.
Can you tell us something more about your new book?
My book “Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian” is based on my doctoral research. The second half of the book contains a self-help guide based on my “Coping and Wellbeing Program for Veterinary Professionals”, which is the intervention I delivered to veterinary participants during my doctoral research, achieving statistical significance in reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and negative effect. It’s been labeled as more than just a book – it’s a mental health intervention, self-help guide, and educational resource all in one!