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Zen and the Art of Veterinary Mental Health Maintenance

Person playing guitar outside on a sunny evening

How rediscovering my inner artist has made me a more resilient veterinarian

I have always been an art student stuck in a science student’s body. Though I knew that I would one day become a veterinarian, I remember my mom always telling me, “You are equally left and right brained.”  To further support this point, my very British grandma was a lover of all animals, as well as an accomplished artist.  And so it is not a surprise that my passion for both the arts and veterinary medicine were nurtured side by side, often over a cup of tea in my grandma’s kitchen.

“Veterinary school was an entirely different beast”

During my undergraduate studies, I supplemented all of my core courses with English literature, French literature and social psychology.  I even found some time to keep up with my watercolour paintings and playing the guitar.  However veterinary school was an entirely different beast. It wasn’t long before my artistic side took a back seat to my studies.

It was a couple of years after I graduated with my veterinary degree that I rediscovered a part of my identity that I had mistakenly dismissed for all of those years in school.  At the time I was on call, and working in the same mixed animal practice that I work in today.  It had been a rough weekend on call: colic, a cut horse, vomiting dog, euthanasia…the list goes on. I was tired, admittedly grumpy, and longing for those days at my grandma’s house when we would paint, sketch and sculpt for hours. I felt as though a little grumpy cloud was growing bigger by the day, and casting a shadow on my career. So in that moment, I decided that perhaps what I really needed was a reunion with my inner art student.  

What has happened since that fateful day is purely happenstance. Being that I was on call, I couldn’t use my watercolours and risk leaving in the middle of a painting.  So I started to sketch a few scenes with a set of ink pens that I had picked up years ago.  Then I started to sketch a few animals, at first focusing on wildlife but then a few dogs and cats. I started to do this almost weekly as a way to relax, escape, and connect with my inner art student that had nearly been forgotten.  Before long, friends and family were requesting to commission custom pet portraits.  This continued to snowball into the launch of my humble pet portrait business that I call Ink Naturally. I set up an Etsy shop, and I am commissioned to do pet portraits all over the world.  Not only do I enjoy doing this, but it also funds my second passion, which is travelling.

“We are all more than veterinarians”

As veterinarians, we identify so strongly with our profession as part of who we are as a person.  This is an incredibly special facet of our job.  However I think it is important to realize, that we are all more than veterinarians.  You may also be a musician, cook, writer, carpenter, farmer, traveller, or parent. And those things can be as much of who you are, as is your role as a doctor of veterinary medicine.  It is important to nurture those passions, because let’s face it, our job can be difficult and emotionally draining.

We are guaranteed to have many good days, but we will all inevitably experience some tough ones too.  Being able to seek refuge within a passion outside of veterinary medicine, and recharge your body and mind, is a sure-fire way to keep those grumpy clouds away.

If you found this article on how to avoid burnout in veterinary medicine useful, why not check out our 'So You're a Vet... Now What?' course for essential lessons they don't teach in vet school!

So You're A Vet Now What Course Advert, The Twelve Module Training Program by Dr Dave Nicol


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