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Straight from the horse doctor's mouth: Why wellness matters

Sep 27, 2017

My phone rang again at 2:00 a.m. It was the third night in a row for me to admit a sick foal into the ICU, and it was only March. It would be another six weeks before we were on the other side of foaling season. I was thankful for the work. But, as I searched the dark bedroom for some warm clothes – careful not to disturb my sleeping wife – I began to think about how was I going to not be doing this in ten years. 

I love equine practice. I've spent years of internship and residency honing my skills and acquiring knowledge. I was excited by the opportunity to use those for the profession and my patients. The not  was the figuring out how to avoid the part of practice that was literally sucking the energy from my body and my enthusiasm for my profession. I was smelling ‘burn out’ from 10 feet away with no chance for a reprieve. Would this just be the way it was going to be? My kids were getting out of diapers and starting school, which meant there were now important ‘once in a lifetime’ events for me to attend.  

Events and people I had said were the most important things in life to me. 

Could I really establish work-life balance that allowed me to walk the walk, not just tell my kids how important they were to me or how much I loved them?

How would I do that while on call, or trying to manage intensive cases in the hospital on the weekends? After reading countless books on working smarter, not harder, how could I put that into action? This night ten years ago was an inflection point for me and my career; one that many veterinarians struggle with.  

Inflection points are times to make considerations for what is important in life. Like a ship identifying and then steering away from a shallow shoal prior to running aground, it is always better to make such decisions before disastrous situations. Lengthy discussions with colleagues, friends, family, and more outside reading helped me to define several categories of things that were important to me.

These categories, or pillars, became my dashboard to life; my Complete Blood Profile, my minimum database, my ‘full set’ of radiographs. Keep these numbers in the black and you’re doing ok. Let them drop into the red and you’re heading for a crisis. My dashboard started to look like:

  • Finances: Did I have a financial plan? Was I living below my means, avoiding debt, saving for the future and creating long-term investments?
  • Physical Health: What was I eating? Was I exercising? How could I avoid the coronary artery disease and cancer that had killed my dad? Was I dealing with existing conditions appropriately?
  • Occupational Health: Did I find satisfaction in my job and my relationship to my colleagues and clients? Was I using my best set of skills to help others?
  • Emotional Health:  How was I relating to those that I would rank as most important in life? Was I making time for family and friends? Were my priorities set? How did I feel about myself? What kind of mindset was I operating from?
  • Spiritual Health: What values were important to me in my life and was I living a life consistent with those values? What was life’s meaning and what sense of purpose did I have?

I came to realize that it was not possible to have all these categories sitting in a ‘high-normal’ level, or for them to be even remotely balanced from an equality standpoint. But, I could now at least see the forest that represented my life and sort out what trees needed watering and fertilizing before any of them died. Broken marriages, estranged children, failed health, financial ruin, depression and professional burn-out were just a few of the big crises I was hoping to avoid.

The idea of Wellness really was novel to me. I always thought of Wellness as some sort of hippie movement, a real touchy feely sort of thing that people pointed to when they didn’t want to gird up and deal with stuff like they ought to. A little self-discovery allowed me to find out that wellness,

  • "...a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." - The World Health Organization”

was actually the term for looking at my dashboard. It represented a holistic view of ‘how in the hell are you doing’ in life? I knocked the hippie feel-good flair off of the idea and with the help of many in the AAEP, began to see how we could begin to incorporate our individual quests for a balanced life full of job satisfaction, financial freedom, meaningful relationships with those close to us, bodily health and a real sense of purpose in everything that we did as an organization. 

As horse doctors, we’re only able to help those in need if we take care of ourselves. Like the flight attendant says, if you see the O2 masks drop from the ceiling, place yours on before helping others.  As an organization, as members and as colleagues, we need to make sure that we are indeed taking care of ourselves as completely as possible.  

A real Healthy Practice truly represents a fulfilling career on every imaginable level. This blog and the wellness section on aaep.org are intended to help with circumstances like my inflection point in the middle of the night nearly a decade ago. This may include feeling submerged by student debt or having a difficult working relationship with an in-town colleague or coworker. The thing is that we all share these issues together and we can all use our experiences to help each other through them, or at least to laugh at life’s bad hands together. Your comments and suggestions for topics are most welcome.

The AAEP as a Wellness advocate:

While the AAEP doesn’t pretend to be a place for counseling or nutrition advice, we do choose to provide good options for our colleagues and members so each of us can find those difficult solutions and choices easier to make. From early morning runs at the convention, financial seminars and other wellness topics in the lecture halls, health fairs in the tradeshow, healthier food and beverage options at all venues, to substance abuse meetings for recovering addicts and social dine-arounds at summer symposiums and even this blog site, the AAEP wishes you every opportunity to be the best version of yourself so that you can have a truly Healthy Practice. 

In health and prosperity,

Rob

Rob Franklin, DVM
AAEP Director and Chairman of the Wellness Taskforce

Rob Franklin, DVM Dip.ACVIM is an equine consultant, entrepreneur, philanthropist and practice owner in Texas. He has headed ICU’s in Florida, Texas and Australia, lectured at conferences in most parts in between and written a few papers and book chapters. Rob has served as co-founder and president of the Texas Equine Veterinary Association, director of the Florida Association of Equine Practitioners, director of the Equitarian Initiative, is a current director of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and is the chair of the AAEP Wellness Taskforce.