Today we’re going to spend time with Dr Vanessa Johnson.  Vanessa’s a proud new Aunt to her baby niece, Maggie, and has two guinea pigs and a cat.

As you’ll hear from Vanessa’s accent – she’s not a kiwi – she left her family and friends in Canada to come to New Zealand 8 years ago to fulfil her dreams of studying in NZ to become a veterinarian … she’s lived here ever since!

Vanessa is a recent Massey University graduate with 3 years experience who works in a busy South Auckland practice as their fulltime companion animal veterinarian.

When she’s not working, she keeps active at the gym, and enjoys learning Japanese and water-colour painting.

Dr. Vanessa’s partner is a nurse who’s about to undertake the daunting challenge of med school this month. 

Vanessa believes having a great support network and forming good mental health habits is instrumental to success.

Today we’re going to learn of some of the good mental habits Vanessa has formed and the benefits she’s noticed from having them as part of her life. 

She shares what she does when she notices thoughts of Imposter Syndrome, negativity and the importance of keeping a Gratitude Journal as a part of her every day life.

I started off by asking Vanessa why did she come to New Zealand to study veterinary medicine?

It’s easy to have preconceived ideas about what something is going to be like.  I wanted to know whether Godzone Aotearoa NZ was what she thought it would be.

As with everything in life, it’s really easy to take lots of things for granted.  Until they’re no longer around FOR us to take for granted.  It’s only then that we appreciate what we had.

Today, lots of things are measured, or compared, before / after Lockdown.  Or before / after the pandemic. 

One of the things Vanessa noticed that she missed during Lockdown was the human interaction with her patients’ owners.   She shares how she got around this.

Also, having to turn people away during AL4 – which was emergencies only – was very hard for her.

Vanessa thinks telemedicine is underutilised as a consult tool.  She shares some of what she regards as its limitations as well as the upside of including telemedicine as a means of consultation.

As I’m sure most listeners will agree – when the going gets tough, we put on our game faces, turn up at work and do what needs to be done.  Because we have to.  Sometimes because there’s no one else. 

That’s the public persona – the face or the mask, we put on each day.

But what about when we get home?  When we don’t have to wear that mask? 

What was AL4 lockdown like for Vanessa?  How did she, the Canadian woman – whose family was in a completely different timezone and hemisphere, cope?

What about the rest of her team? 

How did Vanessa maintain her sanity during AL4 when everyone was learning not only what the “rules” were – emergency medicine only – but when life as she knew it had been drastically altered, but yet when she was still expected to be present and professional.

New Zealand has collectively held its breath over the last few weeks – wondering whether the three community cases of Covid-19 are going to result in another Lockdown with regional borders closed. 

Auckland has already gone back into Lockdown while the rest of NZ it was “business as usual”. 

How did Vanessa find going back into Lockdown in August – what was it like then?

So that was then, and this is now – what is life like now?  Do we truly have a veterinary shortage or is it all just words?

Sometimes it’s not always possible for a patient to get into their regular clinic and they need to knock on a few doors to get an appointment.  

Vanessa talks about what it’s like when she’s the second or third veterinarian involved in a patient’s care – how she has to spend time at the weekend swotting up on notes so that when the patient visits, she’s got an idea about its history.

But sometimes that’s not always possible which adds a whole new level of complexity and pressure to the treating veterinarian.

Being a veterinarian is stressful.

The stress is probably not something most parents of fur babies have given much thought to.  They take their pet to their favourite clinic and veterinarian – when they can get in – and they’re greeted by a smiling, willing, capable, friend and fully competent doctor.

But ask any veterinarian and they’ll tell you the stress is real and it’s only getting worse. 

What strategies has Vanessa adopted into her life to keep her life on an even keel.

I really like how Vanessa’s team handles client complaints – not that they happen very often – but the system she and her team have in place supports all of them in being able to strategically remove themselves from the heat of the moment. 

That was Vanessa Johnson being very candid, vulnerable and honest about life for her as a veterinarian through 2020 and into January 2021.   Vanessa and I recorded this show mid-January so hopefully, she’s gotten to take that annual leave she mentioned and had a much-needed break. 

Here are my six takeaways from this chat with Vanessa – I’m really interested to hear what was most significant for you and what particularly struck a chord in your life which you might adopt.

#1 – Exercise

Exercise – design your own version of a Stomp Around the Block as your way of decompressing at the end of each day. 

One of my NY resolutions is to get back into yoga again and to walk around the block.  

Through January I averaged a walk every second day.  Better than every third day but not “most” days. 

With the yoga I found a calendar on the Internet which had all the months in words – January, February, etc and then each word divided into segments according to the number of days in the month. 

So “January” had 31 segments, February 28, etc.  

I decided that every day I did at least 10 minutes of yoga I’ll colour in a segment. 

The idea is to have each month fully coloured in. 

I’ll upload a photo of that on the show notes page of Paws Claws & Wet Noses so you can see what I’m on about. 

I’ll also have the blank PDF available as a download if you’d like to use it in your life. 

Some people might think it’s childish – but, as stupid as it sounds, it’s actually quite motivating.  

There were a couple of days in January where it was only the thought of having a white gap in my colouring that motivated me enough to do my ten minutes of yoga that day. 

#2 – share your day

Find someone to share the ups and the downs of your day – every day.  

If you live alone and you feel uncomfortable sharing the good and the bad, then record your day in a journal – but get it out of your head so you don’t dwell on the bad stuff. 

Clear the cache of your mind each day so you don’t bet bogged down in the ikky stuff.

#3 – Attitude of Gratitude

Look for the good every day – attitude of gratitude journal.  

Like I mentioned to Vanessa – I’ve been journaling for years and years. 

To start with, I told myself I was too busy to waste time writing in a journal… and then what would I write about anyway?  

There were days when I didn’t know what to write – so I wrote how stupid I felt writing about nothing…

I was surprised at what flowed from there.  

Now I journal each morning – with my cup of coffee. 

I make a point of listing at least three things I’m grateful about my life – usually in reflection of the previous day. 

Some people, like Vanessa, journal at the end of their day and are grateful for the day they’ve just had. 

Sometimes, I struggle to be grateful for three things. 

Sometimes all I can think about are the fact I got the washing dry outside on the line and didn’t have to resort to the clothes airer inside. 

Or I got to eat dinner at a reasonable time and not at nine or ten o’clock at night.  Stupid things.  Insignificant things to anyone else. 

But I always look back for three good things.  Doing this for years, I believe, has helped me keep my mind mostly healthy. 

Like Vanessa said:  some people have to watch what they eat, others have to watch what they think.  I have to watch both!

#4 – cognisance of self-talk / chatter

Stay tuned to the thoughts going through your head – reset your brain when you start to hear Imposter-Syndrome type self-chatter going on. 

I’m really conscious of what I “allow” into my head. 

We don’t have a TV in our house and haven’t had one for years.  Do we miss it?  Nah!  We don’t. 

Also, the radio is very rarely on.  There’s no background noise. 

Some people find it strange and maybe even uncomfortable when they visit because it’s just so quiet. 

Both of us – my husband and I – are conscious of the drivel that’s on the airwaves – all the bad news … the doom and gloom … I don’t want that “stuff” taking up space in my head. 

When I’m driving I’m listening to podcasts – I’m selective about what I allow in – I want the words that fill my head to be good quality and educational. 

I guess a parallel to this could be someone who only eats organic food.  I’d love to be able to afford to only eat organic food, but I don’t… but I feed my mind with healthy thoughts.

#5 – get out at lunchtime

Get away from the clinic at lunchtime – get some fresh air so you can mini-recharge during the day.  

You’d be surprised at how energising a simple walk can be.  Especially when you don’t feel like it, that’s when it’s most important that you do it. 

Even if it’s pouring down with rain.  Make sure you’ve got a change of clothes with you. 

Plug in your earbuds, tune into a podcast and go get some fresh air.  It really will energise you for the rest of the day.

#6 – distance yourself from customer complaints

Distance yourself from customer complaints by sharing them around your team.

Think about having a practice that people in your team don’t try to “defend” their own customer complaints. 

Like Vanessa said, it allows people to distance themselves away from the heat of the moment. 

Do you have any of these strategies in your life and/or clinic?  Do you have variations on these?  If you do, I’m sure other listeners will be interested to hear what they are, so please feel free to comment or send me an email – julie@vetstaff.co.nz.

Thank you for listening to Paws Claws & Wet Noses – if you liked this episode I’d really appreciate it if you left us a review on Apple – it makes such a difference in helping others find this show – I’m sure you know how algorithms work.  

If you like listening to Paws Claws & Wet Noses you can subscribe to wherever you’re listening to this episode by clicking the subscribe button – on Spotify, Apple, iHeartRadio, etc – that way you’ll never miss a future episode.

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resources mentioned in episode 012

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