I started volunteering for Vetlife in 2014. Working as a vet in practice threw plenty of challenges my way, but I was at a stage in my career where I wanted to try something new. I wanted to contribute something to the wider profession, but that was difficult to achieve while I was also committed to practice and family life. Here was an opportunity to do something positive, useful and interesting. I hadn’t done anything like this before and I was initially unsure it was for me. However, by speaking with other Vetlife volunteers and after a comprehensive and eye-opening training programme, I was encouraged to join the team of volunteers. Six years and many calls later, I’m very glad I did. Volunteering for Vetlife was also something I could do from home – I live in rural Wales – and shifts are flexible so I can fit them around family and clinical commitments.
A challenging profession
I find it really sad that veterinary practice can be so tough at times and that work-related pressure can overwhelm even the most cheerful and outwardly resilient colleagues at times. Vetlife is also there for vets and nurses in non-clinical roles and volunteers also speak to students (nursing and veterinary) who need support during their training. Very often callers are coping with problems completely unrelated to work, and it’s fine for people to call and talk about anything which is bothering them. We are simply here to provide an attentive and empathetic ear, without bias and with complete confidentiality.
People who call Vetlife often feel very anxious, isolated and alone. To be taken into someone’s confidence in this situation is a huge privilege. The experience of listening and being alongside someone while they discuss difficult challenges can be intense at times, but it’s surprising how often callers manage to untangle a problem during a call. That’s not always the case though, and if someone just needs to rant, chat or weep that’s OK too.
Here for you 24/7 over Christmas
Christmas is a time of increased pressure for vet teams. If we’re on-call, there are usually fewer staff to cover the work. We might not want to interrupt a colleague’s Christmas dinner with calls for advice or help. It’s also pretty inevitable that our patients are sicker, and clients are often more stressed or emotional than usual. On the other hand, if we’re not working this Christmas, family pressure, isolation, or simply having extra free time to think, can conspire to make the holiday period difficult.
2020 has been gruelling for most people. I guess it’s possible that the usual stresses of the holiday season might be amplified this year – perhaps we’re going to be apart from family (or bubbled with them and unable to go out and see friends).
I am volunteering over Christmas because the time spent talking with callers is always interesting and rewarding. It will also take my focus away from endless food and board games towards the things that are more important in life. We are a big team of volunteers and the shifts are shared out, so the commitment is manageable. No one should feel that they are wasting anyone’s time by calling Vetlife: there is always someone available to talk whether that be via email or on the phone.