Theresa Collins-Nelson is a Veterinary Health professional who has recently launched her own consultancy focusing on work-place wellness – including effective and healthy communication, mental health ‘First Aid’ and improving workplace culture. This past term she beamed into the Veterinary Hospital Assistant’s Q3 ‘Practical Experience’ class to share some wisdom and top tips with our soon-to-be-graduate students.
CAT: Tell us a little about your career path thus far?
TC-N: I worked as a vet tech for 3 years in Calgary prior to my first sales job with McCarthy and Sons, a full-service veterinary marketing, supply and distribution company. I then mainly worked in outside sales with McCarthy; Merial and a short (2 year) time with Royal Canin and returned to McCarthy and Sons where I remained until June 2019.
CAT: Tell us a little about your new company?
TC-N: I decided to start a coaching and consulting business with a focus on mental health, workplace wellness and communication. I felt I had the experience and background as I had been doing consulting unofficially for many years with my sales job.
I work with any small business that is wanting help with staffing issues – conflict especially; as well as communication problems. I offer several workshops – one in Mental Health Awareness; one on communication and one on improving workplace culture -all topics that are so important for businesses to succeed and retain employees.
I enrolled in a number of certificate programs to update my skills in these topics; registered my business name; and prepared to open the business during 2020. Had no idea the pandemic was going to change everything!! I am also offering HR support to small businesses as many of them do not have the budget for a dedicated person in this role.
CAT: When did you start it and why?
TC-N: I lost my job unexpectedly due to ownership and management changes. I took that summer off then resumed looking for another sales position. Nothing of interest or of my skill set was available and so I got thinking about my life and career experience and what I could offer to small businesses including Veterinary hospitals.
I wanted to help employees with purpose and engagement and employers with improving the wellbeing of their employees including Mental Health with the goal of increased productivity. (Mental Health is especially important to me as we have struggled with our son’s mental health problems and substance abuse for years.)
In the fall of 2019 I started planning the launch of my consulting and coaching business. By the time the pandemic arrived I was well into planning and financially committed to the business and so I went ahead and launched in June 2020.
I really want to help employees love their jobs and feel purpose in them and want employers to retain and engage good employees.
CAT: Communication is super important in any workplace, but are there any special issues or areas of importance that come into play in a veterinary office?
TC-N: I think that fees and services are the biggest issues in the veterinary industry. We have always had certain clientele that perhaps did not anticipate a health issue that resulted in a very large fee for surgery or hospitalization – and they are often angry and blame the veterinary staff and owner; the key is expectations and CLEAR communication. Clients are angry normally out of guilt and frustration – at not being able to afford the care. There is also so much more on social media about veterinary clinics and some of the negative posts are really damaging to a veterinarian’s reputation, and harmful as well to them as people.
I wanted to help employees with purpose and engagement and employers with improving the wellbeing of their employees including Mental Health with the goal of increased productivity.”
Again, try to lay out all possibilities for the owner clearly – perhaps a “good, better, best” option for health care to increase the chance that they can pay something toward the care, and offering other options – ie the financing cards and so on – ultimately the veterinarian has to get paid; try to encourage pet insurance early on to reduce the chances of these large vet bills.
And the pandemic has made things more challenging – more pets; less vets; lengthier appointments and wait times due to how they have to perform their jobs now and so on. Never have I seen so many posts on social media and signs, etc., reminding everyone to be kind and patient in these difficult times.
CAT: What would be your 3 top tips for good communication in a vet clinic?
TC-N: The 7/38/55 % rule – your words, your tone and your body language – and aligning them to be the same. Speaking in a calm tone, and really listening to someone and asking them questions to ensure understanding. Also an apology can go a long way – if someone is very upset and it is appropriate under the circumstances.
CAT: Mental health is a huge issue in the vet world – for example ‘The National Post’ reported: “Canadian veterinarians are at greater risk of struggling with mental health-related issues than the general public, a recent study suggests. The study, published recently in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, says veterinarians who participated in the research had higher levels of perceived stress, burnout, depression, anxiety, secondary traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts. It also found that female veterinarians were worse off than their male counterparts.” What do you think makes this industry especially vulnerable?
TC-N: I think its just the nature of their profession – a caring type of profession that while they see many happy moments, also is unique in that they are responsible for the compassionate death of patients daily and weekly – through euthanasia.
This is tough enough on elderly sick patients – but when there are other factors – easy to prevent conditions; “convenience” euthanasias, and so on. Plus the pay compared to MD and the large amount of debt and overhead as they are independent business people – so financially it’s a tough profession as well. All of this adds up quickly and takes a great toll on mental health. And, sadly, access to the very drugs that can end their lives – is also somewhat unique and makes them more vulnerable.
CAT: What would be your top recommendations to people working in animal health for keeping themselves mentally well?
TC-N: Regular check-ins at staff meetings and so on; have one person in your hospital trained in Mental Health First Aid; incorporate open and regular discussions on mental health into your education for the team; offer resources – through health plans, and also post phone numbers and so on where all staff have access to them. We are still not comfortable talking about it and we need to get better. Being empathetic and a good listener to each other.
Theresa Collins-Nelson is based in Winnipeg, MB.
Find out more about her company, 20/20 Vision, at: 2020visionconsulting.ca .