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Focus on wellness includes animals and the people who care for them

This article is the third of a monthly series highlighting strategic areas in the OVC Healthy Futures Strategic Plan 2022

OVC has long recognized that people are our most valuable resource. Our overall success as a college is a direct result of an energized staff who feel professional satisfaction and institutional pride. Our Strategic Plan identifies a supportive, inclusive, healthy workplace culture. Key objectives of our Power of the People area will include strengthening organizational health and enhancing workplace culture.


Fourth year student veterinarian with Wellness Board at Hill’s Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary CollegeWellness is at the core of veterinary medicine. Not only is it integral to animal health, it is critical to veterinary team health too.

“Veterinarians recognize and promote the value of animal wellness plans but we’re not always so good when it comes to our own wellness,” says Peter Conlon, Associate Dean, Students, and Director of the Hill’s Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College.

The Hill’s PHC is committed to developing and maintaining a culture of wellness in the practice, both for staff members and for student veterinarians who learn at the facility.

“I think it’s an important message to clients and to students, that wellness is important in the practice,” says Conlon. “We want to build this into the culture of the PHC showing leadership in primary care through taking care of the people who work here.”

The program at Hill’s PHC began in fall 2017 with a presentation by Conlon to staff outlining why wellness is critical to personal and practice success. The program is based on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) ‘Countdown to Wellness’ guidelines.

There are lots of resources starting to be available for practices, notes Conlon. “The AMVA program has a five step, easy-to-follow approach.”

As part of the introduction to the program, all members of the healthcare team completed an anonymous survey about workplaces stresses. Conlon and Practice Manager Sonja Randhawa are using survey responses as a baseline to measure wellness initiatives.

The Hill’s PHC practice team brainstormed ideas to promote wellness beginning with a ‘Wellness Board’ where they can share wellness ideas and celebrate successes.
The practice will also be implementing monthly wellness activities and will continue the wellness discussion at team meetings. They’ve also installed a running treadmill for staff so that they can exercise during their lunch hour if they are not able to get outside.

“I like the AVMA outline as a practical approach,” he adds. “Wellness initiatives could be as simple as having a walking meeting rather than a sitting meeting – get out and get exercise and some sunlight, or it could be sharing healthy snacks at meetings.”

The Wellness Board includes an initiative suggested by PHC practice veterinarian Dr. Shannon Gowland, focusing on a rose/bud/thorn theme. “The rose, what went well, the thorn, what didn’t go so well today, and the bud, what do we look to for tomorrow,” explains Conlon.

“The students and staff can share photos of a special patient or a litter of very cute puppies they examined and vaccinated,” says Gowland. “Students can post a note about a surgery they are proud of performing. We can also write about more stressful things such as challenging cases so others can add supportive comments. We also share events and moments from our lives outside of work - kayaking at a cottage, puppy classes and photos of our kids. Part of wellness is sharing and supporting each other and our board helps us know each other better.”

A discussion of practice wellness is also planned as part of the orientation for each new group of fourth year DVM students when they begin their Hill’s PHC rotation. Every student veterinarian spends time at Hill’s PHC each year throughout their studies, culminating with a three-year rotation in fourth year.

“It’s an important message for students, particularly as they look at job opportunities,” adds Conlon. “What does wellness mean in the practice is a great question to ask potential employers – how do they look after people wellness in this practice? It’s important to not only look at what equipment practices have, what surgeries they do, but also is there a wellness culture – are people happy in their jobs, do they enjoy being there?”

“We hope that by being a model practice for wellness, as we are for other aspects of primary care, that this culture of wellness will start to spread after our students graduate and are employed in other practices.”

Photo: Fouth year student veterinarian Anastasia Novy posts on the Wellness Board at the Hill's Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre.