Today’s VETgirl online veterinary CE guest blogger is Julie Squires,** Certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist & Educator and founder of Rekindle LLC. In this four-part series, she discusses some important – but tough – topics in veterinary medicine.

Moral Distress & Mr Spock

Have your own morals and beliefs ever conflicted with a workplace procedure or policy?

If so, this is referred to as moral distress or simply moral stress. As a former vet tech declawing and spaying pregnant cats were causes of moral distress for me. For others it may be the euthanasia due to lack of finances to continue care, or the reluctance from a client to continue treatment when the you believe it is what is best for the patient.

During my training to become a Compassion Fatigue Specialist I met nurses who work in correctional facilities. As those tasked with having to provide care to societies’ criminals, murders and pedafiles they encounter moral distress daily and it takes it’s toll.

According to Dr. Elizabeth Strand, Founding Director of Veterinary Social Work at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, moral distress is the biggest contributor to compassion fatigue among veterinarians. Previous research had identified that non-compliant clients are a top stressor for veterinarians. When one believes the best course of treatment is the one prescribed and yet the client can not afford the treatment or chooses not to do it, stress ensues.

Stress is the precursor of dis-ease and ultimately disease.

Gabor Maté, M.D. in his book “When the Body Says No. Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection”, stress results when emotional competence is compromised. Emotional competence has been defined as the ability to deal in an appropriate and satisfactory way with one’s own feelings and desires(Buck).

Maté goes on to say that “emotional competence presupposes capacities often lacking in our society, where “cool” — the absence of emotion — is the prevailing ethic, where “don’t be so emotional” and “don’t be so sensitive” are what children often hear, and where rationality is generally considered to be the preferred antithesis of emotionality. The idealized cultural symbol of rationality is Mr. Spock, the emotionally crippled Vulcan from Star Trek.

One of the most researched, effective, mobile, adaptable and cost effective tools we have to manage stress is that of meditation. Sometimes called the practice of “non-doing”, meditation is important to help balance this fast-paced world and to tolerate feelings and emotions. Among meditators, I have witnessed transformations in people with debilitating anxiety, PTSD, addictions, stress and depression. So much so that I now teach meditation in my workshops. And if you think meditation is just for hippies or new agers, think again. Meditation has been embraced by some of the toughest members of our society including professional athletes and the military.

For meditation, all that is required is that you show up and pay attention to your breath. The inhale and the exhale, just notice them.

And you can be assured your mind will wander because that is what minds do. So the practice of meditation is to just bring the mind back to the breath gently and with kindness, over and over and over. My favorite explanation of returning to the breath comes from ABC News Correspondent Dan Harris. He explained that every time you bring the mind back to the breath, “it’s like a bicep curl for you mind”.

A mediation student once told his teacher that he did not have time to meditate. After a moment the teacher looked at the student and asked, “You have time to breathe, right? Well just notice it”.

I invite you to pay attention to your breath, just for this moment.

If Spock only knew what he was missing.

*For more information on meditation for stress reduction, visit:

** Julie Squires is the owner of Rekindle LLC, a compassion fatigue solutions company. After 20 years in the veterinary field she could no longer tolerate what she was seeing — people suffering from the effects of the work. As a student of both suffering and personal development she decided to pursue what will become her life’s work, teaching others what she has learned to relieve her own suffering through seminars, keynotes and workshops. Julie studied to become a Certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist and Educator and combined that with being a Certified Health & Wellness Coach and Corporate Wellness Coach to help other animal workers cope and manage the physical , emotional and psychological effects associated with “the cost of caring” (Figley). You can visit her website @ or contact her by email: [email protected]



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