Work-life balance is increasingly becoming a concern amongst younger vets. Dr. Bolu Eso, (a resident veterinarian on the BBC series Pooch Perfect) is one such vet, pushing back against unhealthy work expectations and putting wellbeing first.
In this article, we talked to him about why he chose to take a hiatus from practice, and why so many young vets are pushing back against the veterinary working culture.
Hi Dr. Bolu, could you tell us a little bit about yourself (in terms of your background, education, and what you’re doing now?)
My name is Dr. Bolu Eso, I was born and raised in South East England. My route to university is similar to a lot of my peers, in the sense that it wasn’t straightforward. I ended up studying in Budapest, Hungary for 6 years, and then graduating from the University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest in 2019. I currently practice in small animal medicine, general practice and also dabble in content creation on social media and TV.
What led you to studying veterinary medicine?
Growing up, I always had a deep fascination with the diversity of animals and could spend hours buried in encyclopedias learning about different species. I always had a particular affinity towards veterinary medicine despite not having any immediate family or friends working with animals.
I can recall watching the likes of Steve Irwin and David Attenborough on TV, inspiring me daily. Being raised in the UK, ironically, Eddie Murphy portraying Dr. Dolittle was the first time I’d noted an individual of an ethnic minority practicing veterinary medicine. Coupled with a desire to belong, and an ambition to communicate with animals, by the age of 7 I was well vested into a vocation.
The more I learned about veterinary medicine, the greater my passion grew. Eventually, the evolutionary science behind medicine became an anchor, whilst the ever-adapting challenge of constantly learning drew me into the profession.
What do you love the most about veterinary medicine?
Aside from the obvious, being able to work alongside people and their companions to provide value through healing is amazing. I also love the diversity and challenge of the profession. The fact that no two days are the same, and that the scope of knowledge and expertise we’re able to utilize every day is so vast.
What are some of the more challenging aspects of being a vet (particularly as a graduate)?
I’d say the biggest challenges in veterinary medicine tends to be self-imposed. The career attracts perfectionists, and in my case, this meant that I spend a lot of my time working long hours and being under stress.
As much as I enjoy the challenge of this, I’ve learned that I need to step back and be more critical in my approach. Being self-aware of how much time I’m devoting to work and extracurricular activities, making sure my mental health is a priority, has helped.
Recently you decided to take a break from general practice. What led you to take this decision, and how has it changed your perspective on life?
The trigger word would be work/life balance. What brought this to light has been working during the pandemic. The past year, I’ve been doing sole charge work at an extremely busy practice. I was finding myself working up to 12-hours a day at a very fast pace.
Like most colleagues, it’s been due to the influences of the pandemic, pet boom, and a general shortage in support staff. Trying to find the balance between high output and burnout pushed me to take a break to prevent myself from mentally breaking down.
It is very easy to devote a lot of oneself to a cause that is strongly aligned with a purpose, especially when you’re passionate about it. But my break was to ensure that I could continue to practice veterinary medicine for a sustained period.
Because the pandemic put off a lot of my plans, I feel more able to detach myself from life and let go. Relinquishing the expectations of my goals and focusing more on a trajectory has allowed me to be more flexible with the path I take- so I can ‘smell the roses’, so to speak.
What do you think are some of the problems veterinary professionals face, particularly in terms of work/life balance?
The majority of veterinary professionals are heavily devoted to their work-life, but I think a bigger issue is how the industry values the individual professional.
I would say that there isn’t enough focus on the impact of governance and the sustainability of veterinary staff. Client and practice expectations of individuals can be high, but there seems to be little done across the board to monitor the strain on individuals.
The trending narrative of working long hours and seeing as many clients as possible despite any setback lends itself to a burnout culture where a lot of us struggle to find balance.
How do you think veterinary medicine, as a profession, can change to become a sustainable career option for young people?
For the profession to be sustainable, I would say that it’s the responsibility of the individual to learn and understand what their boundaries are so they can communicate them.
The onus is also on practices and corporations to take heed of workload burden and become more critical in customizing workload for individuals.
I would also say that the profession as a whole could take a leaf from human medicine by focussing on specialization. Often, the majority of the burden that comes from client expectations is due to the vast array of services an individual veterinarian has to offer. Maybe it is time we started to see more specific veterinary work, sorted into body systems, similar to how you’d have a dentist, ENT, Ophthalmologist, or pediatrician.
A more specific form of practicing could lead to a more sustainable way in the future.
What has been the highlight of your career thus far, and what plans are you excited about?
As it stands, I have currently taken a brief hiatus after being so busy. A major highlight has been working on television and being able to have fun with social media.
The time off has allowed me to explore my creativity, through videography and content creation, and also read more into topics that interest me (such as psychology, philosophy, and critical thinking).
I plan on returning to the profession soon as a locum, so I can balance any TV or social media prospects- without sacrificing my surgical interests.
Dr. Bolu Eso is a small animal general practitioner with a keen interest in surgery. He currently works as a locum veterinarian in the Greater London area and works alongside pet-related brands. He loves using social media to educate the public on veterinary matters and is an advocate of responsible pet ownership. Outside of veterinary medicine, he is passionate about mental health and behavioral psychology.
To check him out on Instagram, click here.