Sally Betterton RVN qualified as a veterinary nurse in 1987 after training at Berkshire Agricultural College. She currently works as a Head Nurse and Nurse Manager covering six veterinary practices across the UK but, since qualifying, has also had a 10-year career break as a foster carer for social services and also ran a delicatessen selling British cheese and homemade cakes. She has two grown-up daughters and one granddaughter.
- Did you train as a veterinary nurse with the ‘little green book’?
- Do you remember dipping x-ray film in developer, water then fixer?
- Do you remember cutting up x-ray film to do trypsin tests?
- If you remember all of the above then you are probably of an age where you may be experiencing the menopause…!
What is the menopause?
It happens to the vast majority of women.
The average age for the menopause is 51 years in the UK (source: NHS.UK) and it usually spans over an age range of 45 to 55 years. It is difficult to predict how long or how many years symptoms will last and not all women have symptoms. The symptoms can also vary in type, prevalence and severity. Menopause that occurs before the age of 40, experienced by a small proportion of women, is called premature ovarian insufficiency and women in this group often require medical intervention.
Veterinary Woman in conjunction with the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons has recently published the results of a survey on ‘Menopause and the Effect on Veterinary Professionals and Teams’, and more information on the survey, the results and additional resources can be found on the Veterinary Woman website.
The survey highlighted that, from more than 250 responses, 80% felt that menopause had affected their health, with half saying the impact on mental health had been moderate to severe. The most common symptoms reported were fatigue, difficulty sleeping and irritability. Overall, 76% were concerned about the impact of the menopause on their health, life and work.
The menopause in the workplace
With a predominantly female workforce in veterinary nursing, there will be a significant number of nurses who are peri-menopausal (the time leading up to the full menopause) as well as those of us who are experiencing the full-blown menopause. There are many symptoms which can manifest themselves and subsequently affect nurses in the workplace. For example:
- Poor concentration – or, as I tell my nurses, ‘I’m having a senior moment’.
- Insomnia – waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning seems to be my time to start worrying about everything.
- Fatigue – that chronic feeling of tiredness all day, and the luxury of having an afternoon nap at the weekends!
- Poor memory – having to look up the drug dose of something that I have been using for years.
- Feeling low or depressed and having low confidence – this is not a failure! It is important to acknowledge when we are feeling down.
- Hot flushes at work – being in full PPE makes me feel like a ‘boil in the bag’ nurse.
The ‘sandwich’ generation
For many women, the menopausal transition also comes at a time of increasing demands on our time and energy, such as the need to care for elderly parents or relatives and our children, even when they are older and have apparently ‘flown the nest’! This can also have an impact on emotional wellbeing, and lead to excessive levels of stress. Our mothers rarely talked about going through the menopause, but times have changed.
Veterinary nurses in our age group are often more experienced and therefore, were less likely to have been furloughed over the last twelve months. We tend to have the most experience and can work as receptionists, nurses and managers and this has meant that Covid has been disproportionately stressful for those who were kept in practice.
My menopause symptoms have certainly intensified as the stress of Covid has continued. Therefore, it is even more important to find ways of managing the stress levels, both at work and in our private lives.
Making time for ourselves has to be worked towards. Plan time to yourself and stick to it!
I crochet. This pastime makes me sit down and concentrate on something that has nothing to do with work. Blankets are my favourite thing to make as you can really feel a sense of achievement with the finished product. Pre-covid, I set up a crochet group with a couple of friends. Not in the usual village hall, but in the local pub, or, if we wanted a bit of variety, then we went to a nearby wine bar. At 4.30pm on a Friday afternoon regular as clockwork, we would meet up and moan about the world, and do a bit of crochet in between a glass of wine or a G&T.
Exercise and activity
Exercise can also provide relief for the symptoms of the menopause. This is something that I personally struggle with. The hormone imbalance means that you put on weight around your middle area and this can be very hard to get rid of. I know that exercise is the best thing but I often struggle to find time and have the energy to follow it through. Consequently my weight has increased and especially during the last year.
I love cooking. Food is a pleasure. So to counter-balance this, I have been trying to spend time outside and do a bit of gardening, listening to the birds. More as a way of calming my stress levels down than as a form of exercise, but it still gets me out and about. It’s hard in the winter months but at last, spring is finally here!
I hope that this article has got you thinking a little bit more about the menopause: whether it’s your own symptoms, the symptoms of those around you and how it could affect your life. However, do remember that first and foremost, you are not alone with the menopause and you do not have to ‘suffer in silence’.
Further information and support:
NHS.UK (2018) Menopause. [Online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/ (accessed 17 March 2021)
Veterinary Times (2021) Most vet staff concerned about menopause impact. [Online] Available at: https://www.vettimes.co.uk/news/most-vet-staff-concerned-about-menopause-impact/ (accessed 17 March 2021)