Get a hobby for a better work-life balance

Almost any hobby that helps you develop greater manual dexterity at the fine-motor-skills level will help you in surgery

Keeping chickens is a fun hobby with many benefits, from watching their fun antics to having fresh eggs to becoming more comfortable with birds, potentially expanding the species of patients you treat.
Photo by Elizabeth Anderson Lopez

It seems everyone picked up some new hobbies over the pandemic. Everyone, that is, except veterinary professionals. We were all too busy being worked to the bone and whipsawed by relentless systemic change to ponder the wonders of baking brick oven sourdough bread, mastering the “Stairway to Heaven” shreddy guitar solo, knitting glorious patchwork sweaters, or becoming proficient at fabulously frivolous nail art á la Harry Styles. These quirky, pandemic hiatus hobbyist confections were lost to most of us.

While our cool-crowd status may have taken a near-fatal hit, it’s never too late to play catch up. FOMO need not overwhelm us. Now that we have collectively achieved a steadier state of affairs, COVID-wise, and possibly even amassed enough of a nest egg in the wake of our prolonged social hiatus, it is time to take on a new hobby or two.

As dedicated veterinary professionals, however, it wouldn’t be true to form to adopt any pastime we could not professionally justify. We’d at least hope to settle on a hobby we could write off on our taxes, right? Sure, killing two birds with one stone would seem anathema to the veterinary way. The time crunch we’re currently (continuously) under, however, probably precludes mindlessly time-sucking endeavors that do not also hold the promise of professional fringe benefits.

With this kind of double-dipping in mind, I’ve included a handful of possible pastimes I’ve personally enjoyed; you might just find them fun and rewarding, too.

1) Mind your own coop

I’ve managed to keep a healthy coop continuously afloat for the past 15 years. Along the way, I’ve learned raising hens is a great way of getting back to your veterinary roots. Keep some new pets (chickens are friendlier and funnier than you might imagine), learn some new husbandry tricks, and get more comfy with birds in general so you can (perhaps) even consider adding some basic avian services to your professional repertoire.

This hobby is also CE friendly and eminently worthy of Instagram. The professional development and social media possibilities are endless and, as such, so are the potential tax write-offs. (The eggs are also a fun side-hustle, if you are so inclined.)

Note: My personal tax law background is limited to two courses in business school about 25 years back, so please don’t claim any deductions based solely on my say-so. As always, check first with your tax professional or financial adviser.

2) Get into pet nutrition…personally

My sister finds this a highly gratifying hobby. I’ve dabbled and I’ve found it daunting and difficult to maintain, but highly rewarding nonetheless. From consulting with nutritionists and safely sourcing the proteins to the soothing manual labor and personal satisfaction of feeding a home-cooked meal, this hobby is excellent fodder for any veterinary professional’s list of animal-related skills. Plus, many of your clients will appreciate knowing you are dedicated enough to your own pets to have attempted the home-cooked route.

As with hen-raising, this hobby is also amenable to CE, social media, and possible tax benefits, too. Plus, your pets have to eat anyway, right?

Side note: It will probably not save you money, even when compared to super-premium commercial diets––not if you do it right.

3) Fiddle with your fingers

Almost any hobby that helps you develop greater manual dexterity at the fine-motor-skills level will help you in surgery. Knitting helped amp up my speed-stitching skills and lent my hand ties an elegance I never thought possible. Almost any needle-working hobby should suffice, but I find the speed, repetition, and memory required in knitting is the most effective for simulating the kind of mind-body connections surgery demands.

Playing an instrument (especially on a fiddly string instrument like the guitar or violin) is similarly effective. Yet, it does not require the intensity of figuring out a “Stairway to Heaven” solo. Learning basic fingering techniques and forcing your hands to explore new movement patterns is just as effective and seems to involve the same neural pathways leveraged for knitting and surgery.

Side note: Priming your hands for surgery by knitting a few rows or practicing some scales immediately before scrubbing in can do wonders for your speed, proficiency, and confidence.

4) More yoga, please!

I know I’m a bit of a broken record on this issue, but I’ve never met a yoga class that didn’t make me feel like a calmer, healthier, more capable version of myself. A class before work helps me feel awake and energized, while a class after work helps me sleep like a baby. This kind of mind-body workout hasn’t been around for millennia for nothing.

Six years of regular yoga (two to five times a week) has also increased my muscle mass and endurance, helped me kick some seriously bad habits, and changed my podiatrist’s opinion on my bunions, to boot! I no longer need bunion surgery nor do my feet ever hurt at the end of the day. It definitely makes me a better veterinarian so it should be tax deductible…but that is debatable, of course.

Side note: If you think yoga is not your thing…you’re probably wrong. There are so many different kinds of yoga practice and so many different kinds of yoga studios; there’s bound to be one that suits your personality. If you still object, consider martial arts like tai chi and karate, or even dance. Everything from ballet to ballroom dancing can reduce your risk of burnout and help lengthen your veterinary career, too.

5) Pick up a vet- or pet-related social media habit

I left this one for last since I recommend it with plenty of reservations. Social media can be habit-forming in not-always-so-good ways. I find the negativity of the medium’s instant feedback mechanisms makes it a potentially stressful endeavor for some of us. (It is why I stopped blogging. Who needs the trolls?)

Nevertheless, there is a lot to be said about the creativity inherent to podcasting, photography, blogging, graphic artistry, vlogging, or even tweeting. It’s an expressive, artistic medium that also happens to be good for wiring your brain, firing up your business, and advancing your career in general.

Moreover, it is ridiculously easy to justify all the expensive trappings that can attend any committed foray into social media. Expensive equipment, travel, and lots of other miscellaneous personal expenses typically qualify for deductions. That is, as long as you employ your veterinary skills in the process.

To be sure, there are plenty of other hobbies that marry well with a career in veterinary medicine. Of course, there are some of you who would prefer to do anything but think about animals in your time away from work. To each his own. For me, however, nothing says work-life balance like a hobby that lets me double-dip creatively, physically, and financially. Enjoy!

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, owns a small animal practice in Miami and is available at drpattykhuly.com. Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.

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