End days by huddling with trusted coworkers. Take 10 minutes before we walk out the door to huddle with a couple of our coworkers to talk about the struggles from the day. This, in some way or another, allows you to leave your worries behind. Then share one thing you are all looking forward to when you go home. That way we are focusing on the positive when we leave and ready to embrace our loved ones when we return home.
As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicholas Nelson.
Nicholas Nelson is president of BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital. He holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine and a masters in business administration. He has also served as regional medical director for VCA Animal Hospital and as CMO and president of Pet Partners. His website is: http://www.bluepearlvet.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Multiple factors led me to a career in veterinary medicine. When I was younger, my parents were a part of a community tennis group, and among this group was a locally renowned veterinarian named Dr. David McMonigle. Dr. McMonigle was memorable for many reasons but most notably for the way in which he gave back to our community. Through veterinary medicine, he played an integral part in the community and the lives of the people around him. He served the community through the compassionate care he provided to pets and built a successful clinic by forming relationships. As a young man, seeing how one person could touch so many lives — generations of families and their pets — through veterinary medicine was incredibly inspiring. Dr. McMonigle’s work also showed me the vital role the human-animal bond plays in improving people’s lives, and how a career in veterinary medicine can offer someone a fulfilled and sustainable life.
Another factor that played a role in my love of veterinary medicine was kennel work which I undertook after getting into a car accident as a teenager. Not only did I lose the keys to the family car for six months, but I had to repay my father for the damage. The kennel, which was called Echowood Kennels, specialized in German Shepherds. There, I worked hands-on with this rambunctious breed, immersing myself completely in the training, handling, and care of German Shepherds. While laborious, it was during this time that I began to fall in love with animal care and understand the bond that existed between man and animal.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Many interesting stories come to mind as I look back on the 25 years I have spent working in the veterinary industry. Of all the experiences in my career in medicine, the most interesting is the story of the journey itself.
On my journey, I took right turns, left turns, and wrong turns (most of which were self-induced). I have gone from the young, eager-to-learn veterinary student to an experienced, board-certified Doctor of Veterinary Medicine; from a thriving 24-hour multidisciplinary practice owner to a Regional Medical Director of VCA Animal Hospital; from Chief Medical Officer and President of Pet Partners to the President of BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, one of the largest specialty and emergency veterinary care providers in the U.S. today. I had the great privilege of experiencing the many facets of this profession. I have practiced as a specialty feline and canine clinician, once removing 12 golf balls from a dog’s stomach, as well as rode the waves of many hospital consolidations. Each stage awarded me a different viewpoint from which I could learn and grow.
Though I could not see it then, there was a greater force behind each of my life and career moves — some of which brought me from one U.S. coast to the other. In the commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, on June 12, 2005, he stated:
“If I had never dropped out [of Reed College], I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
As Steve Jobs elucidated in his commencement speech, you must trust your instincts and believe that the dots will one day connect. Though I did not see it during my career’s pivotal moments — when I took on a new leadership role, became a new parent, managed hospital teams through an acquisition or 100+ practices through a global public health crisis — there was a larger purpose behind each. Twenty-five years ago, I would never have thought I would today be responsible for the successful operations of more than 100 hospitals nationwide, which together employ over 7,000 Associates. And yet today, looking back retrospectively, it all makes sense.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
During the veterinary hospital consolidation boom, I went back to school to obtain a Master’s in Business Administration. It was very early on in my career, and I saw an opportunity to expand my knowledge and skills. But like many young, eager professionals, I wanted more than I was ready and prepared for; I wanted to be a business leader before acquiring the skills needed to perform well as an executive. The tides of my mindset shifted when I met Dr. Robert H. Featherston, former president of American Animal Hospital Association, Chief Medical Officer of Your Pets Choice, veterinarian, and practice owner in Tulsa, OK. Featherston gave me this advice:
“You must first be a great veterinarian. Master being a great veterinarian, and this will serve as the foundation to progress your career as a leader.”
As a byproduct of this, I became an American Board of Veterinary Practitioners Diplomate (canine/feline) and grew tunnel vision focused on being the best veterinarian I could be. This advice, along with my innate desire to reach my highest potential, has allowed me to advance to where I am today.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Leaders can create a fantastic work culture by taking a more holistic approach to meeting both their fiscal needs and the needs of their people. This begins with starting with your why. In Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, he contends that leadership alone holds the key to inspiring people to come together to advance a common interest. Throughout the book, Sinek states, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
This principle holds true for creating a company culture. Employees must know and live their purpose — their deeply ingrained beliefs that compel them to do the work they do despite personal sacrifice.
To build a successful company culture:
- Help your people see their impact. For us in the veterinary industry, and specifically at BluePearl, it is our Associate’s impact on people, pets, or the world.
- Resonate and remind them of their why (the reason they love what they do). I have found success in taking an individual approach that aims to evoke an emotional response.
- Remember: Purpose is personal; it needs not only to be understood, but also to be felt and embraced. Your employees are your brand ambassadors, bringing authenticity and trustworthiness to your business.
- Lead by example. Believe in what you are saying and make sure your leadership behaviors align with your purpose. If not, team members will view your efforts as deceitful rather than inspirational.
- Be continual and consistent with your actions. Highlighting employee achievements or sharing success stories allow employees to witness the impact of their jobs firsthand and are powerful tools that inspire them to bring their best selves to work.
Leaders, ask yourselves: Can employees state the vision, mission, and purpose of the company? Can leadership?
Does your purpose inspire both hearts and minds? Remember: It is up to you to show your employees how they fit into the larger picture.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
There is one quote that has been particularly relevant throughout my career. It is by Mahatma Gandhi. He appeals for a holistic approach to life, saying: “One man cannot do right in one department of life while he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.”
Your work will fill up a large portion of your life. Therefore, the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is magnificent work. And the only way to do truly great work is to love and be passionate about what you do. This, again, speaks to the idea of knowing and living one’s purpose.
Understanding this idea early on, I can proudly state today that my vocation is my advocation. Early on, I understood how a career in veterinary medicine would support healthy relationships with the communities in which I worked as well as build a solid foundation for my family. Knowing that “life is one indivisible whole,” I decisively chose a career that I was innately passionate about and did my best to balance the many roles I have been cast to play. I have been quite lucky, and successful in balancing the physical, emotional, social, work, and financial aspects of life in part because I did not silo myself; I follow Gandhi’s approach and allow all the segments in my life to be an equal part of who I am.
For those who have not yet found their purpose, I encourage you to keep looking and do not settle for the mediocre. As with all matters of the heart, you will know when you find it.
In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employee’s mental wellness.
Quoted by Eleanor Brown, a best-selling American novelist, anthologist, and speaker, “When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”
We understand it is because of the hard work, passion, and dedication of our Associates that we can continuously provide high quality care to pets. That is why BluePearl has remained committed to fostering a culture of innovation and growth by meeting both the personal and professional needs of our employees. Through a combination of interventions that holistically support our peoples’ wellness — across all physical, emotional, and financial areas of life — we have built a solid framework from which other industry partners can emulate and implement.
This month, we proudly announced our multi-year investments to create clear career pathways for our Associates. Key aspects of those investments include CareerTrax, the industry’s largest electronic career pathing platform which supports a first-of-its-kind leveling and compensation structure, and continuing education incentives. CareerTrax monitors Associates’ skill set development for career advancement (leveling up) as well as gives Associates full visibility into skill and leveling requirements for each role, level, and specialty. This new tiered skill system extends career path options for all BluePearl Associates — from kennel workers and front desk staff to experienced veterinary technicians — and puts the power to grow in their hands. With this novel, compensatory skill leveling system, Associates know early on the opportunities available to them, and the skills and knowledge needed to advance.
Ensuring mothers and fathers have adequate time to spend with their new family members, we introduced a new paid parental leave policy that provides Associates four weeks’ time off at 100% of their pay. In addition to the parental leave, birth mothers can take advantage of short-term disability benefit which provides 60% of pay for up to 26 weeks. In 2021, we also expanded healthcare coverage to include gender reassignment on all U.S. medical plans.
BluePearl’s Health and Well-being (H+W) Team consists of seven regional veterinary social workers and two wellness trainers who offer support and resources to local hospital teams. They also perform wellness checks on hospital leaders to ensure they have the professional support they need when dealing with stressful situations, and so they can better support Associates within their practices. In 2021, the H+W team launched the BluePearl Wellness Ambassador Program which trains Associates in Mental Health First Aid and enables them to serve as a bridge between individuals in need and regional leadership and veterinary social work teams.
To nurture a more connected community of veterinary professionals, and to create a safe space for each Associate to be their authentic selves and thrive, BluePearl organized diversity resource groups and regularly holds panel conversations — all of which are overseen by BluePearl’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council.
From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?
Now more than ever, we need to be there for one another. As much as we would like to, the reality is we cannot fix another person’s stress or mental health struggles. What you can do is to tell our friend, or our colleague, “I’m here, I see you, and I will listen to whatever you are willing to tell me.” Then, you can validate whatever you hear by saying, “I am so sorry you are struggling.”
There is professional help that we can all link our friends and colleagues to. These include Employee Assistance Programs, Primary Care Physician referrals, the National Suicide Hotline, and Crisis Chat lines. Mars Veterinary Health, BluePearl’s parent organization, recently launched MVH4you.com, which is a website dedicated to providing mental health tools and resources to the professional community.
Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?
Your daily habits absolutely play a role in your mental wellness. Luckily, there are many strategies to develop and sustain your wellness. Here are a few that have worked well for me:
- Our phones can be useful. We can use free phone apps that track our food/calorie intake. This allows us to know exactly how many calories are in our favorite coffee drinks, as an example. At the same time, there are also free phone apps that can track our steps and exercise for the day. There are also sleep apps which track how long we are in deep, restorative sleep — something essential to having a productive and successful day.
- Taking breaks at work is also absolutely vital. We must be able to step away for even 5–10 minutes to attend to our own biological needs: bathroom, water, snack. If we are trying to be present and deeply listen to a client who is in distress with a full bladder or a growling stomach, things can go sideways quickly because we are distracted with our own needs.
- End days by huddling with trusted coworkers. Take 10 minutes before we walk out the door to huddle with a couple of our coworkers to talk about the struggles from the day. This, in some way or another, allows you to leave your worries behind. Then share one thing you are all looking forward to when you go home. That way we are focusing on the positive when we leave and ready to embrace our loved ones when we return home.
- Keep a gratitude journal — it really works! That which we focus on grows. If we focus on the positive, a positive mindset will prevail.
- Remember your ‘why.’ What brought you to this field? A colleague of mine keeps their ‘why’ on a sticky note inside their phone case so that it is always with them as a reminder.
Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?
Each day, I dedicate time to mirror gaze. Mirror gazing is exactly as it sounds; you use a mirror to make eye contact with your own reflection, sitting intimately with not only your thoughts, but your own watchful eyes. This practice draws your attention both inward and outward and can yield similar results to that of meditation.
Some potential benefits include greater self-compassion, authenticity and self-awareness, and an overall stronger sense of self. When you are faced quietly with yourself, no outside criticism, or judgements, you are in the best position to affirm and validate all your traits.
I also make sure to make physical fitness a part of each day. Said best by Sean Covey, American business executive, author, speaker, and innovator, “We become what we repeatedly do.” Make exercise or any wellness practice a part of your daily ritual and it becomes a part of who you are. Small practices can make the largest impact on our lives.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Principle Centered Leadership as well as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey are two of the most impactful books I have read. Principles play a huge role in how you perform in life and in business. If your business and personal life are unbalanced due to a fault in or a non-existent principle, your foundation will crumble. At BluePearl, we follow The Five Principles of Mars. These form the foundation of how we do business today and every day. With 130,000+ Mars Associates working in 80 countries across the globe, clear direction and a moral compass are essential. That is why we take every opportunity to make a positive impact in this ever-changing world by leveraging these guiding philosophies.
We put The Five Principles at the center of every decision we make. To us, as Mars Associates, this means:
- We are committed to Quality of work and contributions to society.
- We embrace our Responsibility (as individuals and a company) to act now.
- We base decisions on Mutuality of benefit to our stakeholders.
- We harness the power of Efficiency to use our resources to maximum effect.
- We have the financial Freedom to make our own decisions, unrestricted by motivations of others.
Through these guiding principles, our actions today help us build a better world for generations to come.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A Pay it Forward movement on a large scale would be great to see. I often will pay for the order behind me in line when I am a register and ask for the person behind me to simply, ‘pay it forward.’ Many people have heard about this or experienced this themselves, but if a campaign were to develop in support of this movement, simply for the upliftment of humankind, I think it would be incredibly impactful, especially during these times. A glimpse of compassion and generosity goes a very long way.
Another movement I would like to see would also like to see is one which aims to bring the human-animal bond to people who may have not experienced it before. There are many organizations in existence which bring companion animals to elderly homes, children’s hospitals, disability organizations, even penitentiaries. These programs, which bring animal companionship to people who are in need or may have never experienced the human-animal bond before, have a profound impact on people’s well-being. At a larger scale, a program of this kind could quite literally change the world. A similar program which comes to mind is Mars Petcare’s BETTER CITIES FOR PETS™ program, which stems from the increasing need for cities to adapt to Americans’ expectations that their pets not only can live with them, but also work and play. This is just one of the programs that is that is working to bring pets and people together through increased pet-friendly policies.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!