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Long hours, demanding work, and compassion fatigue can make veterinary staff particularly prone to burnout. But how can employers help? Read on to learn more about veterinary burnout. 

What is Burnout? 

Burnout is a form of exhaustion created by prolonged mental stress. It has many symptoms, including a lack of motivation, exhaustion and fatigue, and even lowered immunity. While burnout can happen in a variety of contexts, work-based burnout is especially common. 

Veterinary Burnout Statistics 

The 2016, 2017, and 2018 AVMA Census of Veterinarians surveys reported that over 50% of veterinarians had high levels of burnout. A more recent study shows that veterinary burnout has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Though these statistics are worrying, over 86% of survey respondents report that their employer has no programming in place to prevent burnout. Helping to prevent burnout can boost staff morale and increase your reputation as an employer. 

Why Do Veterinarians Face So Much Burnout? 

  • Emotionally taxing work. Compassion fatigue is the specific kind of burnout associated with intense and prolonged empathy in difficult situations. Veterinarians often have to maintain their composure and kindness through highly emotional situations. 
  • Experiences with euthanasia. Ending the life of a beloved pet is always difficult, even when necessary. Euthanizing animals is a painful experience for both veterinarians and owners. 
  • Educational debt. The average educational debt for all graduates of veterinary college in America is $157,146, a staggering amount. This even includes veterinarians who don’t graduate with debt, meaning that the average for veterinarians who actually have debt is even higher. 
  • Managing people as well as animals. In addition to providing care for animals, vets also have to manage the anxiety and grief of their owners. This can be taxing and difficult work. 

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Veterinary Technicians and Nurses Need Support Too

Veterinary technicians and nurses face many of the same challenges as veterinarians, but often with greater financial constraints. In fact, veterinarian technicians report some of the highest levels of burnout in the field. When discussing veterinary burnout, it’s important to remember techs and nurses, and consider how to support them. 

How Employers Can Help 

Completely eliminating veterinary burnout can be difficult, but there are many ways to get in front of it. Here’s how you can support your staff. 

Know Your Staff’s Limits 

Check in with your staff frequently. If you’re in a larger facility, surveys can provide additional help in gauging your employee’s exhaustion levels. Know your staff’s limits. If necessary (and possible), consider temporarily limiting the number of new patients, or the number of patients admitted each day, to keep your staff from burning out. It can be hard to turn animals away, but quality of care may also be impacted if veterinarians are stretched past their limits. If you do have to divert clients, curate a referral list so patients are still getting the care that they need. It’s important to check with your staff how they feel about their case volume, however. Your staff may want to continue to accept new patients, and tweak their schedules in other ways. 

Check in After Tough Moments

Having built-in breaks or check-ins after euthanasia or a patient death can help prevent veterinary burnout. It’s normal to need a break after witnessing a loss, no matter how long they’ve been on the job. Having additional mental health check-ins, such as dedicated wellness workshops or dialogue-building newsletters, can also help spark a conversation about burnout. 

Provide Flexible Benefits

Flexible benefits can allow veterinary professionals to choose the benefits best suited to them. This is a material way that employers can support staff. Veterinary staff that face burnout can adjust their benefits to be more supportive for mental health concerns.  

Have a Generous PTO Policy

Rest is crucial insulation from veterinary burnout, especially in the fast-paced environment of a veterinary institution. Encouraging veterinary staff to take full advantage of your PTO policy, as well as increasing the policy itself, can ultimately save you money by strengthening mental health and preventing turnover. 

Encourage Breaks

Having built-in breaks during the day is also important when it comes to preventing fatigue. When scheduling your calendar, try including breaks between appointments. Also, consider mandatory lunch breaks or limit the hours your staff can work daily. Make sure you check in with your staff before making any major changes to their schedules. 

Better Hiring With Apploi 

Apploi can help you streamline your hiring process, so you can save money and spend more time on supporting your veterinary staff. Interested in learning more about how you can recruit, hire, and onboard healthcare staff quickly? Contact us today for a free demo of our talent management solution.

 

Pritma Chattha, DNP MHA RN

Pritma Chattha, DNP MHA RN

Pritma is a Yale-educated nurse executive with 18 years of experience advocating for patients at the bedside and in the boardroom. She currently serves as the Head of Healthcare Innovation at Apploi—healthcare's leading recruitment and credentialing platform. Over the last decade, Pritma has honed her expertise as a health informaticist, building and improving electronic health records and credentialing platforms. She is the immediate former Executive Director of Electronic Quality and Safety for Alberta Health Services, the largest health system in Canada. Pritma enjoys rethinking healthcare processes to provide safer, better, and more accessible healthcare. https://www.linkedin.com/in/pritma/

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