Burned Out but Not Down and Out: 5 Ways to Combat Veterinary Burnout
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, veterinary professionals suffered from burnout, compassion fatigue, and a higher suicide risk than the general public. Living and working through the pandemic has only exacerbated these mental health problems, speeding the rate at which veterinary professionals leave the field.
Although managing and preventing burnout can be challenging in today’s workplace, these are essential skills veterinary professionals need to master to find happiness in their careers and their home lives. The best way to combat burnout is to prevent it, and here are five tips to help.
#1: Recognize the signs of veterinary burnout
Burnout often shows up in a “Debbie Downer” attitude, in that you’re exceptionally cynical about work and life in general. You’re snarky, resentful, and frustrated, and feel helpless to change anything about your work situation. In general, you’ll notice signs relating to emotional exhaustion. If you’re burned out, you may be unable to meet the demands of your job, lose interest or motivation in things that were previously your passion, and fail to be a team player.
Examples of burnout in veterinary medicine include:
- Not feeling a sense of accomplishment after solving a challenging case
- Being detached from clients, patients, and co-workers
- Not taking part in group discussions or team activities
- Finding the negative in everything, even in situations that should be positive
- Displaying irritability around others
- Feeling like a failure for being unable to cure every pet
- Becoming physically and mentally exhausted
- Making errors in calculations or on records
- Finding no enjoyment from the positive parts of the day, such as puppy and kitten visits
Working in such a highly emotional profession can be overwhelming, especially when stress from work and home collide. However, by recognizing the initial signs of burnout and taking prompt action to reduce those feelings, you can enjoy your career for years to come.
#2: Layer and graduate your skill set to use all your talents
A major contributing factor to burnout is underutilization, particularly for veterinary technicians. Feeling unfulfilled at your job can make you feel as if each day is an exercise in tedium, rather than a chance to meet new challenges. If you want to learn a new skill, speak to your practice manager about training. Take the opportunity to become competent in a new aspect of your job, whether it’s placing jugular catheters, performing BOAS surgeries for your bulldog breeder, or managing inventory. As a bonus, learning and displaying competency in new skills typically comes with a pay or benefit increase.
#3: Take full advantage of your scheduled time off
Are you wholly dedicated to your job and are the one they always turn to when someone is sick or calls in? While your devotion to patient care is commendable, being unable to say no will wear you down and lead to burnout. Remember that it’s OK to say no to coming in on your first day off in what feels like forever. And don’t forget to use your PTO—you earned it! Take the opportunity to recharge and come back to work reinvigorated and ready to take your patient care to the next level.
#4: Focus on the positive aspects of your job
Remember Debbie Downer? Don’t be her. Instead, be the uplifting voice of encouragement and positivity in your practice. Negativity breeds negativity, and by only focusing on things that go wrong, irrational clients, and frightened pets, you’re more likely to have a negative outlook in all areas of your life. Focus instead on that adorable Bernese mountain dog puppy in room two and the fact that your favorite feline patient has entered diabetic remission, and you’ll fall in love with the profession again.
#5: Talk about your feelings with your management team and mental health professionals
If you know you’re burned out and can’t handle another dental cleaning, irate client, or fractious cat, talk to your practice manager or team lead. They should be able to shift your work duties to give you breathing room and remove some of the burden. All too often, strong, motivated employees fall by the wayside, so speak up for yourself when you need help.
Numerous mental health associations and professionals also are available to help. Not One More Vet has a multitude of resources to support mental health, as does the AVMA. If your mental health is suffering, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
#6: Practice self-care techniques
Above all, take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so fill yours by doing activities you love. Whether it’s burying your nose in a good book, training for a mini-marathon, or lounging on the couch with your pack of pets, take time to rejuvenate your body, mind, and soul. Of course, eating healthy foods, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising regularly are important for your physical and mental health, too.
As a practice manager, if you notice your team struggling with burnout, consider hiring temporary relief staff to give them some time off to recharge. Contact Veterinary System Services for help supporting your team.
Brad’s love for animals and exposure to working with them has come in many forms, and spanned decades. From volunteer work, that includes 5 years with the Denver Dumb Friends League, to countless hours being a victim for Search and Rescue dogs, or a chew toy for police dogs, he has a passion for working with animals. In college, Brad worked for a small, three-doctor practice cleaning kennels. Before starting VSS, he spent almost 10 years as an inventory manager for one of the state’s largest animal hospitals. He has seen this industry from many angles.