Veterinary Management Groups (VMG)

Mitigating Burnout and Compassion Fatigue in Your Veterinary Hospital

Posted on May 26, 2023 at 11:35 AM by Julie Squires, Certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist

In a veterinary hospital, quality clinical care depends on intuitive teamwork in high-stress situations. Your staff must be able to work together efficiently and compassionately under pressure, no matter the extenuating circumstances. In other words, they need to be at their mental and emotional best to provide the best care for patients. This also means that their wellbeing is critical to your hospital’s overall success. 

A variety of recent stressors, however, make veterinary hospital staff especially vulnerable to burnout and/or compassion fatigue, including: 

  • General lack of resources 
  • Uptick in client volume 
  • Difficult and/or uncooperative clients 
  • Emotional projection from clients under duress  
  • Covid-related limitations (increased call volume, greater client stress, the back-and-forth of curbside, etc.) 
  • Generational divide between senior management and lower-level staff 

As a hospital owner, you are uniquely positioned to help lessen the burden of these stressors by introducing meaningful operational changes – and equipping everyone (that includes you) with mental health resources. By taking action to alleviate burnout, you also heighten the level of compassion and quality of care provided to patients (and their owners) at your hospital. 

Recognizing burnout in your hospital 

Before you start mitigating burnout, let’s examine how it develops – and what it looks like when it does. According to life coach Julie Squires, burnout typically occurs when we ask people to do too much with too little. “Too many phone calls, not enough appointment slots. Too many surgeries, not enough surgeons,” she explains, “This sets people up to feel like they’re not enough.” Since many veterinary workers attach their sense of self-worth to their work, they start to lose momentum when they don’t have the tools to succeed – and patient care suffers as a result. 

Burnout leads to compassion fatigue, or vice versa. The order is less important than the net effect on client experience and patient care, says Squires. So how can you spot burnout in your hospital?

At the individual level, it usually presents as:

  • Apathy 
  • Emotional numbness  
  • Inability to interact effectively with peers  

These individual symptoms begin to manifest across your hospital staff as an overall dip in morale with increased interpersonal conflict among teams. If you are noticing these trends, it is important to take decisive action to course correct and reprioritize wellness at your hospital.  

Walk the talk: what you can do to help 

First, gather information by conducting a simple staff survey. That way, you have solid data to help you gauge morale and identify the root causes of burnout in your hospital. Once you have the hard facts, take a firm look at the culture of your hospital. How are you making people feel valued? 

Beware the cheap fixes, warns Squires. The occasional pizza party isn’t a panacea for toxic workplaces. Your actions as a leader, however, can go a long way. Make it clear to your staff that their mental health is a priority and regularly communicate updates and changes that reflect your commitment.  

What areas of operation lack sufficient time, money or space for people to do what is being asked of them? Are there simple scheduling adjustments, like limiting double bookings, that could make a real difference in the daily life of your staff? Are you modeling a positive work-life balance for them? 

Additional considerations: 

  • Creating clear boundaries for client behavior 
  • Defining best practices for teamwork 
  • Designating physical spaces for necessary downtime  
  • Implementing hourly limits on shifts

Your place to turn 

None of these changes will matter, however, if you are not operating from a place of compassion and strong mental health yourself. Given the isolating nature of hospital ownership, it can be difficult to recognize your own burnout, or how that burnout might contribute to a broader culture of unrest at your hospital. 

As a hospital owner, you have to take care of your flock. VMG is a flock to take care of you. By joining our study groups, you have the opportunity to connect with your peers, be candid and learn from their experiences.  

Our membership is also a place to access professional resources from mental health experts. 

Squires, for example, combines life coaching with a cognitive approach to help veterinarians and their staff manage their reactions to client behavior as well as the stress of the profession. She regularly conducts workshops and provides individual consultations to VMG members looking to relieve stress and burnout in their hospitals. 

Changing your practice culture is not a quick fix. It requires constant growth and development, and, most of all, leadership. We’re here to help you make meaningful progress and find more meaning in your position as a hospital owner. To get started, contact our Member Services today. 

Tagged As: Mental Health

Veterinary Management Groups (VMG)
6455 East Johns Crossing, Suite 125
Johns Creek, GA 30097
Phone: 678-395-3470 678-395-3470
Fax: 770-676-5631
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