Compassion Fatigue and the Veterinarian
From the Field shares insights from Banfield Pet Hospital veterinary team members. Drawing from the nationwide practice’s extensive research, as well as findings from its electronic veterinary medical records database and more than 8 million annual pet visits, this column is intended to explore topics and spark conversations relevant to veterinary practices that ultimately help create a better world for pets.
HEALTH + WELLBEING
Taking care of ourselves and showing support to our colleagues sets the tone for providing optimal patient care.
The health and wellbeing of veterinary professionals have increasingly become a focus for the industry in recent years. Historically, our profession has enabled a culture of “shame and blame” that’s affected veterinarians and paraprofessionals throughout their entire careers. I’m sure many of you reading this remember a time when the phrase “compassion fatigue” was used as a label for what many of us experience while practicing, but meat on the bones of those discussions was lacking—and the resources we needed to help us.
Fortunately, we are seeing new programs introduced at veterinary medical colleges and professional organizations like the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to ensure wellbeing is incorporated into curriculum and resources. Some universities and practices are also involving veterinary social workers as a support system for their students and associates. And major organizations, from American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) to Mars, Inc., are focusing on the wellbeing of their members and associates by providing unique solutions to the stressors that veterinary professionals face every day.
What we are witnessing is a promising cultural shift within our profession; however, we cannot rest on our laurels. We must continue this important conversation. We must be willing to reach out when we need help and lean on each other. By sharing our stories, we make our profession stronger, and we destigmatize much of what has plagued us over the decades.
I have personally suffered through compassion fatigue—and still struggle with anxiety and depression on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis. Thanks to sustained conversations and the normalizing of an issue and topic once thought taboo in our profession, I have had the opportunity to dig into the root causes of compassion fatigue, providing perspective on how I can best manage my stressors.
By understanding how rumination, emotional labor and moral and ethical stress impact each of us, we can better understand how to self-manage, whether through tools like journaling or just sharing an experience with a close colleague. I’m extremely proud to be part of Banfield Pet Hospital’s commitment to helping bring these topics to the forefront by providing education on compassion fatigue, stress resilience and confronting conflict—and by providing tools for our associates and the broader profession. I encourage you to check out Banfield’s wellbeing content sessions, available at multiple conferences this year and at VMX 2019.
While such a shift will take time, each of us can do our part to ensure we are good stewards and ambassadors for future professionals. As leaders in our clinics, we can be vulnerable and share our own stories of struggle, enabling others the opportunity to share as well. We can utilize the resources that organizations like the AVMA (avma.org) and VetFolio (vetfolio.com) have compiled for us, such as the “Wheel of Wellbeing,” and bring our hospital teams along on the journey.
FIGURE 1 is an example of a resource we created for our Banfield hospital teams, which we encourage them—and you—to use during daily huddles to ensure wellbeing is part of everyday conversations.
Compassion fatigue will never have a one-size-fits-all solution, but it’s imperative that we do the right things for ourselves and our profession by talking about and making our mental health and wellbeing a priority. For us to be the best veterinary professionals we can be, we must first take care of ourselves.