Dr. Boatright is a 2013 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. She currently works as a small animal general practitioner and emergency clinician in western Pennsylvania at NVA Butler Veterinary Associates and Emergency Center. Her clinical interests include feline medicine, surgery, internal medicine, and emergency. As a freelance writer and speaker, Dr. Boatright enjoys educating veterinary students and colleagues about communication, team building, and the unique challenges facing recent graduates. Outside of the clinic, she is active in her state and local VMAs and serves on the VBMA Alumni Committee. In her spare time, she enjoys running and spending time with her husband, son, and three cats.Read Articles Written by Kate Boatright
What drew you to a career in veterinary medicine? My passion started with a love for animals and was fueled by a fascination with science and problem solving. Unsurprisingly, this is relatable for many in the profession. In the NAVC’s Amplifying the Voice of the Veterinary Community survey, helping animals on a daily basis was listed as a favorite part of the job for 77% of respondents.1
But what may surprise those outside of the profession is the low level of overall job satisfaction that is found within the profession. In the same survey, which included veterinarians and veterinary nurses, only 55% stated that they were satisfied with their job.1
The Consequences of Low Job Satisfaction
Job satisfaction has been extensively researched in many fields. It has been found to influence productivity, organizational success, and the mental and physical health of individuals.2 As we know, the mental health of veterinary professionals is a major concern1,3 and the low level of job satisfaction may be a contributing factor for some.
Poor job satisfaction also leads to a higher rate of turnover.2 In some cases, it leads individuals to exit the profession entirely. One-third of veterinary nurses and a quarter of veterinarians are not likely to stay in the industry in the next 5 years.1 Given that staff turnover is a large cause of stress for veterinary team members,1 these statistics do not bring a positive outlook for the future of job satisfaction in the veterinary profession. But we can change this.
What Impacts Job Satisfaction?
In order to improve the situation, we must first understand which aspects of the job create joy and satisfaction and which cause stress and detract from satisfaction. Aside from helping animals on a daily basis, veterinary professionals find joy in many areas of their work. Both veterinarians and veterinary nurses find meaning and purpose in their work1 and gain a large amount of satisfaction from this. They understand the important role that pets play in the lives of their owners and the impact their work has on strengthening and maintaining the human-animal bond between their clients and patients.
Veterinary professionals are highly educated individuals who have completed rigorous training programs and schooling to receive their credentials. As such, many find the continual learning that comes with the job, as well as passing this knowledge on to clients through education during appointments, another highly satisfying aspect.1 Having a good work-life balance, enjoying supportive relationships with coworkers, and receiving a fair salary also contribute to job satisfaction for veterinarians.3 Working as an effective team among colleagues increases job satisfaction for all team members.2
The largest stressors for veterinary professionals are the same across multiple surveys over the past 5 years. Financial stressors—a combination of high debt and low pay—are significant for veterinarians and veterinary nurses.1,3,4 Additional factors that increase stress and lower job satisfaction include toxic work environments and time constraints placed on appointments by clinic management.1,2 For veterinarians, stress levels, suicide rates, declining willingness of clients to pay for care, cyberbullying, and difficulty maintaining work-life balance are other major stressors.3
Improve Job Satisfaction at Your Clinic
Some of the most stressful parts of the job, such as the high debt load and compassion fatigue, are problems that are pervasive in the profession. They have been discussed extensively and are unlikely to be solved quickly. However, there are many things that can be done in your own practice to improve your team’s job satisfaction by addressing common stressors.
First and foremost, clinics should prioritize effective and clear communication between team members to increase efficiency and transparency. Clinic leaders should engage employees to learn what concerns they have and what areas of practice they’re most passionate about. Ask team members for their suggested solutions and encourage them to advance their training in the aspects of the job they most enjoy. While it may not be possible to address every concern, acknowledging the concerns and listening with an open mind offers an excellent first step to improving the work environment and levels of job satisfaction.
Next, evaluate your clinic’s appointment schedule. Does your staff have enough time to complete an appointment in the time allotted? Is your team pressured to maximize the number of patients they are seeing in a short amount of time at the cost of their own mental health? Consider exploring newer scheduling techniques such as flex-scheduling, where different types of appointments are scheduled for varying times. For instance, a recheck or booster vaccine may be a 10-minute appointment while a new puppy examination or sick appointment is allotted 30 minutes.
Additionally, set boundaries on the schedule to minimize double bookings and allow your staff to leave on time as often as possible, which will improve work-life balance. These changes will also benefit your clients and patients. When appointments are appropriately scheduled, client education can be prioritized. On the other hand, when the clinic is understaffed and team members are exhausted, overworked, and rushing to catch up when behind schedule, mistakes are more likely to happen and clients are less likely to be satisfied with their visit.
Finally, ensure that your clinic is adequately staffed and fully utilizing the skills of all team members. Recognize the extensive training that your veterinary nurses have achieved and allow them to take the lead on technical tasks. Utilize your support staff to help with client education. By appropriately leveraging your staff, doctors are able to focus on the level of care being offered to patients and bonding clients to your practice.
Each practice will find different strategies for addressing employee concerns and improving job satisfaction for their team members. If each workplace takes the time to move toward a more positive, enjoyable working atmosphere, the job satisfaction of the profession as a whole can move in a positive direction as well.
1. NAVC. Amplifying the Voice of the Veterinary Community. navc.com/download/2020_NAVC_Voice_of_the_Vet.pdf. Accessed May 2020.
2. Moore IC, Coe JB, Adams CL, et al. The role of veterinary team effectiveness in job satisfaction and burnout in companion animal veterinary clinics. JAVMA 2014;245(5):513-524.
3. Volk J, Schimmack U, Strand E, et al. Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study II. vetwellbeing.com. Accessed May 2020.
4. NAVTA. 2016 Demographics Survey Results. cdn.ymaws.com/www.navta.net/resource/resmgr/docs/2016_demographic_results.pdf. Accessed July 2020.