By Aisling O’Keeffe
*Don’t forget to check out the end of the article for details on our Mental Health Charity and CPD event, The Titanic Vet Show, happening in Belfast in May 2023. You won’t want to miss it!*
What is burnout including common causes, signs and treatment.
Veterinary medicine is often referred to as a vocation or calling and even though this is true for many of us, that doesn’t mean that it’s an easy job. Working in the veterinary industry can have many challenges and for driven perfectionists in the veterinary industry, this can be difficult. Burnout is an ever-increasing problem in the veterinary community and vets are twice as likely to commit suicide compared to other professions such as dentistry or medicine. With increased awareness around mental health nowadays and especially in veterinary medicine, it’s important to recognise the signs of burnout and what to do if you or a colleague experience this.
Is it time for a change In your professional career?
The Vet Service has endless opportunities available for the next step in your veterinary career. Register on our website and our expert area advisors will be more than happy to contact you.
What is Burnout?
According to WHO, burnout is a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress. It’s a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that can result in feelings of negativity and detachment towards your job. This can result in overwhelming emotional exhaustion that can negatively affect an individual’s physical and mental health in the workplace and in their personal lives.
Why Do Vets Suffer From Burnout?
Burnout is very common in helping and caring professions such as human and veterinary medicine. In veterinary medicine, it can occur for many reasons. One of the reasons is the nature of the job itself. Vets often work long, difficult hours which can include providing out of hours veterinary care to patients during the night or weekends and they often work overtime.
Vets are animal lovers that are deeply compassionate and caring. They often have to deal with difficult cases such as very sick pets, euthanasia, animal cruelty cases and cases where finances have to dictate the outcome of a patient’s case. Pets are a part of people’s family which often means that there’s high expectations and pressure on vets, including the threat of legal action if things don’t go well. As you can imagine, the above factors can cause a lot of stress for vets.
I’m sure that many vets would agree, that the coronavirus pandemic put extra stress on veterinary clinics. There was an increased demand for veterinary services as pet ownership numbers rose. An increased pet population meant that veterinary clinics that were already short staffed, were often stretched beyond their limit. Many people found the pandemic stressful in general and sometimes veterinary staff were on the receiving end of this.
All of these factors together or separate, can cause significant stress and strain on vets. Along with working with the public and trying to build a positive vet-owner bond, they also have to look out for the pet’s health and welfare. This can be difficult to navigate on it’s own without adding in the extra strains that we’ve mentioned above.
Who Does Burnout Affect?
Burnout can affect veterinary staff of all ages, but in a recent survey it showed that younger vets under the age of 30 had the highest rates of burnout. This may be due to increased client expectations (with the readiness of information available on the internet and more pets becoming members of the family), increased awareness about work/life balance and the use of social media (which as we know can be negative sometimes). Younger vets working during the covid-19 pandemic would have also experienced extra stress and pressure.
Signs of Burnout
Now that we’ve discussed burnout and some of the causes, it’s important to recognise the signs. Burnout can affect anyone in the veterinary community of any age or gender but it can be more common in younger vets who are more recently qualified. We need to look out for our colleagues (and ourselves) when it comes to mental health and work as a team to improve the situation.
Signs of Burnout in Yourself
These can be difficult to notice, as often things occur over time with chronic stress. Signs include but aren’t limited to;
– Exhaustion (lacking energy)
– Lacking motivation
– Feeling negative or cynical towards your job
– Feeling job detachment
– Feeling like you’re lacking accomplishment
– Difficulty concentrating
– Difficulty sleeping
– Relying on food, drugs or alcohol to feel better
Signs of Burnout in a Colleague
These may be similar to signs above but may be more difficult to spot when it isn’t ourselves. Signs that you may notice with someone in your workplace include;
– Being withdrawn or isolating themselves
– Refusing assistance with cases
– Pushing themselves too hard e.g. working extra hours, setting unrealistic goals
– Health changes e.g. lacking sleep
If you notice any change in yourself or your colleague, don’t ignore it. It may be a sign of chronic stress and burnout and a sign that help is needed.
How to Help Burnout
It can be really worrying if you think a colleague is suffering from burnout or if you notice that you’re feeling stressed yourself. Burnout needs immediate action as it jeopardises the emotional and physical well being of the veterinary professional in question and it can also affect patient care.
If you think you’re suffering from burnout there are a couple of things you can do;
– Talk to a trusted friend or colleague
– Visit your GP and seek professional help
– Talk to your boss or manager
– Take some time off
– Ring a veterinary organisation such as; https://www.vetlife.org.uk/ or https://www.nomv.org/ or vetsupport.me
Be mindful of approaching a colleague if you think they’re suffering from burnout. People can experience stress from various different things in life (e.g. a sick family member or marriage breakdown) and it may be that you don’t know the full situation. They need to be approached gently and with care.
Try to Prevent Burnout
It isn’t always possible to prevent burnout as some factors are out of our control e.g. a run of difficult emotional cases. There are things that we can do to try and remain at optimum emotional and physical health, which in turn may help against burnout.
Things to do include;
– Eat well
– Get enough sleep
– Exercise daily
– Set clear work boundaries
– Reduce working hours if needed
– Take a break after a stressful case if possible e.g. get a coffee, go for a walk.
– Talk to colleagues or friends about any difficulties that you’re having. Things that are bottled up tend to get worse.
– Most importantly, be kind to yourself.
Over time you may learn that certain things cause you stress in work and you may have your own ways to deal with this. E.g. If carrying out surgical procedures causes you chronic stress and worry, it may be that you decide to do mainly consulting or ask for another vet to help out during procedures. Remember that whatever works for you to keep you stress-free and healthy is the most important thing.
Burnout is a syndrome that has affected many veterinary professionals, including many of our friends and maybe even ourselves. Long working hours and difficult high pressure cases can trigger this, along with the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important to recognise the signs of burnout so that you can get the help that’s needed. Our mental health isn’t something to be undervalued and we need to look after ourselves first and foremost.
Have you read our other mental health and well-being blogs on our education hub?
Check out ‘Looking After Our Mental Health and Well-being in 2023
If you’re feeling burnt out from your current veterinary job and are searching for a change, The Vet Service can assist you. We provide vet jobs worldwide, including International Vet Jobs, Vet Jobs in The USA, Vet Jobs in Australia, Vet Jobs in New Zealand, Vet Jobs in Canada, Vet Jobs in the UK, and Vet Jobs in Ireland.
Connect with us now and we will help you take the next step in your veterinary career. With our numerous available opportunities, you can find a fresh start and hopefully avoid burnout. So, if you’re looking for a change, register with us today!
Mental Health Charity Fundraiser
In case you missed it – The Vet Service are holding a Mental Health Charity Fundraiser, The Titanic Vet Show , which will take place on the 5th-6th May 2023!
All proceeds from the event go to ‘Vet Support‘ a voluntary mental health support service for vets across the UK and Ireland. We are also running a donation campaign to support the fantastic work done by VetSupport. We would like to encourage attendees to donate before the event to help us reach our fundraising goal. However, there will also be a donation drive during the event, so attendees can contribute on the day. Donations can be made at https://thevetservice.com/titanic-vet-show-2023/.
The show will take place at the iconic Titanic Belfast in Northern Ireland. There will be six expert speakers over the two days covering topics relating to Mental Health and Communication between Vets and Clients, with Q&A sessions after each talk (Worth 6 hours CPD)
The event will take place over two days on Friday 5th (4 talks) and Saturday 6th May 2023 (2 talks) and will include a range of exhibitors from the veterinary industry, excellent networking opportunities, and a black-tie gala dinner on the Friday evening (all included in the ticket!)
Will we see you there?
Tickets, donations and more info available here: https://thevetservice.com/titanic-vet-show-2023/