Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in the Veterinary Space


As humans, we are natural creatures of habit. We like to see the same people, we like to know what to expect, and we are hesitant to accept change especially when it might be scary. These past three years of uncertainty during and in the recovery of COVID has only accelerated that feeling of anxiety to change. 

Why do I bring this up? If you have been a client of Riverview Animal Clinic then you are aware that we have undergone many changes in a short period of time. We have had retirements and illnesses, staff turnovers, changes in procedures and policies, and after 30 years have decided to close on Sundays. It has been quite the journey over the short time since COVID for better or worse forced us all to look at things in life differently. However Riverview is not alone in this trend throughout our beloved field.  

The veterinary profession is a rewarding field that is filled with caring, empathetic humans and Riverview is no exception. We are a team filled with compassion and dedication to excellence in patient care. However, if our team does not help balance their personal wellbeing with the daily dedication to the care and wellbeing of our patients, then fatigue can develop. This fatigue of caring is known as Compassion Fatigue and is defined as the cost of caring for others. Over time, this fatigue can lead to less empathy throughout the caregiving team. This is a more severe form of Burnout which is the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion impact of a stressful workplace. Oftentimes Burnout will fluctuate depending on the season but Compassion Fatigue is much deeper and more of an emotional response due to the secondary traumatic stress of caregiving. 

What makes the Veterinary team at risk for these states?

  1. Emotional Stress- we get emotionally involved with the care of your pet. We want them to be well, happy and pain free. Most of all we want to help them when they are sick and help you help take care of them. When we have bad news or a traumatic event of loss, we feel that among the team as well. 
  2. Long hours and Physical Demands- sometimes our days don’t always go as we planned resulting in long days, missed lunches, and late nights. Some days, we see more patients than we had scheduled for a given day. Some days the patients are stressed and upset which means we have to change our approach so that they are more calm. We end up on our feet most of the day and our team is out in all types of weather conditions to care for our boarding guests. 
  3. Financial stress- typically for the amount of education and training our Doctors have, the financial rewards have taken a while to catch up to where the industry should be. The Licensed technician and support staff have lagged behind other industries as well. The cost of veterinary care has steadily increased over the past 20 years in order to pay and retain these important team members. However, knowing price increases create financial stress for our pet owners circles back around to affect the staff as well. 
  4. High expectations and responsibilities- We know how important your pet is to you and your family. All of our staff at Riverview Animal Clinic want to provide you access to care promptly and we want you to receive exceptional care for your pet! So this stressor may be a little self inflicted but it is what we want for our own pets. However, we hold it as a core value and try to work to provide this each time. 

So why am I even talking about this? Especially in a public space? Well it’s the Elephant in the Room- once we recognize that it’s there then we can take steps to help the Elephant find its herd and not allow it to weigh heavily on our team. 

What is Riverview doing to help strike a balance between caring for you and your pet and keeping our team well balanced?

  1. We will always care personally. There is no shortage of caring. We are facing a shortage of caring Animal Care Technicians so you might find that the boarding, bathing, and pick up times are more limited than in the past. On our CSR team, you may see new faces but they are getting to know your pet with the boarding information on file and checking out in exam rooms. Our veterinary medical team will be able to sign group sympathy cards for our patients that we are grieving together. Our medical team has new faces as well but we are training them to provide consistent care to your family. We have counseling available for team members when they need it. Our Leadership team encourages candid feedback at all levels to make the daily working experience as meaningful as possible. 
  2. For our schedule we’ve changed appointments to sick and well visits; allowing more time in the sick visits to allow time to discuss all the issues with this current problem or to review more complicated medical cases. We are trying to hire new Veterinarians to provide more time for patients to schedule but now as we go into 2024 there will be opportunities to schedule same day appointments on Monday and Friday’s. We hope to hire one Veterinarian with Exotic interest to provide more access to care for that population of patients as well and one veterinarian who is interested in general practice like the rest of us! 
  3. Discussing finances is always a balance. We recognize that the cost of owning a pet has increased and that the cost of running a small business has increased. We offer pet insurance options, we have Scratch Pay, Care Credit, and Vet Billing services to help with your pet’s medical costs, and as we go into next year Riverview will be offering a Pet Health Savings Account through our Business Office. Our goal is to help with the costs of care while providing exceptional care AND financially supporting our team with a true viable profession that they can develop as a career. 
  4. The high expectations and responsibilities are our own stressor because it is a goal to constantly strive towards. Our veterinarians combat that source of stress with continually learning and training. We have instituted Career Development for all parts of our team with focuses on developing professional skills. 

I hope that this opportunity to peek behind the curtain so that you can see what the balance of keeping a great team in place means to our amazing Leadership Group of Brianne, Allison, Carol and myself. We want a happy, healthy and well functioning team so we have put in place these steps over the past few years. It is hard work at times but to carry out a passion for the mission of Riverview Animal Clinic is always fulfilling!