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Is it "burn out" or "compassion fatigue?"

    • 2 posts
    February 22, 2021 2:42 PM EST

    Research highlights the importance of maintaining health and wellness - not only to sustain oneself in a challenging profession like veterinary medicine, but to also provide good service to patients and clients alike. If you aren’t feeling whole and healthy, it’s hard to put a good face forward to clients and give your best to the animals in your care. In spite of our knowledge about its importance many veterinary professionals are lacking the tools to manifest such wellbeing, constructively manage their stressors, and achieve work-life balance. The consequences can be devastating. We are all very aware that veterinarians have a higher rate of suicide compared to the general population, but there are other consequences, too, including people dropping out of the profession.

    People have been talking about things like stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue as affecting veterinary professionals for some time now. The words "burnout" and "compassion fatigue," specifically, are thrown around a lot in discussions about veterinary wellbeing. But what exactly do those words mean?

    Burnout can develop in response to prolonged exposure to job stress. Stressors can include insufficient resources, high workload, and inadequate organizational support. Veterinary professionals commonly report that they encounter these types of stressors in their work setting.

    People who work in the caring professions (including veterinary medicine) are frequently exposed to the pain and suffering of others. Compassion fatigue - commonly referred to as the ‘cost of caring’ - develops due to the cumulative exposure and impacts of secondary trauma sustained in the course of that work (e.g. exposure to the pain and suffering of others). Compassion fatigue is also often referred to as “empathic strain,” and an affected individual may feel emotionally numb in their interactions with others. Those experiencing compassion fatigue are likely to feel a range of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual impacts that can interfere with both personal and professional happiness.

    Compassion fatigue typically follows a trajectory and develops in phases: 

    1. The person is still committed, available, involved (The Zealot Phase)
    2. The person is starting to cut corners, avoid interactions, feels distracted (The Irritability Phase)
    3. The person is feeling tired most or all of the time, has numb emotions, lacks enthusiasm (The Withdrawal Phase)
    4. The person is feeling disconnected from self and others, has no compassion, working in auto-pilot mode (The Zombie Phase)
    5. The person is now considering leaving the profession OR wanting to transform (Pathology vs. Renewal / Maturation)

    There is good news for anyone who identifies themself as being somewhere on that spectrum. Compassion fatigue is very responsive to change, and with some guidance, support, and tools, can be transformed to a state of resilience.

    If any of this resonates with you, choosing to address burnout and compassion fatigue could be the single most important professional move of your career. Learn more about VetVine’s Wellness and Professional Resiliency Coaching Program - we're here for you!