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Alyssa Mages, CVO

29 May 2020

Burning the candle at both ends.  No rest for the weary – or wicked.  Keep on keepin’ on.  Push through. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. You got this!  Fake it till you make it.  Dig deep.  Everyday I’m hustlin’.

Do any of those phrases instill a sense of peace?  When we read them, does it make us truly feel like we’re accomplished or are accomplishing anything?  I’ve said them, all of them, at one point or another to keep myself going when in all honesty I didn’t really have anything left to give.  They became empty words eventually, poured into the hollowness that grew time after time.  I was burnt.  Fried & frazzled.  Spent.  How did I get here?  I was in a position where others looked to me for guidance and support and I wasn’t doing them any good in this state, let alone my own mental health.  What could I do to change this for myself and those around me?  I started with research – my go-to for solving most things – and found more than I bargained for or was able to digest.  Narrowed it down to my industry and voila, validation that I wasn’t crazy, burnout is a real concern, and there are many avenues to address it and even better – prevent it.

A fabulous paper – my scientific heart jumped for joy to have research backed evidence –  in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care (JVECC) focused on the burnout experienced by veterinary nurses/technicians and found that it’s not only too common, but that (not surprisingly) it’s also associated with multiple undesirable outcomes – both personal & for our patients.  The conclusion also stated that there should be work-related interventions for reduction of burnout, and these should focus on improving supervisor relationships and maintaining an appropriate patient:caregiver ratio¹ (Hayes et al.).  I agree with their points wholeheartedly, but would also add in that more supportive measures are warranted such as team wellness meetings, provisions for physical & emotional needs, and recognition of where the team is at as a whole, essentially being able to read the room and respond accordingly; even better, plan ahead to prevent this from the outset. 

                I’ve mentioned the prevention part now too many times to ignore, so let’s visit that concept now.  How can we as individuals stop burnout before it starts?  True, this depends on your position within the practice – in a veterinary setting – but also workforce-wide, where you lie in the hierarchical structure likely determines the impact that you’re able to impart, initially.  At the risk of being clichéd, every journey does begin with that proverbial 1st step and a greater impact does start with a small movement creating ripples onward, outward, and upward – so take it, or make it.  Talk to your manager or supervisor, share with them what you’re feeling, seeing, experiencing.  Have some thoughts for solutions while presenting the concern for the problem – helps you, helps them, helps your team.

                Starting with a private conversation leads to bigger discussions practice or company-wide and will – hopefully – lead to a positive change.  Assessing the care provider:patient ratio and setting protocols in place so that this isn’t overreached.  Instilling outreach measures within the team and from management to the team so that everyone is engaged and heard.  Provide physical outlets and emotional support options for team members.  Ensure that personal days are encouraged to be utilized, maybe a separation of sick leave and personal leave can be implemented.  These are just a few ideas and not all my own – remember, research! – so this means that they are accessible for everyone.

                The next part is for us to self-recognize when we’re starting to get singed before we burn up and out.  What are your tells?  Hopefully not too physically draining to make you aware – but being extra tired, irritable, making mistakes when that is NOT what you do, feeling ‘off’ – none of these should be ignored nor should they be a source of shame.  Your feelings are real, they are yours, and they will impact not only you, but your team.  Speak up, speak out and you’ll not only help yourself but so many others.  Take a moment, breathe, get out in nature, or delve into a great book or movie.   Get moving – bike, run, swim, yoga.  Call someone, journal, paint, bake, or take time to simply be with yourself & be OK with who you are, where you’re at and if you’re not OK then you know it’s time to make a change and stop the fire that’s burning you out from spreading. 

¹ Hayes, Galina M., et al. “Investigation of Burnout Syndrome and Job‐related Risk Factors in Veterinary Technicians in Specialty Teaching Hospitals: A Multicenter Cross‐sectional Study.” Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, vol. 30, no. 1, 16 Dec. 2019, pp. 18–27, 10.1111/vec.12916. Accessed 21 March 2020.

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