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9 Tips For Overcoming Vet Nurse Burnout

Research indicates that over 25% of workers report experiencing high levels of burnout as a result of their jobs. And the field of veterinary medicine is not immune to this trend. Vet Nurses, in particular, are subject to burnout as a result of the daily stressors you face. Failure to address this burnout can lead to serious problems such as depression, stroke, and other serious health complications. Fortunately, there are some simple measures that you, your work mates and your hospital or clinic can take to recognize, prevent or manage the symptoms of burnout. Here are nine tips for us all to consider to prevent or overcome burnout…

1) Know the signs of burnout

“Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.”

The first and most important step to reducing burnout is to know the symptoms. Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D., notes that symptoms of burnout tend to fall into three categories:

  1. Physical and emotional exhaustion

  2. Feelings that you have failed to accomplish anything

  3. Cynicism and detachment

These three categories include specific symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, loss of appetite, and lack of productivity. If you recognize any of these signs in yourself or your team, it is time to swing into action and follow the steps below.

2) Identify the key factors causing burnout

While burnout can stem from multiple factors, there is often one predominant theme that causes burnout to develop. The American Institute of Stress points to four factors that are likely to affect Vet Nurses and other Veterinary workers:

  1. Struggles managing workload

  2. Issues working with clients and co-workers

  3. Difficulties juggling work and personal lives

  4. Concerns about job security

In addition to these factors, many Vet Nurses see animals euthanized on a regular basis. This can take an emotional toll on all of the team, but for Vet Nurses especially. Take a minute to step back from your job and see exactly which aspects of your job are causing you to experience burnout. This can help you determine the best course of action to reduce or eliminate your symptoms or of a fellow team mate or one of the team you may be leading.

3) Take a break from working overtime if possible

Veterinary practices can be extremely chaotic and a growing number of vet hospitals are offering 24/7 service. For these reasons, it is common for Vet Nurses to work overtime on a regular basis. This can lead to poor work-life balance and feelings of frustration. Sometimes reducing or eliminating overtime for a month or two can greatly alleviate burnout symptoms. Practice Managers need to balance the need for extra work hours with a sensible approach to ensuring the short and long term well-being of all their team members, and especially Vet Nurses as well as Veterinarians.

4) Ensure you are adhering to a proper sleep and eating schedule

Taking care of your body and mind is vital to ensuring that you remain healthy and able to care for your family and patients. Strive to sleep for 7–8 hours each night and make sure that your busy work schedule is not interfering with your ability to eat a healthful breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As a leader, encourage your team to take their breaks on time, and to try to acheeve a “sense of separation” during those breaks by suggesting a walk outside or even a cat-nap!

5) Communicate with your boss

Having an honest conversation with your Practice Manager or Vet Lead is one of the best things a Vet Nurse can do when suffering from burnout. Depending upon the factors contributing to your sense of burnout, your boss might be able to make some adjustments in your schedule or responsibilities that could alleviate your burnout. A good boss will either already have in place steps to help, or will have recognized the situation and raised it with you. Here are some tips that will help you discuss things with a less-enlightened practice:

  • Explain that your job satisfaction is compromised by too much overtime and conflicting demands

  • Note the total number of hours (including overtime) you have worked in the past six months

  • If scheduling is a primary source of your stress, ask your boss if you can work a different schedule

  • Ask your boss for any helpful tips on managing burnout in the vet industry

6) Explore the possibility of working in a different area of veterinary medicine

There are many specialties within the field of veterinary medicine. As a Vet Nurse, many of your skills will easily transfer from your current specialty to one that offers different work hours or daily responsibilities. For instance, you may wish to explore specialties such as veterinary dermatology or working with a Veterinary Specialist work that do not require evening hours or work on holidays. Here are a few other specialties that offer a change of pace from work in a private practice or hospital:

  • Laboratory animal medicine

  • Animal behaviour

  • Veterinary sports medicine

  • Veterinary pharmaceutical research

  • Veterinary Rep

Look at this option as enhancing your skills as well as providing a little breathing room — you can always return, but you may also find a different path that equally delights and with improved job satisfaction.

7) Develop productive ways to react to stress

“Typically, what I teach is that the biggest factor is what you’re looking at in the mirror. It’s all about how you react to the stress…Certainly, clients can be stressful, coworkers can be stressful, pets can be stressful, but it’s all in how you handle it.” Cherie Buisson, DVM, owner of Veterinary Relief and Support Services LLC

Developing productive coping mechanisms will help you at work and other areas of your life.

8) Ramp up your exercise routine

Studies show that an exercise routine helps individuals suffering from burnout increase their sense of accomplishment and positive well-being. Cardiovascular exercise, in particular, is found to relieve the emotional exhaustion and perceived stress that can accompany burnout. You can start by engaging in thirty minutes of walking or biking each day. If it can be challenging to find time to exercise at home, here are some ways to incorporate exercise into your workday as a vet nurse:

  • Offer to walk any animals that are being housed onsite

  • Take twenty to thirty minutes of your lunch hour to go for a short walk off site

  • Walk or bike to work if you live within close proximity

9) Seek professional help if you are overcome by depression

Sometimes the symptoms of burnout can intensify to the point that you experience depression. If you notice that you are experiencing symptoms such as hopelessness, overwhelming fatigue, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, make sure you seek professional help from a trained mental health professional.

The Bottom Line

Burnout is an unfortunate reality for too many in the world today and in the Veterinary arena, Vet Nurses have a particularly challenging time. Learning to recognize the symptoms of burnout and developing strategies to eliminate them is critical to enjoying your important role as a Vet Nurse, and equally important when you are a colleague or Hospital Manager or Practice Owner. By following the recommendations above, you and your team will be able to start on a journey to overcome and even prevent symptoms of burnout and help recapture the magic you all once experienced when you first began working with animals.

By Matt Lee

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