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4 Ways to Avoid Burnout in Veterinary Medicine

6 matchsticks, all but one of which are burnt out

One of the best ways to avoid burnout in veterinary medicine is by pursuing a positive mindset.

The field of positive psychology shows us that a positive mindset is critical to overall well-being; including mental health, physical health, and financial health. Research has demonstrated that 48% of veterinarians are highly affected by stress and would not recommend the profession to friends and family. It, therefore, seems that negative feelings such as stress could not only be hampering you as an individual but the future of the industry. 

It is easy to mentally curl up in a ball when we make a mistake, a client complains, or we don’t get something right immediately. Once we do this, however, we are at risk of becoming stuck in a cycle of negative storytelling which can eventually lead to burnout. Thoughts are intrinsically linked to feelings, so it makes sense that negative thought patterns could lead us down a rabbit warren of negative emotions such as stress.

By the same token though, positive thoughts lead to positive feelings: imagine being able to cultivate a positive mindset, so that when you encounter difficulties you can take them on the chin and tackle them.

This is exactly what you will learn to do with the help of this article, in four basic steps.

Read on to learn how to avoid burnout in veterinary medicine.

Keep an Open Mind

Although it is good to set goals and have aspirations, you should try to avoid having a one-track mind. If you have a closed mind, when things go wrong or there is a misunderstanding, you might be likely to react instantaneously instead of responding rationally.

For example, if a client does not follow your recommendation, try not to react with frustration. Put yourself in their shoes: could they have a deep-seated fear of anesthesia, for example? Would they struggle to afford the treatment? Are there any alternatives you can offer? How can you communicate with them persuasively, without being condescending or judgemental? Well, the trick is to show empathy and curiosity.

Ask open questions, really listen to, and attempt to understand what your client is saying. Retain eye contact, nod, and explain things calmly.

Similarly, if there is a disagreement in your veterinary team, react with curiosity rather than judgment. Is there a reason why your colleague disagrees with you? Seek to understand the other person’s perspective, rather than trying to be ‘right’.

Engage with a Community

‘We are all in this together.’ Cheesy perhaps, but nonetheless true. Unfortunately, however, new veterinarians are bouncing out of the profession early because they do not feel supported. If you are feeling alone or encounter a negative experience, the best thing to do is share your feelings with a supportive community. 

Sharing our experiences can not only be cathartic but bring the community together. It is more than likely that your peers have had similar experiences. For example, imagine you are attempting to master a skill such as inserting an IV, but you are struggling. You end up with a growing pile of consumables, and you feel judged by more experienced team members. Beware though! There is a fine line between sharing and venting. Although it’s fine to reach out for help if you are struggling, constantly complaining can bring others down and lead to learned helplessness.

First of all, just know that you are not alone. No one, not even your experienced colleagues, mastered this skill the first time around.

Secondly, keep at it. Mastery only comes with practice, a lot of persistence, and resilience. Keep a journal tracking your progress and make sure you keep sharing your experiences with your network.

Infuse Communication with Positivity

Positivity (and negativity) is contagious. As such, you should try to approach conversations – with clients, your boss, your colleagues – with warmth, sincerity, and positivity. You could imagine a client is a relative or friend you haven’t seen in years. Greet them warmly, ask how they are, and don’t forget to acknowledge their pet too!

It is true that the top veterinarians seem to share the same quality: a genuine interest in people. If we don’t learn to communicate with our team members and clients effectively, we risk alienating ourselves. Our advice is to ‘fake it til you make it.’ Don’t be scared of people! Be nice, open, and friendly to others, and they will be nice to you. It sounds simple, but the demands of veterinary work sometimes mean we forget the simple principle of being nice.

To infuse communication with positivity you should always ask how someone is and genuinely take interest in their life. You should greet them with a smile and retain eye contact. Finally, you should be personable (as appropriate): use their first name, and laugh at their jokes (especially your boss’s).

Have an Outlet

The best way to build long-term resilience, maintain a positive outlook and avoid burnout in veterinary medicine is by having an outlet. Because of the demanding nature of veterinary work, and the passion you have for looking after animals, you might find yourself becoming defined by your profession. If you solely identify as a ‘veterinarian’ without having any other hobbies or passions, your job can become consuming to the point of burnout.

Furthermore, having a hobby – particularly something sporty or creative – can influence your approach to your job for the better. 

To develop a positive mindset is to build your defenses against burnout. Self-awareness goes a long way, so if you notice yourself becoming entangled in a negative mindset, employ these tips. Keep an open mind, engage with your network, have positive communications, and get a hobby! 

If you found this article on how to avoid burnout in veterinary medicine useful, why not check out our 'So You're a Vet... Now What?' course for essential lessons they don't teach in vet school!
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