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Is Being A Vet Stressful? - How To Manage Work-Related Stress



‘Is being a vet stressful?’


This is a question many prospective professionals ask before embarking on their careers.

And the truth is, it can be.

According to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RVCS), 90% of vets found their jobs stressful¹. Additionally, according to the British Veterinary Association (BVA), stress was one of the main reasons why vets (if given the chance) would choose a different career path².


Given the scale and potential impact of the issue, what can be done to reduce stress and help vets cope in practice?

Managing Stress in Practice

In practice, there are many stressors for veterinarians. They include (but are not limited to) poor work/life balance, personal finances (due to either insufficient wages or veterinary debt), compassion fatigue, and underinvestment in non-clinical skills needed to navigate human relationships.


Given that many vets tend to be high achievers (often perfectionistic) and empathetic, this can make them especially vulnerable to anxiety in the workplace, as the perceived cost of making mistakes is high.


To combat this, there are several tactics veterinary professionals can utilize.

Triage, Triage, Triage

The high-pressure, fast-paced nature of veterinary care can make even the most hardened vets crumble. Being able to prioritize and delegate tasks, therefore, is key for effective time and stress management.


Triage (which means ‘to sort’ in French) is one of the most effective ways to do this. There are several triage scoring systems out there, and choosing one is just a matter of preference.


Variations include:

  • The veterinary triage list (VTL)

  • Animal trauma triage system (ATT)

  • Acute patient physiological and patient evaluation (APPLE)

Once a vet has prioritized their patients, they should delegate tasks accordingly.

Another technique veterinarians can utilize is the 60-second rule. Between tasks, vets should reflect on their to-do list and ask -what can I do in 60 seconds or less? If they have a task that can be completed within this time frame, they should do it. If not, they should pass it on to someone else (if possible) or put it aside for another time.


This technique can be a great way for veterinarians to stay on top of small tasks to reduce stress.


Take a Break

Numerous studies have shown that breaks are needed to maintain performance and reduce stress at work.


One study by Korpela, Kinnunen, Geurts, de Bloom, and Sianoja, found that lunchtime breaks increased levels of energy and decreased exhaustion in the workplace³. After a year of instituting regular breaks at their place of study, researchers found that staff had increased vigor and energy at work.


Veterinarians who find themselves consistently missing their breaks should bring it up with management. It is a right (and a necessity) to have a break during the day; not having one can put both clients and vets at risk.

Utilise Mindfulness

Although mindfulness can seem like a bit of a buzzword nowadays, its effectiveness in reducing stress is scientifically proven and well-documented.


In a systematic review of several mindfulness studies, researchers found that mindfulness reduced levels of emotional exhaustion, stress, depression, anxiety, and occupational stress significantly⁴. They further found that mindfulness improved personal accomplishment, self-compassion, quality of sleep, and relaxation.


Mindfulness techniques can even be used to manage symptoms of compassion fatigue. In one study examining the occurrence of compassion fatigue in nurses, researchers found that a short meditation session had long-term benefits on participants’ emotional regulation⁵.


Mindfulness techniques are fantastic, as they can be practiced anywhere and can take very little time if need be. To learn about mindfulness, listen to our podcast below.


Get Physical

Feeling stressed? Maybe it is time to break a sweat!


Although veterinarians’ heavy workloads can inhibit how much they can exercise, fitting in a short workout at some stage during the day can be a great stress buster. While exercise initially spikes the stress response in the body, after a workout, individuals experience lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline (epinephrine).

Exercise not only reduces stress in the short term but can help with long-term anxiety. Regular exercise can improve mental resilience, aiding in the process of emotional regulation⁶.

But are all exercises made equal?


According to research, a 10-minute walk can be as beneficial to a person’s mental health as a 45-minute workout. Further, low-intensity aerobic exercises (undertaken for 30-35 minutes, 3-5 days a week) have been found to be optimal for positive mental functioning⁷. Try and take a walk during lunch, or even cycle to work in the morning. The key to managing stress through exercise is a moderate and consistent routine that can fit within a busy day.


Takeaway

Stress can be inevitable, but also manageable.


Whilst veterinarians often cannot avoid occupational stress, they can change the way they perceive it. Stress doesn’t have to be a wholly negative experience and having tried and tested techniques to manage it can be beneficial for both vets and their clients.

If you've been feeling stressed at work, perhaps action is needed. In my free webinar 4 Steps to a Happy and Successful Career as a Veterinarian I share practical advice on how you can change your circumstances in veterinary medicine and have a happier, healthier career.


Register here.


References:

1- “The 2019 survey of the veterinary profession – Royal College of ….” https://www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-views/publications/the-2019-survey-of-the-veterinary-profession/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.

2- “BVA policy – good veterinary workplaces.” https://www.bva.co.uk/take-action/our-policies/good-veterinary-workplaces/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.

3- “Recovery during Lunch Breaks: Testing Long-Term Relations with ….” 30 Aug. 2016, https://www.sjwop.com/articles/10.16993/sjwop.13/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.

4- “Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on … – PubMed.” 24 Jan. 2018, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29364935/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.

5- “Evaluation of a Meditation Intervention to Reduce the Effects of ….” 23 Nov. 2015, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26598000/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.

6- “A Randomized Control Intervention Investigating the … – PubMed.” 1 Sept. 2017, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28760175/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.

7- “Mental health benefits from lifestyle physical … – Guilford Journals.” 28 Dec. 2020, https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/10.1521/bumc.2020.84.4.337. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.




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