Understanding Compassion Fatigue as a Veterinary Professional

Understanding Compassion Fatigue as a Veterinary Professional

Working in a veterinary clinic is one of the greatest jobs in the world. When you’re a veterinarian professional you get to make a direct impact on the lives and well-being of animals and the humans who love them. The care and comfort you provide makes a real and positive difference in your community.

But we live in a hectic society and there are times when the strain of seemingly never-ending trauma that can accompany your job may sap your sense fulfillment and leave you questioning your resolve.

If you work in a veterinary clinic and you have been questioning your ability to fully cope with the many issues facing your patients then you don’t need to feel alone. You may be suffering from Compassion Fatigue, a relatively common occurrence among healthcare professionals and support staff of all types.

Fortunately, this condition is well-documented and treatments exist to support the mental and emotional wellbeing in veterinary professionals like you.

What Causes Compassion Fatigue in Veterinary Medicine

According to Dr. Charles Figley, founder of the Green Cross Foundation, compassion fatigue is “a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.”

What that means is, more than just becoming “burned out,” compassion fatigue is the accumulation of all the difficult or negative emotions that can arise from your relationship with your patients.

Burnout, by comparison arises from the accumulation of stresses associated with working in a veterinary clinic. Often, burnout can be treated with stress-reduction activities or even a simple vacation.

Compassion fatigue represents an imbalance in how you approach your patients. Often it will cause you to care too little — or too much — for them. The feelings that it engenders can cause mood swings, irrational fears, and even poor memory. Ultimately, it can lead to an overriding sense of cynicism or apathy.

Taking a Veterinary Compassion Fatigue Self-Test

If you think you may be suffering from Compassion Fatigue, then it isn’t necessarily a sign to change your career. The empathy, compassion, and love you feel for our animal companions just needs a little help healing to come back into balance.

However, if you aren’t sure if you suffer compassion fatigue or burnout you don’t need to immediately contact a therapist. A private, self-administered test exists to help you get a better understanding of the emotions you are experiencing.

Called the Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQOL), the test measures the mental and emotional wellbeing in veterinary professionals and gives unbiased feedback about how you are doing in your career with regard to burnout and compassion fatigue.

If you find that you are at-risk or already suffering from severe burnout or compassion fatigue, you should seek help from therapist or other mental health professional who specializes in caring for those who care for others.