Dealing with Stress in a Veterinary Hospital

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  • 0:02 What is Stress
  • 0:40 Caregiver Burnout
  • 3:03 Other Sources of Stress
  • 4:02 Taking Control
  • 5:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will go over some common and major stressors in veterinary practice, what signs to look out for, and what you need to do when you recognize them. Then, use our quiz to test what you learned.

What is Stress

There are few other career fields besides veterinary medicine where stress can be so high and rampant. Stress is the psychological and physiological response to any real or imagined disruptions, demands, stimulations, or changes in life. Bad stress is known as distress, while good, motivating stress is known as eustress. For this lesson, when I say stress I'll be referring to the bad kind of stress, the one that negatively affects a person's psychological and physiological health. We're going to take a look at common sources of stress in veterinary medicine, how to recognize them, and how you can deal with it.

Caregiver Burnout

The reason veterinary medicine is near the very top of stressful career fields is because you are constantly dealing with sick patients that need your attention, demanding clients who may not always be very understanding, and death, be it through natural processes or by way of euthanasia. All of these, over time, lead to something known as caregiver burnout, a state of physical and psychological exhaustion stemming from constantly taking care of something or someone else without help or by way of taking on too much responsibility, leading to a negative and unconcerned attitude about one's work. In short, burnout is exhaustion as a result of long-term stress.

Burnout is dangerous in any work environment, but even more so in medicine, and veterinary medicine is especially vulnerable. Our patients cannot speak up and, therefore, may not be getting the care they need if the person in charge of their health is exhausted. It's critical that you recognize the signs of burnout as your health and the health of the patient is dependent on it.

Let's say that one of your coworkers, Timmy, is typically a very active, caring, gentle, and attentive individual. All the animals love him, he always does the treatments as instructed, and interacts with clients in a very positive way. Timmy is also very physically active outside of work and looks like Hercules. Over time, you start to notice that Timmy is gaining a bit of weight and looks tired a lot more often. He says he's stopped exercising, something he loved to do before.

Then, you start noticing he becomes irritable at the slightest thing. He also calls in sick a lot more often, maybe because he actually is sick more often. When he's in the clinic, he seems to move and walk slowly, lethargically, and barely completes his tasks in a most uncaring fashion. He says he can't sleep well, and you suspect he may be hurting himself or his patients and abusing drugs. When you try to talk to him about his problems, he withdraws from you and other people.

Those are all possible signs of burnout, but they don't all have to occur at once. Burnout may be part of or turn into depression, as well. And individuals with burnout may leave the profession all together and sometimes even commit suicide.

Other Sources of Stress

Other than caregiver burnout, there are plenty of other sources of stress in veterinary practice; they include:

  • Problems with coworkers, such as talking behind someone's back
  • Problems with machinery, such as a centrifuge that quits working at the wrong time
  • Wage issues; that is to say, if you feel you're not being compensated fairly
  • Late and/or long work hours
  • The inability to eat a normal lunch due to patient care
  • Lack of appreciation and recognition for your efforts
  • Improper communication that leads to misunderstandings
  • Unclear protocols or policies; sometimes, the policies or protocols are very clear, but for some reason no one follows them as necessary, creating additional stress and confusion
  • And, as I alluded to before, having to deal with ungrateful and sometimes very rude and angry clients

This is just a small list as I'm sure you can think of many more.

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