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4 Ways to Fight Burnout in Vet Med

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

Two years into our careers, Ashley and I hit burn out...hard. Experiencing DAILY emotional, mental, and even physical exhaustion from our jobs with no end in sight was not fun. Unfortunately, it is all too common in our field.

When we were felt burn out, here were a couple of seemingly 'normal' thoughts or feelings we had (that weren't so normal after all):

- Feeling tired all the time from daily mental and emotional exhaustion at work.

- Feeling irritable and bitter even during our time off.

-Being exacerbated over work situations and letting them consume our minds and our time.

- Waking up and dreading going to work.

- Being anxious and even mean to your loved ones.

- And worse…questioning if helping animals is really worth it anymore?

So, what to do when you get to this point?

Well, first recognize that being pushed to the point of exhaustion DAILY in your job is not doing you, your patients, or your loved ones any good. So when you find yourself feeling any of the above, take a deep breath, and recognize the burn out you are experiencing. Next, consider our 4 tips.

These 4 tips have saved our minds, our relationships, and ourselves when burn out reared its ugly head.

1. Boundaries: We have talked about this before. But, recognizing what your limits are in medicine (and sticking to them!) is really important. For example, I have a certain number of hours a week I am willing to work. I have found that if I work more (even with great help and management), I start feeling those creeping feelings of overwhelm and tiredness coming back. So now I don’t. My limit is being scheduled for 36 hour work weeks, with appropriate lunch and call back breaks. What have I done with this? I have established boundaries. Our clinic is busy. I work really hard when I am there and to be honest, even with this schedule, I still work 40 hours with a variety of things keeping me late here and there. But by establishing this boundary, and creating a schedule that works for me, I am able to see more pets and provide better experiences for my staff and clients. I actually produce MORE than when I was scheduled for 40 hours. Win-win.

2. Mindset work: You cannot succeed in veterinary medicine without working on your mindset. This can look like a lot of different things: journaling, self help books, meditation, yoga, AND having a psychologist or coach to work with outside of work. If you are finding yourself angry all the time, get someone to talk to so that you can figure out if the shift needs to be internal, external, or both.

Part of what gave me the foresight to leave a job that was burning me out was talking to a counselor. She helped me figure out my struggles, my self defeating thoughts, and really examine why I felt so unhappy despite practicing the career of my dreams. If I never did the internal work, I would not have known to leave and may have found myself still unhappy at that job or WORSE…continuing to make the same choices and thoughts at my next job that would set me up for failure. I had a lot of thinking patterns to undo in order to really be able to thrive in this career. Recognizing the work YOU may have to do and consistently putting in that work to improve those parts of you that may not be pretty is part of your experience here too.

3. Bye Felicia: Leaving things behind that no longer serve you and moving on is a part of life. A crucial part. And that includes a job or vet clinic that is no longer serving you or that is unwilling to make the changes needed for vets to be happy there. Even if there are good intentions, if the result is continuous burn out despite efforts on the part of the doctor and the clinic to make changes, it is time to say goodbye.

There is something so rewarding about leaving a situation where you are not appreciated. And while change is hard, we promise you will look back at your decision and feel good about it.

"Leaving empty and unfulfilling situations means you have said no to them and their expectations and yes to your happiness. And damn, that feels good..."

I remember the freedom I felt when I turned in my notice at a job that had burned me out. There is no greater high than choosing yourself in a situation where you have been undervalued, unappreciated, and unheard. It is never easy. Usually right before this decision, there is a lot of fear, tears, and uncertainty. But once you recognize that there are SO many other options for you that will not leave you hating your life, you will make that choice for you.

I tried unsuccessfully for a year to try to adjust my mindset to accept that working long hours with little help was just the standard in vet medicine and would be ok for me. But eventually I thought...

"You know what, this is not my standard. I will find better. And if it doesn’t exist, I’ll create it..."

Don’t be afraid to walk away from a situation where you have tried your hardest and that is no longer serving you. Your peace and your happiness is worth it. Everytime.

4. Self Care Habits: We will be talking more about our specific morning and night time routines in future posts. But outside of work, it is important to figure out what your self care habits are. Things like journaling, meditation, exercise, time with friends, etc. that rejuvenate you. Whatever it is, be consistent and disciplined. Figure out what keeps you feeling your best and make a commitment to yourself to stick to that.

To sum it up, burn out has been a common thing in the vet world for far too long. Let’s make a choice to make that a thing of the past and prioritize our happiness. Our ability to help the animals we love so much depends on it.

<3 Dr. Monica Tarantino and Dr. Ashley Gray

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