Burn out is REAL in Vet Med...
We both chose our patients and clients over ourselves in the beginning of our careers.
𝒯𝓌𝑜 𝒹𝒾𝒻𝒻𝑒𝓇𝑒𝓃𝓉 𝓋𝑒𝓉𝑒𝓇𝒾𝓃𝒶𝓇𝒾𝒶𝓃𝓈. 𝕊𝕒𝕞𝕖 𝕔𝕙𝕠𝕚𝕔𝕖. 𝐒𝐚𝐦𝐞 𝐨𝐮𝐭𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐞.
It ended with both of us feeling burned out and frustrated with vet med, and VOTR fam...this was ONLY 2 years out from graduation!! Burn out is NOT something that just happens to you after 10+ years of being in this field. That was what our impression of burn out was coming out of vet school. We soon realized that it can happen to anyone... whether you are 6 months out, 2 years out, or even 20 years out!
There are many reasons why vets experience burn out, and we want to talk about what happened to us.
But first, why the heck does burn out even happen!? Let's put it this way. We all spend our entire teenage to early adult lives chasing after this childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian. This makes it easy to forget about ourselves in the process as we are striving for something greater.
And with good reason...we are busy chasing after good grades, holding leadership positions, and working/volunteering to make our resumés competitive for vet school. And that is just the beginning... Once in vet school, we continue to strive for excellence.
Perfectionism and self criticism become the bane of our existence.
Does this stop when we graduate? Well, yes and no. Grades do not matter anymore, but the pressure changes. By studying 12 hours for a test, you could guarantee yourself a certain grade...whereas this strategy will not guarantee a positive outcome on a case in the real world.
What changes is that now we cannot control everything like we could in school. We cannot control our clients, staff, and patients. Pressures center around making the correct diagnosis, staying efficient, performing a variety of surgeries successfully, and more.
Shehnav (@shehnav) of our VOTR fam made an excellent comment on our 1/25/21 post, and we wanted to share it with you. It is the idea of finite vs. infinite mindset, which he just taught us all about! He first learned about the idea from a podcast called Dare to Lead with Simon Sinek and Brene Brown if you are interested in learning more.
The idea of infinite mindset vs. finite mindset pops up for me when reading this, which I only just heard about recently. For the majority of our time in school, we can measure growth and progression over time, which is the finite mindset that we are taught. There's a winner and a loser with nothing in between. You progress, or you don't. Versus the infinite mindset, which is more of what life is like, our careers are like, mental health is like, and being creative is like. You can't "win" at these, but being in school trained us to want to win and be the best. That is not always possible. Anyways, "compare yourself to who you were yesterday, and not someone else today."
Many of us have barely figured out coping mechanisms to deal with our own day to day stress, so how do we get to where we can handle life and death on the regular without having a break down!?
Well, we both fell prey to burn out within TWO YEARS of graduation. At the time, we both did not recognize that we were going through it. No one prepared us for the vague signs and symptoms of burn out. We knew it could happen, but we did not think it could possibly happen to us this early on in our careers. Honestly, we both just thought this was a normal part of our career, AND THAT IS NOT OK!
We both finally realized we were burned out when we did not even recognize ourselves anymore. The career that we so passionately chased had become a burden and a dead weight on us. We would both wake up and think things like this...
-- "Ugh, do I have to go in to work today?"
... the dread feeling
-- "How many vacation days do I have left? Do you think I could take one today and fake sick...cough cough."
... the avoidance feeling
-- "I just feel like my boss doesn't care about me and that all I am to her/him is a profit maker."
... the low self worth feeling
-- "How am I going to get through today? I can't even get out of bed."
... the sluggish feeling
-- "I'm just tired and exhausted because this is normal for anyone to feel, right?"
... the denial feeling
There are a variety of reasons as to why we got burned out. Looking back, we can now see clearly what those reasons were to each of us. At the time, we did not have enough confidence to stand up for ourselves or to change our current situation. We just kept trudging along and reassuring ourselves that it was normal to feel that way.
As you can see from our list...none of the reasons have anything to do with practicing medicine. While we cannot discount that there is still a lot of stress and pressure put on us as new graduates, it was all the other stuff that personally weighed on us. We expected that making medical decisions was going to be hard on us. We expected that we were going to have difficult cases or situations that upset us. We expected that there was a huge learning curve to becoming a doctor. For us, it was all the other stuff that really got to us on a daily basis. We just weren't prepared for it, and it made all the new grad "expected stressors" feel even worse.
Each of your reasons will be different for experiencing burn out in our profession. The key is that you recognize the reasons that are causing you to feel this way and to acknowledge the feelings when they do surface.
Prioritizing YOU and your mental health is going to be the key to preventing burn out.
It sounds so simple when you read those words above, but it is true. There were SO many times when we could have sat down with our bosses, mentors, etc. and asked for help. Instead, we kept it inside and both accepted these feelings as normal, which caused us both to seriously consider leaving the veterinary field altogether. Some soul searching was needed in order to figure out what would make us both happy again.
For Ashley, this meant finding ways to be more efficient in her day to day so that she could get out on time, as that was important to her. Some of the ways she accomplished this was through utilizing her assistant more to do call-backs, etc. and finding quicker ways to write records. She also realized she was passionate about mentorship and wanted to help others not feel the way she felt, so she sought out a leadership position in becoming the internship director at her hospital. She found ways that worked for her to "leave work at work" and figured out exactly what her priorities were in and out of vet med.
For Monica, she had a heart to heart with management to see what could be changed with her schedule and routine. She found that working 40+ hours a week was draining her and that she needed time outside of work to recharge. When management was not willing to work with her, she quit and found another job that prioritized the things that mattered most to her. Through careful planning of her schedule and finding a great team dynamic, she felt more fulfilled at work. She also figured out what she needed to do outside of work to feel rested and rejuvenated for her work week.
The next two weeks, we will each be writing a blog on our routines, what helps us now, and any other tips we have for you to prevent burn out and get through those tough days like a pro.
Just remember that everyone is different on what helps them, and you will get a wide variety of advice. You may find that part or all of our approaches help you. The key is to take key pieces from other vets to form the routine that works best for you!
Feel free to comment here with any tips that help you as a seasoned vet! We LOVE hearing from you. Now, let's prevent what happened to Michael Scott from happening to our peers through raising awareness and helping other medical professionals!
Your Vet Mentors,
Ashley and Monica