‘75% Vets Concerned About Stress and Burnout’: Your Weekly Veterinary News Crunch 5 November 2020
The weekly rundown of veterinary news for the time-poor vet, presented by VetX International
Stress and Burnout at the Forefront of UK Vets’ Minds
According to a recent survey conducted by the BVA (British Veterinary Association), three-quarters of vets are concerned about the profession’s levels of stress and burnout as a direct result of COVID-19. Concerns about practical vet student training, and student and new veterinary graduate confidence, also feature high up on the list of pandemic-sparked worries.
Some optimism was noted in the findings, with a fifth (23%) not at all concerned about job security in the sector, 43% a little concerned and 31% very or quite concerned.
However, 95% had some level of concern (a little, quite or very) about the potential impact of a recession on the veterinary sector, with concern heightened among Government, equine and charity vets.
BVA president James Russell said: “Although this is just a snapshot survey, it tells us a lot about how our colleagues are feeling six months on from the national lockdown. It paints a worrying, but not surprising, picture about the health and well-being of a profession that has worked incredibly hard and in very difficult circumstances this year.
“I’m incredibly proud of the way the profession has adapted to working safely during COVID-19, but we know it has taken its toll – for example, with consults taking longer, needing to cover staff shortages and dealing with anxious clients.”
If you are looking for a way to cope with uncertainty, you should check out the Thrive program, which will equip you with the non-clinical skills essential to beating stress and burnout.
The Experiences of Job Hunting During a Pandemic
New veterinarians have recently spoken to the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) about how the pandemic is shaping their career paths.
According to Dr Elizabeth Baker ‘the job hunt is easy’ since there has been a surge in demand for new veterinarians, only exacerbated by the pandemic. However, the personal protective equipment, social distancing, preliminary video calls and lack of handshakes took some getting used to: “The lack of handshakes with this round of interviews was odd but understandable. Still, the lack of human interaction was an adjustment.”
Dr Nancy Pesses is currently job hunting and finding the pandemic has made the situation much harder: “Normally, without COVID-19, I would print out and drop off my resume at each of the local veterinary clinics in person, hoping to introduce myself, meet people, and put a face to the name. However, with COVID-19 restrictions, that is virtually impossible, so I tried to get creative and email resumes to each clinic’s email addresses, whether or not they had jobs listed online. I received few replies. Those that did reply, it was to say that while there were no open positions, they would keep my resume in mind for later.”
Finally, Dr Jessica Kocher took the plunge and opened her own veterinary clinic! “I opened Fox Run Veterinary Hospital in Monument, Colorado, this summer. We see only cats and dogs and an occasional bunny or guinea pig…Maintaining positive staff culture and helping to make sure that my staff avoid burnout and compassion fatigue are really my only concerns as a business owner.”
AVMA’s Chief Economist Urges Transformation Through Collaboration
AVMA chief economist Matt Salois, PhD, has recently urged those working in the veterinary industry to stick together and face the realities of the profession.
Although we are operating in uncertain times, it is still true that over 50 million pets in the US do not see a veterinarian at least once per year, over 60% of vet practices struggle with efficiency, and only ⅓ of veterinarians would recommend the profession.
“We have to do better because we have to get through the alternative reality of COVID. Because at some point, we need to return to our original reality. The reality that was before this one. Why?” Salois asks. “The challenges that existed before the pandemic, they’re still there, and we can’t forget about them because while we remain in an alternate reality, our original reality is not getting taken care of.”
“So many things can invoke change: positive leadership; better leveraging of staff, especially veterinary technicians; smarter inventory management; financial standardization; and better pricing strategies.”
Establishing Relationships with Clients Essential for Providing After Hours Care
The College of Veterinarians in Ontario has recently stressed the importance of forming relationships with clients after the death of a dachshund in Newfoundland. When the dog, Xander, fell sick over a weekend, his owner phoned a veterinary triage line for help. The animal, however, was denied care by the on-call hospital because he had previously been seen by a different clinic.
The incident highlights the critical need for an established veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR), says Jan Robinson, registrar and CEO of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (CVO).
“If an owner does not have a relationship with a veterinarian and they run into a challenge with their animal, they may very well be in a place where they can’t find care,” Robinson says. “This is very distressing, and that’s where it’s really important to help owners understand they need to have a relationship with a veterinarian.”
Once a VCPR is established, she says, a veterinarian should explain how their clinic handles patient after-hours care. This service could come in many forms, including telemedicine triage, a co-ordination with a group of veterinarians within a practice or with neighbouring clinics, or referral to a local 24-hour or emergency clinic. Regardless, the policy should be explained clearly to avoid confusion.
Award Promotes Vets as ‘Advocates for Animal Welfare’
University of Sydney Professor Paul McGreevy has been recognised with one of the most prestigious veterinary awards in the world for his pioneering contribution to animal welfare.
The World Veterinary Association’s 2020 Global Animal Welfare Awards recognise individuals and institutions for going ‘above and beyond’ in protecting animals and promoting animal welfare.
“This is a very welcome award because it recognises that veterinarians are now expected to be advocates for animal welfare,” said Professor Paul McGreevy, from the Sydney School of Veterinary Science.
Champions of Indigenous Dog Health in Australia
Utopia, a remote Indigenous homeland in the Northern Territory, covers an area of about 3500 square kilometres and is home to about 1200 residents. Drs Michael Archinal and Alison Taylor, business partners in eight veterinary practices in the Australian Capital Territory, regularly make the 2700-kilometre journey to Utopia as part of their Indigenous Dog Health initiative. Over the past decade, their twice-yearly visits have seen 1700 dogs desexed and tens of thousands treated with internal and external parasite medication.
“We wanted to provide sustainability and longevity,” says Dr Archinal. “We wanted to be the team that provided continuity of care. For the first few years, Alison and I visited together but now we piggyback each other. In a single year, Alison will take one team and then I’ll take the other team. We’ve been working that way for over 10 years.”
Dr Archinal adds: “We also need to be very sensitive because the area where we are working backs onto Dog Dreaming country. The role of dogs in the life of the communities is exceedingly important. There are certain cultural barriers that we had to approach with a great deal of sensitivity.”
Promoting Sustainable Practice in the UK Veterinary Industry
A new initiative launched by the BVA, #GreenTeamVet, aims to explain how veterinary professionals can use their expertise and knowledge to work towards a more sustainable future, and become champions for the environment.
In 2019, a BVA survey revealed 89% of vets would like to play a more active role in the UK sustainability agenda and the #GreenTeamVet campaign aims to inspire those at the start of this journey.
Junior vice-president of the BVA Justine Shotton said: “We know our members are passionate about protecting the environment and are deeply concerned about high extinction rates of wild animals, biodiversity loss, climate change and plastic pollution.
“As champions of animal health and welfare, vets have influence across a range of sectors, such as Government and agriculture, and are key in the one health agenda. Our expertise means that we have a unique and important voice that can be part of conversations on the environment and sustainability.”
Communicating in a Mindful Way
Communicating mindfully is about responding to others, not reacting. We have all experienced a moment where we said something impulsively and then wanted the ground to swallow us up! Or, we said something to a colleague that did not come out how we intended – and then we spend hours regretting it!
Here are five tips to communicate more mindfully (and effectively), encapsulated in the acronym THINK:
- Truth: Speak the truth, be honest and voice issues at the time instead of leaving them to build up.
- Helpfulness: Before we speak, we can reflect on whether it will actually be of benefit to anyone, including ourselves. Gossip about others might be true, but it’s rarely helpful and often harmful. Even bragging might be true, but if it’s helpful at all, it’s only helpful to us—and more likely annoying and alienating to others.
- Intention: Sometimes we wonder if we are the one to speak up about an issue, so as to be an “upstander” rather than a “bystander.” Wise reflection helps us discern that as hard as it may be, it is our job to speak up.
- Necessity: Sometimes, the most mindful speech of all is no speech, but rather restraint of keyboard and tongue, or simply listening. Besides, we might also communicate through our body language and facial microexpressions in ways more revealing than our words. More of what we really mean might get across if we bite our tongue for a minute or two. All too often, we speak just to fill the space or alleviate our anxiety about silence with idle chatter. A friend may come to us seeking support, and in many cases the reality is that the best form of support is our silent and compassionate presence.
- Kindness: In the end, feedback will be best received if it’s presented in a way that’s patient and kind. When someone is feeling attacked, their fight-or-flight response overrides their ability to take in new information.