Veterinary Stress: How To Create Some Calm In Your Chaotic Clinic

veterinary stress

Work can get stressful- especially as a vet. 

Some of the common drivers of veterinary stress (including high workloads, moral conflicts, etc.) can really make the workplace a tense place to be. Even if you are not dealing with high-stake cases, being around people who do can be seriously taxing!

Currently, within the profession, around 90% of vets consider their job stressful. This doesn’t fare very well for practitioners health, given that prolonged stress can cause a multitude of conditions, including:

– Hypertension

– Heart disease

– Anxiety/depression [1]

Considering that stressful workplaces are associated with high levels of turnover, absenteeism, and low productivity, the impacts are clearly not healthy for your business either. 

So what are some of the ways you can dial down the stress and keep calm in your clinic?

How To Manage Stress In The Workplace

There are several routes you can take when it comes to dealing with workplace stress.

While most strategies encourage stress management on an individual level (some of which we will discuss later), organizational interventions tend to have the biggest impact.

These interventions ultimately seek to reduce or remove sources of stress entirely. This tends to make them more effective, as they deal with the cause of stress itself, rather than the symptom.

Dealing With Veterinary Stress: Organizational Interventions 

When it comes to organizational interventions, the first place you want to look at is workload. 

With most vets working an average of 57 hours a week, many seriously struggle to achieve a work-life balance. So much so, that it is one of the main reasons why professionals are leaving the profession

Four effective organizational interventions are listed below. Though each has a different effect, the outcome is the same – intentional control of your business workload and type. 

Active Schedule Management-  there is an amount of work each day that will need to be completed in order to reach the financial goals of the practice. We should know what these are, and schedule workloads accordingly. 

If a profitable vet in your practice needs to perform three procedures per day, but they routinely perform five, then you should review this situation or risk burnout. This involves a certain amount of diary management where spaces are left available to accommodate the daily workload. 

Many shy away from this action as it is somewhat unpredictable, but it is likely that around 20-30% of your workload involves urgent care cases. Over a year, such daily fluctuations will even out, and your team will thank you for doing so- as being 120-130% booked is one of the largest contributors to workplace stress, burnout, and professional dissatisfaction. 

veterinary stress

Intentional Client Selection- trying to be all things to all people was never a good marketing strategy for vets. This Herriott hangover is at the heart of why we are suffering as a profession. If you want to control the chaos, then you must set some rules of the game.

What services will you provide, to whom, where, and when? If you do not have specific answers to these questions beyond ‘everything vets do’, to ‘every local pet owner’ at ‘all hours’ for ‘365 days a year’- then you are going to have a problem attracting and retaining staff. 

It is time to put some ‘opportunities’ aside and get really good at a few things that matter to your best clients. More market segmentation is going to create more predictability and a better employee (and client) experience. 

Break Enforcement- while enforcing breaks can be tricky (after all, in practice, there is always SOMETHING to do), they are essential. The first two items on our take-back control checklist will, of course, make this item easier. But there always will be martyrs who cannot switch off from ‘beast mode’!

Vets who pile cases on cases and act like martyrs are not helping themselves or their teams. In such instances, boundaries need to be established and enforced for the good of all.

Pricing for Value- vets do not go to work for the paycheck. After all, the intrinsic joy of problem-solving and helping pets is central to this profession. But neither should they be destitute. 

High education costs need to be addressed, given their role in burnout in the profession. But setting prices appropriately for the niche you decide to serve is necessary so that profit matches effort and risk. This action will allow for the extrinsic rewards for committing to a life in practice to increase. Such pricing will also reduce caseloads as clients who are not a good fit for your practice will seek services that better suit their needs elsewhere. 

Dealing With Veterinary Stress: Individual Interventions

Individual interventions can help address issues related to stress by increasing resilience in the workplace.

Some examples of individual interventions include mindfulness programs, relaxation techniques, exercise, and training programs designed to bolster skills such as time management. Counseling and medical therapies are also practical options that have their place.

Mindfulness is proven to improve a number of psychological issues. Relaxation techniques such as muscle relaxation and controlled breathing techniques can also be highly effective. Relaxation techniques can be particularly helpful when vets need quick relief during breaks. 

To get a sense of just how impactful these techniques can be, measure your blood pressure before, during, and after doing one. You’ll be amazed at how different the readings are. The same goes for any form of aerobic exercise. 

Healthier lifestyle programs can also be great for occupational stress. However, considerations do need to be given regarding their limitations. For one, some practices may not be able to afford extensive health programs. Teammates may also not have time to dedicate to them, making them redundant. 

veterinary stress

Rude, discourteous clients can completely ruin your day and cause a considerable amount of psychological stress. This is why communication training programs can be so beneficial for worker wellbeing [2]

Nearly 85% of vets have experienced some form of intimidation from a client at some stage in their careers (and quite possibly in the last month!) so having policies to deal with these incidents is imperative [3]

That said, many rude clients behave in such a manner as they are not being cared for well in practice. Communication failures are at the heart of this problem, so helping to improve client communications is key to building mutually trusting relationships between the healthcare team and the public.

For resources on how to tackle stress, click below:

How to manage occupational stress 

A self-care guide for vets 

Mindfulness meditations (for stress, anxiety, compassion fatigue, burnout, and depression) 

Time-management tips

Healthy eating resource

Dealing With Severe Cases Of Occupational Stress

In some cases, these programs don’t quite cut it. 

In later stages of burnout (as in the crisis or enmeshment stages), recovery can be challenging. If you think your staff members are struggling with stress, you may need some additional strategies in place [4]

Employee assistance programs (EAP) can provide support for frazzled vets. They typically offer short-term counseling options designed to address common workplace problems. These services are confidential and often independent from practices [5]

Sickness absence support or return-to-work schemes can also be highly beneficial. These programs can prevent vets from bouncing out of your practice due to stress-related health problems. 

Therapy and medical management of stress may have been taboo in years gone by, but now they are commonplace and widely utilized. Destigmatizing the pathway to recovery is essential, so encouraging these services in practice is great.

Get Stress Busting!

Now you have some solid tips and techniques to combat stress; it is time to get to work.

Although veterinary leaders often get caught up in the nitty-gritty of practice life, investing time and energy into strategies such as these can pay off in the long run. 

To learn more about how to deal with veterinary stress, read this article on: Is Being A Vet Stressful? How To Manage-Work Related Stress

References:

1-  ‘Stress effects on the body – American Psychological Association.’ 1 Nov. 2018, https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body. Accessed 9 Jul. 2021.

2- ‘A Guide to Enhancing Wellbeing and Managing Work Stress in the ….’ https://www.vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/MMI-12pp-web.pdf. Accessed 9 Jul. 2021.

3-  ‘UK veterinarians regularly threatened by clients over pet care costs.’ 9 Oct. 2017, https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/uk-veterinarians-regularly-threatened-pet-owners-care-costs/. Accessed 9 Jul. 2021.

4- ‘A Guide to Enhancing Wellbeing and Managing Work Stress in the ….’ https://www.vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/MMI-12pp-web.pdf. Accessed 9 Jul. 2021.

5-  ‘Employee assistance programs: The basics – Veterinary Practice News.’ 14 Feb. 2020, https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/employee-assistance-programs-the-basics/. Accessed 9 Jul. 2021.

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