By Dr. Michelle Larsen: 2011 graduate of Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, an emergency veterinarian and clinic manager at Emergency Animal Clinic in Avondale, Arizona, and a member of the current class of AVMA Future Leaders.
After only 5 months into my experience with the AVMA Future Leaders Program, the benefits have been profound. After meeting and brainstorming in August, we narrowed our topic focus to wellness in the workplace, with a deeper focus on compassion fatigue, burnout and creating a healthy, positive work environment. We found that this topic was pertinent in our professional lives, regardless of our area of veterinary medicine (lab animal, academia, private practice). As a small animal emergency practitioner, researching this topic could not have come at a more opportune time.
I currently manage four emergency doctors, in addition to practicing full-time myself. Emergency medicine is likely one of the most stressful of the veterinary areas. In a very short period of time we must gain the trust and confidence of our clients, who are very upset that their pet is suddenly sick and their daytime veterinarian is unavailable. In addition, our cost of services is higher than the client is accustomed to. Burnout and compassion fatigue are heightened as an emergency veterinarian because we also see a higher percentage of trauma, morbidity, and mortality of our patients. We seldom have a long-term client patient relationship to fuel our compassion satisfaction. As my work with the Future Leaders team progressed, the need to bring these resources into my workplace as quickly as possible emerged.
As a veterinarian, prior to my research for the Future Leaders project, I had not truly understood burnout or compassion fatigue. In addition, I had never heard of anything called compassion satisfaction, receiving fulfillment from our work helping others. Compassion satisfaction is a feeling and an intrinsic benefit that should arise from our daily work as caregivers; yet most of us do not know what it is or how to recognize it.
I recently provided three of my doctors with the Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL) questionnaire from proqol.org to identify where they were with respect to compassion fatigue, burnout, and compassion satisfaction. I also completed the questionnaire for my own benefit and shared my results with them in an informal discussion. While I was concerned they might learn that they suffer from burnout and choose to redirect their careers, I was relieved that they were open to spending time evaluating their career-related wellness. By engaging in this process alongside them, we were able to discuss resources to help each other muddle through the challenges and benefits of a very stressful, yet rewarding occupation.
I hope the resources we continue to research and aggregate as the Future Leaders group will help everyone in our profession. I have a new outlook given that I have already helped four stressed veterinarians and myself.