3 veterinary careers that offer balance between professional growth and personal life
Tips for finding a career path with the right work-life balance
Content submitted by BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner
Even before the pandemic, finding a healthy work-life balance was already a hot topic in veterinary medicine, with long shifts and emotionally demanding work. However, COVID-19 added a new layer of complexity with staff shortages, increased caseloads, agitated pet owners, and a lack of mental health support. Because of this, the profession has seen widespread cases of burnout. A study of veterinary well-being found that around one-third of veterinarians were experiencing high levels of burnout.1
So, if you’re feeling stressed, you’re not alone.
In this article, I share three career opportunities for veterinarians that allow you to change up the setting in which you practice and experience new types of cases without compromising your goals for a work-life balance: urgent care, emergency medicine, and veterinary hospice and palliative care.
You may find that developing new skills adds excitement and gratification to your work, especially if you’re feeling stagnant or have hit a plateau. Stretching your abilities and experiencing new ways to practice can help you regain a sense of fulfillment while also supporting your career growth through exploring new areas of medicine.
Develop your skills; flex your abilities
Depending on the clinical setting, urgent care, emergency medicine, and pet hospice and palliative care roles allow you to hone new skills and diversify your caseload. Each type of medicine presents a unique range of patient needs and requires skillsets that will have you flexing your abilities and learning new, rewarding aspects of medicine that you might not usually practice. Simultaneously, these roles offer varying degrees of flexible work schedules needed to strike a healthy work-life balance.
Emergency medicine is an ideal environment to flex abilities and pick up additional skillsets. You never know what kind of case will come in next, and you get to thrive off the energy of you and your teammates as you deliver life-saving care to pets in need. Many emergency veterinarians describe themselves as adrenaline junkies who enjoy the fast-paced, exciting atmosphere. ER vets thrive on being able to solve challenges and experience the gratification of saving a pet’s life or fixing their concern and sending them home to their family.
- In emergency medicine, you can deliver life-saving care quickly by building on skills such as:
- Fluid therapy
- Practical antibiotic usage
- Life support
- Transfusion protocols
Like in many of interdisciplinary hospitals, emergency clinicians partner with specialty teams on patient management. This arrangement gives you exposure to diverse areas of medicine and enables you to learn from and collaborate with veterinary specialists.
Urgent care is a natural career progression from primary practice. In this role, you will help sick pets in acute but not necessarily life-threatening situations. You may see cases that vary in complexity, such as bite wounds, urinary tract infections, dehydration, toxin ingestion, or sprains.
Urgent care veterinarians experience the gratification of providing much-needed care to pets and sending patients home after delivering the best treatment for their condition. Many urgent care clinicians enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that comes from being able to provide an “instant fix” for patients suffering from acute illnesses, unlike with many chronic conditions treated by primary care veterinarians.
As an urgent care vet, you’ll have the opportunity to hone skills like:
- Wound care
- Pain management
- Sedation protocols
- Bandaging and splinting
- Diagnostic interpretation
Pet hospice and palliative care
Hospice and palliative care are options for clients who are no longer seeking treatment with a cure as the goal for their pets. The hospice veterinarian works closely with the client and patient to identify, control, and alleviate physical discomfort and other symptoms that often accompany a serious health condition. They also work closely with the primary care veterinarian and/or specialist to ensure that delivery of care is coordinated across the healthcare setting.
The focus of the hospice veterinarian is to help maximize a patient’s comfort through advanced symptom management to provide the highest level of quality of life for the time that remains.
Hospice is a rapidly advancing dimension of veterinary medicine and is an area where clinicians can flex and develop their skills in the following ways:
- Expert management of a patient’s symptoms through the delivery of specialty-level in-home hospice and palliative care
- Implementing advanced, multimodal pain management approaches for every patient
- Regular patient reassessment to monitor progress and symptom control, especially as changes occur in the patient’s condition and needs
- Utilizing innovative sedation and euthanasia techniques for end-of-life care
- Adept at identifying patient and family needs
- Astutely assessing and measuring quality of life for both pet and family, including helping families identify and address goals for themselves and their pet
- Providing client education to help them understand their pet’s condition and the range of palliative options available
- Honing critical interpersonal communication skills, including navigating complex client conversations that can arise as end of life nears
- Advanced training in current principles of care quality and ethical issues in hospice care
- Working with a multidisciplinary team including other hospice clinicians, hospice nurses, case managers and grief support specialists
- Partnering with general practitioners and specialists to ensure continuity of care and standards of medical excellence for hospice patients and their families
Maintain a healthy work-life balance
Veterinarians may face challenges like long shifts and emotionally demanding work, but you can avoid burnout and maintain a healthy work-life balance with the right resources and support.
In general, ER and urgent care veterinarians maintain a healthy work-life balance in a few ways:
- Many emergency and urgent care clinicians work three to four shifts per week, giving 3 or 4 days a week to take advantage of things like travel, family time, or volunteering in the community.
- Only in very rare cases are ER vets on call.
- Many companies offer PTO plans and flexible schedules that give you the time and space to maintain a healthy balance between home and work.
- New medical quality initiatives that resemble those in human healthcare ensure continuity of care for every patient. This means that once a shift is over, the patient is in capable hands, and the stresses of work can be left behind.
- Today, there are many mental health offerings, such as full-time social workers and on-site support staff that provide professionals with guidance, advice, and tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Pet hospice and palliative care teams also enjoy a healthy work-life balance in many ways:
- Hospice clinicians benefit from the flexibility of building their own schedule, allowing professionals to flex work around life, not the other way around.
- Clinicians are given the time they need to get the job done. Appointments are 1-2 hours in length allowing professionals to slow down, connect with families, and do a good job. There is no rushing from one exam room to another.
- As a hospice vet, care is provided in the comfort of a client’s home with the support of an interdisciplinary team.
- Boundary setting is not only supported, but also encouraged. Hospice is all about quality of life, and that must include our own.
- Many hospice veterinarians find the deep connections with clients and patients particularly rewarding. Being an integral part of the family during the most critical time in a pet’s life allows you to make a significant impact on not only the patient and clients’ experience, but your own.
- There are ample training and mentorship programs that will set you up for success as you move into this rewarding area of veterinary medicine.
Making the change
If you want to make a meaningful change in your professional life and build new skills while maintaining a healthy work-life balance, these roles offer you new paths to thrive and grow.
Often, you can begin your journey as a hospice veterinarian without the need for additional training or education if you have a DVM or equivalent degree. You’ll leverage the skills you learned in vet school and have plenty of opportunities to learn new ones based on your interests, all while enjoying a change of pace.
If you want more experience before making a change, you can help make your transition successful by:
- Seeking a mentor: Ask your connections about mentorship opportunities. You’ll get to work one-on-one with an experienced veterinarian who can guide you through the transition and advise you on the skillsets you will need.
- Getting additional training: See what training programs are available specific to the career path you’re interested in to acquire the education, hands-on training and resources to thrive.
Urgent care, emergency medicine and pet hospice roles offer the opportunity to reignite your spark, keep you engaged and prevent burnout. Instead of giving up what you love, you can find fulfillment in veterinary medicine by stretching your skillset and trying new experiences in ways that also complement your goals for a healthy work-life balance.
Burnout, stress plague veterinary industry amidst pandemic. Veterinary Practice News. February 10, 2022. Accessed May 12, 2022. https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/burnout-stress-plague-veterinary-industry-amidst-pandemic