Addressing traumatic stress in veterinary medicine

Atlantic City

An expert explained how trauma, burnout, and discrimination in the workplace can directly affect personal wellbeing

Tanya /

Tanya /

Focusing on wellbeing is very important in veterinary medicine because of the rising concern and experience of burnout in the profession. Angie Arora, MSW, RSW, explained in an Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference session1 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, that discrimination, trauma, and oppression all impact the wellbeing of veterinary professionals. In her session, Arora went through the meaning of these words and how they can affect everyone differently.

Trauma types

Secondary traumatic stress

Arora explained how primary trauma is when something directly affects you, however secondary trauma can happen when you are witnessing trauma. An example of this would be witnessing trauma experienced by a patient in pain or a client being told devasting news about their pet. Experiencing this secondary trauma time after time at work can deteriorate your passion and begin to cause stress-related symptoms like chronic fatigue, panic attacks, sleeping problems, etc. affecting your overall health and wellbeing.

Individual and systemic trauma

Individual trauma is direct exposure to a situation or experience that threatens one’s sense of safety. Arora gives an example of this by stating, “A client who refuses to be seen by an indigenous veterinarian.” Then, later she said, “Can we agree that that's discrimination? If it's discrimination, how is it trauma?”

“That make us feel unsafe, that make us feel unseen, not validated. My whole identity is now in question: that's a safety issue,” she added. This discrimination now turns into trauma from that fact that someone’s identity is being targeted. Dealing with this type of discrimination, and in-turn trauma, day after day at work can become taxing on an individual and decrease work satisfaction.

Systemic trauma is “practices and procedures implemented by institutions or their leaders that directly or indirectly cause harm to particular people or specific groups of people. It perpetuates inequities, injustices, marginalization, exploitation, and oppression of certain groups through things such as denying opportunities, exclusionary tactics, preferential treatment of those from socially dominant groups, etc,” according to Arora.

Systemic trauma can come from the workplace directly with the policies not being followed accordingly. If the same example from above is used, the systemic trauma would come from the hospital this veterinarian works at when it “looks the other way” when this discrimination happens. The hospital may have antidiscrimination policies in place, but not putting these polices to use is what makes it a systemic issue. This can cause the veterinarian to feel undervalued and unrecognized at their workplace.

Supporting wellness

Arora recommended taking steps to move forward and support employees’ wellness with a need to focus on self, team, and organizational care.


  • Focusing on releasing, not suppressing impacts of trauma
  • Learning to establish boundaries
  • Building a circle of care
  • Getting involved in advocacy efforts to support systemic change

Team care

  • Checking in on colleagues periodically
  • Applying empathy when colleagues have been harmed
  • Using inclusive language in the workplace
  • Practicing allyship for team members’ diverse identities

Organizational care

  • Involving those directly impacted by discrimination and oppression in change processes
  • Integrating wellness into diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies
  • Creating safe, structured debriefing and wellness spaces within the hospital
  • Strengthening and enforcing policies to protect staff and clients


Arora A. N: Navigating the Unknown (BLEND Track)—The Missing Link: Wellness and Oppression. Presented at: Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference; October 10-12, 2022: Atlantic City, New Jersey.

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