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Refill your well of compassion in your veterinary practice


When your well runs dry, it's impossible to offer the service pets and their owners need. A healing environment requires healthy healers. Here's what you need to know to take care of yourself - and your colleagues.

In a caring profession such as veterinary medicine, you spend much of your time every day giving. It's difficult to be an endless reservoir of caring, and ultimately, you and your team members will need to replenish yourselves. Simply put, you must care for yourself to effectively care for others—for pets and their people.

Whether you're the practice manager or a concerned team member in the practice, planning an educational team meeting on this topic can help you safeguard the wellbeing of your co-workers, boost the level of service you offer, and even keep valuable team members in the profession. Let's look at some of the tools you can use to plan an effective team meeting on this topic.

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Understand compassion fatigue

First, it's important to understand what compassion fatigue is—and isn't. To start an effective team meeting on this topic, begin by defining the condition, just as you would explain a serious medical condition in a pet. For a good definition that explains how compassion fatigue is different from burnout, consider using the video "Compassion fatigue: A serious issue for the veterinary team," featuring Katherine Dobbs, REV, CVPM, PHR. (See the sidebar, "Lunch and learn tools," for a complete list of tools for this meeting as well as additional resources.) Then ask team members what questions they have about compassion fatigue.

Lunch and learn tools

At this time, it's a good idea to print out "FAQs: Compassion fatigue," a Q&A with Serena Wadhwa, PsyD, LCPC, CADC, an expert on stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue in Chicago. Make sure every team member receives a printed copy and review the questions and answers together.

Rejuvenate one drop at a time

Once team members begin to understand the signs of compassion fatigue and identify how they're suffering, it's critical to offer them tools to cope with their feelings and find ways to heal their hurt. One tool is called the triangle of wellness. Christiane Holbrook, a life coach in Pasadena, Calif., says that to maintain a healthy life balance, it's important to focus on your physical, emotional, and occupational health.

Distribute the triangle of wellness and encourage your team members to follow the guidelines and answer the occupational questions honestly. Then make sure you can be a resource for team members as they ask themselves the tough questions: "Do I eat right? Am I setting clear boundaries between myself and others?" and "Am I passionate about my work? Does it allow me a proper amount of leisure time?"

Next, if you have video capabilities, share a short video of Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, PhD, DABVP (canine and feline practice), who practices at VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver and has been featured on Animal Planet's Emergency Vets and E-Vet Intern. The best advice he ever got from a mentor? "Get a hobby. Do something that's not like your job at all."

It's also a good idea at this time to copy and hand out the tool "10 tips to beat compassion fatigue." This handout offers concrete steps to change your life and replenish yourself. For team members who still struggle with these issues, you may suggest they seek further guidance with a professional, such as an experienced life coach.

Build a steady stream

Laughter is great medicine. And while it won't solve the serious problem of compassion fatigue alone, it will help you support yourself and your team in your goal to stay more positive. Think of activities you can do together in practice to boost morale. And check out the Fun Center at dvm360.com for funny stories, videos, and cartoons so you're ready to offer a smile when your co-workers need it most.

Finally, remember to watch for signs of compassion fatigue not just in yourself, but in your co-workers as well. As a veterinary team, you're most effective when you're all focused on the same goals. Watch the brief video "Compassion fatigue in the veterinary clinic," and be prepared to offer intervention and assistance both for the good of your team members as well as the pets and people you serve.

To reinforce your commitment to helping yourself and helping others, download and complete the "Self-care pact." Then take the pledge and make your self-care resolution—and ask a co-worker to hold you to it.

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