The inspiring steps this RVT took to overcome burnout and thrive once again in veterinary medicine.
Veterinary medicine is currently rife with negative news. As an industry, I think it is important to avoid sweeping issues under the rug. They must be discussed and addressed because we certainly have challenges which require solutions. At the same time, if we focus only on the negatives, we may become blind to the positives which also exist in the field.
Though I am passionate about veterinary medicine and my role as a Registered Veterinary Technologist (RVT), I experienced burnout within 6 years of entering the industry. I responded as many do—I walked away from my career. While there are many factors that led to my burnout, the question I want to discuss is: If my career could cause me enough harm via burnout that I required 18 months to heal, why would I ever consider returning?
The short answer is that this profession is full of positives; it is rewarding, full of opportunity, and fulfilling. Veterinary professionals advocate for animals and communicate with them at their level. We help people. We strengthen the human-animal bond. We grow remarkable careers in medicine. We teach the next generation. Veterinary medicine is unparalleled. Personally, working elsewhere and not supporting my veterinary peers, patients, or industry could not be an option for my long-term professional satisfaction. Once I healed from burnout, I yearned to return.
Yet, the idea of returning to veterinary medicine was initially terrifying. Eighteen months is a long time to require healing. How would I ensure to not step straight back into the challenges that had first caused burnout? My journey sometimes felt rocky, but I have learned that prioritizing myself, then supporting my colleagues, allows me to offer better care to patients. I enjoy sharing my path to recovery with others to spread awareness, empowerment, self-acceptance, and personal success. Outlined below are the steps I took to alleviate my burnout and return in a healthy manner to the industry.
1. Stepping away
First, I had to allow myself to step away from my career. I had to accept that it was unhealthy. This step was the most difficult and caused me to grieve for what felt like the personal loss of veterinary medicine. Once I made this step, my healing began and alternate doors opened.
2. Considering lifestyle vs career
I love my career as much as I love my lifestyle. Choosing between them felt impossible and caused me to remain longer in an untenable situation, feeling trapped. Healing required time dedicated to deep holistic consideration of myself. I am much more than a veterinary professional. Would I choose to remain in my home or follow my career elsewhere? By staying in a small community with seemingly limited professional options, I chose the more difficult path. As I now watch myself diversify and succeed, it is satisfying to know that my hard work proves that not all challenges are limitations.
3. Exploring opportunities
What do we do when there are no obvious career solutions in our community? Ignore the doubts and make success happen anyway. Be aware that it may be necessary to redefine personal definitions of success. Giving oneself the space to consider alternate pathways without first knowing all the answers is the gift of investing in one’s self-belief and self-care.
4. Remembering why I entered veterinary medicine
Assisting animals matters significantly. I am proud to belong to this profession and to make a difference in advocating for animals and their owners. When my choices felt limited, I reflected on what I was excited about at the start of my training. For me, the science of medicine and the fulfillment of helping individual animals find calm, comforting assistance are professional driving forces. Remembering this gave me hope to find the best method for returning to the field.
5. Identifying my core values, mission, and value statements
Who I am, who I am not—these are powerful concepts to help pinpoint both current and next steps. What are my limits? What are my drivers? As a writing exercise, my time was well spent in understanding my individual persona as well as my professional goals. Knowing this about myself has helped me unapologetically discover the career and culture that best fits me.
6. Establishing boundaries
Understanding myself means that I recognize when and where to say yes or no. I have autonomy over my boundaries and that is empowering. Boundary setting doesn’t have to be inflexible, but I encourage us all to prioritize our own boundaries, followed by those of our colleagues and then the business.
7. Creating personal control with positive solutions
I am a solutions-based thinker, yet I am just 1 person. How can I create a solution for the veterinary industry? That’s a lofty goal and the answer is, I alone cannot and will not solve the challenges facing the veterinary industry. Alone, none of us will. Instead of deciding there was nothing I could do, I chose to start with positive action. By prioritizing my health, then thinking outside of the box, I found my solution within the wealth of options in this industry: starting a Locum RVT business. While there are risks involving my choice of self-employment, it does allow me to control my schedule, protect my boundaries, and model the culture in which I believe.
8. Informing others
My experience with burnout in veterinary medicine is not unique. I am not an expert in mental health or a trained counsellor or a psychologist. I do not have all the solutions. What I do have is my voice which I use to freely share my story. Knowledge is power; in sharing the steps of my journey, I am hopeful that others can find positive personal solutions without needing first-hand burnout experience.
9. Being compassionate
Veterinary medicine is both rewarding and challenging. First and foremost, I am choosing to move forward with compassion for myself, my colleagues, my patients and their owners. Leading with kindness and active listening, this fills me with more positive energy that I am then able to share.
10. Taking control
In no way do I wish to imply that self-care, prevention of, and recovery from burnout and compassion fatigue are only the responsibility of the individual. Certainly, this is not true. Industry challenges require industry solutions; workplaces should not be a source of pain to veterinary professionals. However, I found that waiting for solutions was crippling to both my career and my personal health. Instead, it has been a “light-bulb moment” to realize that I don’t only have to wait for the larger, perhaps slower, changes to come from the top down. In fact, I can also take control of my choices and make positive changes for myself, today. It is important for me to share this epiphany with anyone who needs to hear it.
There is no 1 way to survive burnout or manage our careers. By using my voice to share my story, I hope to offer relatable steps that encourage others. I have not only charted my healthy return to veterinary medicine, but also empowered myself to provide active support in positive change, at a grassroots level.
While industry challenges continue to be addressed with solutions coming from the top down, I find it impactful to know that individually I have the capacity to inspire change from the ground level up. If I have that capacity, I believe we all do. I am excited and hopeful for the next chapters in this field which has so much to offer.