When you give the veterinary profession all youve got, it can be exhausting if you dont feel like its making a difference. I didnt realize the depths of what I was feeling until the symptoms hit.
Mandy Stevenson, RVTI can remember the day I walked into my first clinic 21 years ago. I was so excited-and nothing could have stopped me from reaching my goals. It was my life's mission to help animals live the best life they could. I've done everything from kennel work and lab technician to surgical monitoring and radiology. I've worked in the exam room and at the front desk and everything you can think of in between. I studied hard to get my degree and then applied everything I'd learned to my career. I was prompt, dependable and an advocate for exceptional veterinary care.
Although my life brought many changes, including marriage, a family and a significant move to the country, being a technician was always a top priority for me. I was excited to see what was in store every day. What was I going to learn? How was I going to be able to help people and their pets? It was my job to make any situation better. Sure, there were the days that you wondered if you were making a difference, but you kicked those days aside and kept giving it everything you had.
A few years ago I started to find myself thinking more and more about those days-or weeks-that I promised myself I would let go. The Rottweiler puppy that you pour your heart and soul into for a week trying to save him from parvo and then watch the owner put him in the back of his pickup in 10 degree weather. Or the kitten that was abandoned over a minor intestinal infection only to see the clients with a new kitten the next day. Trying to assist with a senior feline euthanasia and the pet owner doesn't even look up from texting the whole time.
Now I know these choices are none of my business, but they just started sticking in my mind. I asked myself why there wasn't more concern for these animals. I was taught that a pet was a lifetime commitment, and it seemed that this idea was starting to fade. I didn't feel like there was enough effort on the parts of all parties involved, and it was frustrating.
When you give something all that you've got, it can be exhausting if you don't feel like it's making a difference. It goes against everything you believe in. I started dreading sick cases because I didn't want to see them fail. I didn't want to see loving pet owners cry and I didn't want to see my veterinarians blame themselves for something that was out of their control.
All of the things I had taught myself to be numb to were suddenly overbearing. I know that there are mostly good people in the world. But when you start to burn out, they're not the ones who monopolize your thoughts.
In 2013, a person very close to me was diagnosed with cancer. Your first instinct is to do whatever it takes to save this person. It felt completely unfair. Why was this happening to such a good person? I automatically implemented this question into my daily thoughts. I found myself disagreeing with the strategies used in this loved one's care. And then I lost this person.
I don't know how to categorize the way I was feeling. Some would say compassion fatigue. Others would use the terms burn out or depression. I don't know. These descriptions generally indicate that a person has lost their ability to care for their patients and themselves, and that couldn't be farther from the truth. I don't know if I have just lost some tolerance for what I feel is good judgment and responsibility, or if I'm just done with loss of that magnitude. I can tell you-and so can anyone who has ever worked with me-that I gave it everything I had up until my last day.
My suggestion to anyone who is starting to feel overwhelmed by the bad days-or for those of you who just want to try to prevent getting to that point: Tell yourself that what you think and care about is important. Don't throw it in a bottle because one day the lid will pop off and you have to accept what's inside. I also recommend these steps:
1. Take a vacation every year. It's not in our nature, but several studies have shown that just a few days away (even if just away from work) can make a huge difference in your mental and physical health. I never took the time to relax and unwind, and it bit me.
2. Make sure you are happy at your practice and that you are comfortable with everything that's happening around you.
3. Give your opinion and be heard in a positive and constructive way. This is how you help build a great clinic environment. There will always be clicks and disagreements, but don't let them define you.
4. Find your place in the industry, be your best and don't let people put you down or take advantage of you. If you start feeling the way I did, take a step back and find the culprit. More and more clinics are developing a regimen for their associates with concerns of fatigue or burnout. Take advantage of these programs. This is a very caring profession, which is why this happens in the first place. You're not alone.
Mandy Stevenson, RVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory board member in Creighton, Mo.