Work/life balance poses concerns for DVMs-making time to have a life outside of the practice can be a challenge
National Report - Achieving an appropriate balance between work and home life was cited by veterinarians most frequently as their greatest professional life concern.
National Report — Achieving an appropriate balance between work and home life was cited by veterinarians most frequently as their greatest professional life concern.
In fact, 43 percent of practitioner's participating in a DVM Newsmagazine survey rated it tops, ahead of money worries, staff turnover, malpractice claims and even state board intervention.
"My first job after veterinary school was working 60-hour weeks at a mixed practice," says Dr. Tammy Ferrara, associate veterinarian at Spring Hill Animal Clinic, Spring Hill, Fla. "I'd get pages at 3 a.m. and have to go to a farm and treat a horse. I'd get really bad backaches antagonized by stress."
She did that for three years, but now Ferrara is working at her second clinic post-graduation and says her work-week is more relaxed.
"I work four, 10-hour days," she says. "I still feel like there is more I should be doing sometimes, but there has to be a limit. My husband is understanding of my job, but I need to spend time doing things other than work."
A 2004 DVM Newsmagazine survey also showed a disparity between how much time veterinarians were spending with the practice compared to family time. When respondents were asked about their preferences, veterinarians expressed a desire to spend greater time at home or away from the practice.
Table 1 Greatest professional life concern
In the survey, veterinarians reported they would like to devote more time to family and personal activities. In fact, on average, 41 percent of their time was reportedly centered on work, but their preference was to devote about 29 percent of their day practicing. Their preference was to transfer about 11 percent of their day from work to family and personal activities.
Dr. Abby Snyder, owner of Grandview Animal Hospital, adds "The flexible schedule helps when my daughter is sick and things can't wait until the end of the day."
Dr. Abby Snyder
"It helps that no one makes me feel guilty about leaving when I need to," she adds.
Achieving this work-life balance can be so important, some look to less traditional careers as a veterinarian.
"I used to own a practice and found myself working 70-80 hour weeks," says Dr. Greg Lewis, Arizona Humane Society (AHS). "There is always one more client to be squeezed in, paperwork and research; leaving to do something for yourself seemed too selfish. I have been a veterinarian for 33 years, and decided I was going to focus on what I like to do the best — surgery, so I now work at the AHS."
Ferrara finds refuge with her 20-acre farm, three horses, three dogs and three cats and a cow.
Table 2 Number of hours worked in a week
"To unwind from the work week, I enjoy riding my horses or spending time with family and friends," she says. "I have accomplished a good balance now, but it is easy to see how guilt of leaving one more task at the clinic can become habit."
But veterinarians aren't alone. Professionals from many sectors lament the erosion of down time.
In a Virginia Tech 2006 faculty work-life survey data report, faculty members were questioned about issues that occurred regularly in effort to keep a balance between work and home.
Some of the findings include:
- 61-percent agreed it is difficult to have a personal life and be promoted, with female respondents significantly more likely to agree than men.
- 47-percent agreed family responsibilities have slowed their advancement at the university, with significantly more women than men agreeing.
- 47-percent agreed that professional demands have forced them to make unreasonable compromises about personal or family responsibilities, with women being significantly more likely than men to agree.
- 59-percent strongly agree or somewhat agree that they have modified their career aspirations in order to accommodate the interests and needs of their spouse/partner or family.
Veterinary school faculty was included in this survey.
In a 2005 American Veterinary Medical Association – Pfizer Business Practice Study, 65.2-percent of female DVMs say they work part-time in order to care for their children or dependents. While only 12.8-percent of men say they work part-time for the same reason. The male DVMs working part-time are doing so because they are semi-retired, according to the study.
"I think many veterinarians have at some point of their career struggled with staying on top of everything at work, spending time and money wisely," says Dr. Dennis Feinberg, owner of Charles Town Veterinary Clinic in Charleston, SC.
Feinberg, who also served as a past AAHA president, says doing what is best for each individual veterinarian is how you find your balance.
"If you want to spend more time with family, that is what should be pursued," Feinberg says. "You don't have to work 80-hour weeks to be a good veterinarian."