A world of compassion: Veterinarians unready for compassion fatigue

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You show more compassion on a regular basis than professionals in almost any other industry. Were you prepared adequately to manage end-of-life care? See what your peers had to say.

You knew working in the veterinary field wouldn't always be easy, but did you know offering compassionate care would be as taxing on your emotional health? According to a study commissioned by Virbac Animal Health, only veterinarians who graduated within the past five years said they were trained to handle euthanasia and end-of-life care while they were in school. But these recent graduates said their "training" was extremely limited—often, a single seminar or one-day presentation on the subject.

Virtually all respondents agreed that compassionate care wasn't given any special attention by the veterinary school they had attended. Instead, nearly all of the respondents said their experience to date has come from on-the-job training.

More in this package:

Monthly breakdown: How often do you discuss euthanasia with clients?

Does your clinic offer a euthanasia training program for veterinary technicians?

How does your practice help clients through the painful process of euthanasia?

How often do you discuss end-of-life at-home care with pet owners?

Does your clinic have strategies in place to cope with compassion fatigue?

Symptoms of compassion fatigue seen in clinic

However, that may be changing. One of the key opinion leaders (KOLs) who participated in a focus group sponsored by Virbac said that while current and former generations of practitioners received little or no formal training on end-of-life care or managing euthanasia procedures, at least half of the veterinary schools she's in contact with are now putting a special focus on the subject in hopes of addressing the issues for students who will soon be in practice. The KOL indicated that including compassionate care in the curriculum is becoming the "the norm" for many schools and the effort is being led by senior clinicians highly interested in the human-animal bond. She also said that at this point, many schools are devoting about a week of study and counseling on how to conduct end-of-life discussions with clients. Check out the charts and see what else respondents had to say about compassionate care and their practices' euthanasia protocols.

More in this package:

Monthly breakdown: How often do you discuss euthanasia with clients?

Does your clinic offer a euthanasia training program for veterinary technicians?

How does your practice help clients through the painful process of euthanasia?

How often do you discuss end-of-life at-home care with pet owners?

Does your clinic have strategies in place to cope with compassion fatigue?

Symptoms of compassion fatigue seen in clinic

Help clients heal the hurt

There are many options you can present to clients to help them through the painful process of euthanasia. Here are veterinarians' "other" responses on euthanasia protocols at their practices.

  • Give clay paw print
  • Offer home euthanasia option
  • Send sympathy card and flowers
  • Place IV catheter
  • Give option for pet owner to be present
  • Provide clipping of pet's fur
  • Handle paperwork in advance
  • Give handout on grief
  • Accommodate pet owner's schedule
  • Use remembrance book
  • Donate to memorial fund or veterinary program
  • Individualize procedure for each client
  • Offer pre-counseling
  • Provide urn, casket, or special box for remains
  • Offer cremation options
  • Give "heaven" blanket
  • Provide ashes for a small fee
  • Hug clients
  • Bill later
  • Provide aftercare cemetery service
  • Don't charge for euthanasia

More in this package:

Monthly breakdown: How often do you discuss euthanasia with clients?

Does your clinic offer a euthanasia training program for veterinary technicians?

How does your practice help clients through the painful process of euthanasia?

How often do you discuss end-of-life at-home care with pet owners?

Does your clinic have strategies in place to cope with compassion fatigue?

Symptoms of compassion fatigue seen in clinic

More in this package:

Monthly breakdown: How often do you discuss euthanasia with clients?

Does your clinic offer a euthanasia training program for veterinary technicians?

How does your practice help clients through the painful process of euthanasia?

How often do you discuss end-of-life at-home care with pet owners?

Does your clinic have strategies in place to cope with compassion fatigue?

Symptoms of compassion fatigue seen in clinic

Set the record straight

Although the following terms are commonly used interchangeably in the practice of veterinary medicine, they mean different things, say the participants in a focus group conducted by Virbac Animal Health. Study these terms so you can say what you mean and mean what you say.

Hospice care is a human model and means something very different from what you typically offer your clients. Most pet owners view hospice care as the act of comforting a patient in the last few weeks or days before death.

By contrast, you offer patients palliative care, providing clients with options and explaining that there are many drugs that can improve their pets' quality of life and even extend that life with little or no pain. Most veterinarians from the focus group agreed that they could use more training on end-of-life care, the broad term for performing palliative care, euthanasia, and end-of-life discussions with clients. The result could be that pet owners will be more open to palliative care and less likely to move immediately to discussions of euthanasia.

More in this package:

Monthly breakdown: How often do you discuss euthanasia with clients?

Does your clinic offer a euthanasia training program for veterinary technicians?

How does your practice help clients through the painful process of euthanasia?

How often do you discuss end-of-life at-home care with pet owners?

Does your clinic have strategies in place to cope with compassion fatigue?

Symptoms of compassion fatigue seen in clinic

What is compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is the experience of being traumatized by the work you do with individuals who are sad or suffering. It's the burden of caring, the psychosocial sadness you carry around with you, and the stress of dispensing compassion. Compassion fatigue is different from burnout, which is a result of general dissatisfaction with your work environment. Many experts agree that compassion fatigue is more aligned with post-traumatic stress than burnout.

More in this package:

Monthly breakdown: How often do you discuss euthanasia with clients?

Does your clinic offer a euthanasia training program for veterinary technicians?

How does your practice help clients through the painful process of euthanasia?

How often do you discuss end-of-life at-home care with pet owners?

Does your clinic have strategies in place to cope with compassion fatigue?

Symptoms of compassion fatigue seen in clinic

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