4 ways data and practice reporting can help combat veterinary compassion fatigue and burnout
As children, many of us dreamed of becoming veterinarians or working with animals in some way. If only we had known about the long hours, low salaries, the balance (or lack thereof) between practicing medicine and running a business, high staff turnover, and the difficult financial conversations that also affect a patient’s care and wellbeing. All of these challenges are inherent to a profession that, from the outside, is seemingly idyllic. Veterinary compassion fatigue and burnout run high in our industry but there are ways—four to be exact—that veterinary data and practice reporting can help.
Let’s get real about veterinary compassion fatigue
During my ten-year career as a veterinary technician, I certainly experienced periods of compassion satisfaction—the pleasure that comes from helping your patients and clients—as well as compassion fatigue, maybe even burnout.
When I think back to those times when I was satisfied with my job and life—I loved going to work every day and I felt like I was making a significant difference in my work—there were certainly external factors that helped me feel so satisfied, but there was also the general culture of the practice that made me feel engaged. The same goes for when I was burnt out. There were definitely life struggles that made it much more difficult to feel successful in my work, but with uncertainty at my practice, poor leadership, changes that were abrupt and seemingly meaningless, as well as lack of recognition for my time, expertise, and commitment to the practice, my compassion satisfaction plummeted into compassion fatigue.
This is not a new conversation, and I certainly don’t have an easy, immediate solution for this widespread issue in our industry. The Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study in 2018 found that only 41% of veterinarians would recommend a career in veterinary medicine to others.
How sad is that!?
Our profession is amazing and you get to literally make a difference on a daily basis. I have a great love for veterinary medicine, despite not being in practice anymore, but I often miss those long days of ongoing surgeries, challenging cases, and nights sleeping on the cage run with your patient. Maybe this is all nostalgia, but I hold on tightly to the fact that veterinary medicine is special, and the people in our industry are some of the greatest people in the world.
Having moved over into the world of veterinary data, I hope that in some small (or not so small) way, the data from your practice, laid out in a simple and accessible way, can help to combat compassion fatigue and burnout at your practice for technicians, veterinarians, receptionists, and managers alike.
Let’s dig into four specific ways that data and high-quality reporting can help.
4 ways reporting helps combat veterinary compassion fatigue
Whether you are a veterinarian, practice owner, technician, or mostly a veterinary assistant, who also covers the desk and is the office manager, what typically brings each of us to this industry is our love of animals.
Sure, there are many super-savvy business-minded individuals in the veterinary industry. But, if number crunching, spreadsheets, and balancing budgets isn’t your first love, you’re not alone. That’s basically why VetSuccess was started: to help veterinary practices use data to care for their practices like they care for their patients.
VetSuccess automates what would normally require a manual pull of data from your practice management software and then serves up key performance indicators and stats in easy-to-digest reports and dashboards. Being able to easily access your practice’s metrics and benchmarks anytime via your dedicated portal will save you time, energy, and stress, and perhaps more importantly, enable you to get back to what you love to do.
Staff engagement is crucial to a practice’s success and also key to each individual’s job satisfaction. As a technician, I never wanted to feel like I was only clocking in and clocking out. I wanted to be involved and to feel that what I was doing day-to-day mattered to our patients, our clients, and the business.
Reviewing metrics with your team, be it weekly, monthly, or quarterly, is a way to bring the team together, work towards a common goal, and nurture bonds in the practice. Studies on employee job satisfaction consistently show that trusting relationships between staff, supervisors, and employers, as well as the meaningfulness of work, open communication, and being given the opportunity to actively use your skills all contribute to overall employee satisfaction.
With an engaged, satisfied, and confident team, your high standard of care can be maintained, even when one member of the team is not feeling their greatest.
When emotional exhaustion takes over, we tend to dwell on what we see as failures, personal and professional. There are small victories in everyday practice, especially when you look at the data. If you and your staff have managed to increase a metric you have been working on, moving the needle any tiny amount should be celebrated.
For example, increasing your forward booking rate actually takes a lot of work: staff alignment and planning, doctor and technician communication with clients, having the appointment book scheduled out in advance, etc. If you have increased your forward booking rate by 3% in a month, that’s pretty great and worthy of celebration!
If we can lift each other up with these small victories that are backed up by concrete numbers, we begin to feel less like we are working in a bubble, and can truly see the outcome that our collaborative efforts have on the practice.
The great thing about data is that you can compare a feeling to reality. Does it feel like the practice is incredibly busy and can’t keep up with appointment requests, medication refills, and hospitalized patients? Does your data confirm that?
If you or members of your team are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, look at your monthly patient numbers for confirmation. How many unique patients have you seen this month compared to last month or last year?
You should also monitor your deceased patient numbers on a monthly basis. Months with more euthanasias are going to be harder on the team and individuals, and that should be recognized.
Veterinary compassion fatigue: data and additional resources
While data isn’t the be-all-end-all solution for veterinary compassion fatigue, it can certainly be one of many tools in your toolbox. Here are a few additional tools and resources.
The AVMA’s Wellbeing Assessment for Veterinarians is a self-administered test of 30 questions to help you get a read on your current balance of positive and negative personal and work-related experiences.
Jo Birmingham recently wrote a great article about the importance of practicing self-care which you don’t want to miss.
Originally from Nova Scotia, Katie moved to Toronto to complete her undergraduate degree in art and art history. During that time, she took a part-time job as a kennel attendant and never looked back. Over the next decade, Katie worked tirelessly in almost every role a veterinary clinic has to offer. From client communication to inventory management, from cat wrangling to hamster anesthesia, Katie’s varied experience in the veterinary world is certainly an asset in her current role as Customer Success Manager for VetSuccess.