No matter the issue, our vet leaders are always ready to provide our hospital managers and Chiefs of Staff with whatever support they need - and that proved to be true when several vet leaders offered up some personal insight regarding how practice management could help their teams deal with burnout and care for their emotional wellbeing.
Those who work in the veterinary field are likely familiar with Not One More Vet, a nonprofit that seeks to provide necessary support to “all members of veterinary teams and students who are struggling or considering suicide,” and that’s because veterinarians have a higher rate of suicide than the rest of the population. And their teams are subjected to many of the same stressors that they are.
While some aspects of choosing to work in this field are immutable, like dealing with difficult clients and providing patients with end of life care, what we can do is empower our teams to learn how to manage burnout, care for their emotional wellbeing, and take time when they need it. We spoke to vet leaders Drs. Kienan Gold, Julie Bergeron, Gretchen Zarle, and Bryan Haag to see what advice they had for practice management looking to better support their teams as we continue to navigate another year of COVID-19 and they did not disappoint.
Although it may seem like a simple fact, it’s important to recognize that we can’t talk about combating and managing burnout without acknowledging that burnout is an issue. It’s okay to admit you’re feeling burnt, especially in the current climate. In fact, Dr. Gold believes there’s “never a bad time to talk about burnout” and that we’re all experiencing it to some extent right now. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees.
Our vet leaders deal with burnout a little bit differently at each of their practices, but we definitely noticed a lot of overlap between their answers. One of the most common answers that came up again and again was finding a way to take a break each day. What you do during that break is entirely up to you, but it’s important that you carve out some time to get some space to yourself and breathe. Some suggestions for break activities included grabbing a coffee during lunch, sitting in the car and practicing mindfulness, getting some sun, and going for a short walk.
Leading with positivity and gratitude was yet another popular answer. Dr. Bergeron does this by focusing on how happy her puppy and kitten clients make her and taking a few extra moments to bond with pet owners who have become more like friends than clients rather than dwelling on the sad cases of the day. Dr. Zarle, on the other hand, believes that laughter is the best medicine and wants to see her team crack a smile whether it’s because they’re celebrating a funny holiday or playing Vets Against Insanity. Like Dr. Bergeron, Haag tries not to dwell on the negative. He recognizes stressful moments with his team and lets them pass, choosing to celebrate positive ones instead.
But perhaps most importantly of all, our vet leaders cultivate and maintain positive cultures at their practices. Dr. Gold does this by staying relaxed around his staff, kicking off team meetings with silly icebreakers to keep things loose and randomly surprising them with bagel breakfasts to change up the mood of the day. Dr. Haag seconds the food approach and sometimes surprises his staff with impromptu lunches on particularly busy days. He says at his practice, “we communicate continually as a team” and notes that everyone works to uphold a drama-free environment, so everybody can enjoy coming to work. So while a positive atmosphere, alone, can’t stave off burnout, it can certainly help slow it down, especially when you’ve got a great team of people to lean on when you need them.
Per usual, we’re grateful for the stellar support and advice our vet leaders have to offer. We hope you’ll use some of their suggestions to empower your practice teams as they continue providing necessary care in the midst of the pandemic.