Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Compassion Fatigue. When the candle you are burning at both ends consumes you.



“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”  BUT in the case of our pets,  should it be “the Lord giveth and the vet taketh away?” How does the responsibility, the quest for providing a service, and the weight of the burden that this profession puts upon you keep you from becoming exhausted? And how does the emotional stress not accumulate to the point where that stress breaks you?

In the trade we coin it “compassion fatigue.”

It is the burden of the beast.

I read somewhere that something like one-third of US women are on some sort of tricyclic antidepressant. If the general public can’t make it through their normal day without some help how is our profession not supposed to end up not heavily self- medicated, depressed, or seeking a way out from under the mountain of emotional turmoil and  strain?

There is a common belief amongst vets that our profession has the highest suicide rate. We know what death from the end of hot pink syringe looks like. We talk about ‘quality of life,” “making hard decisions,” “letting go,” “saying goodbye,” and ending suffering” enough times to almost believe it ourselves.  And there is a knowing that if the cards are stacked against us, and the chips are really down we do what we practice, we take matters into our own hands, we end suffering.

How do we get here? It’s a long road and many small steps, heart aches, and tears on the way  to Oz.

Being a veterinarian can be exhausting. You can get to the marrow tired. It can eat you from the inside out to the point of being all consuming. A gluttonous feast of your soul until there is nothing left to give and nowhere to seek salvation. A curse? Yes, it can be a curse. To care so much, to invest your whole heart, which is what many of our clients want for us as we care for their family members, and then there are the clients who ask you to remove a pet that they see as a burden. To juggle these emotions, these responses, and these ends of the emotional spectrum make it hard to navigate through each day.

We are all provided preservation mechanisms to protect our most precious inner self. Your choices are yours. Mask the difficulty of dealing with the stress with drugs, alcohol, and addiction, withdraw and leave the profession, start caring less, investing less of yourself, or burn out. Veterinarians are determined, driven, type A people. We as a species hate to give up, we loathe defeat, and we give until the bank is empty. Wear your heart on your sleeve long enough and someone will take it. But like every other thing in the universe with enough wear and tear on the system it will break down.

Four years at a school learning about the biggest, heaviest, and bulkiest transport vehicles in the world, steel ships, and I know that one big wave, one scrape on the bottom, or a swipe from an iceberg and that tin can will crumble, crack and sink. Nothing is impenetrable or unbreakable. Ask the Titanic or the Costa Concordia.

Did I learn about burn out, or compassion fatigue in vet school? No, you learn it in the field with those tiny sacrifices, those tiny blows, and those moments between the lines. You wake up one day and you realize that your life, your dream, and your reality are not one in the same. You dread work, you can't process the grief, the exhaustion, and the demands placed upon you.

Compassion fatigue is burnout when the candle that you are burning at both ends runs out of wax and wick. The profession can put unrealistic expectations on us. Our ability to maintain a level of empathy for every client, every incident and every patient is unrealistic. Our ability to wear every hat, mirror every clients expectations, and maintain a personal protective zone requires a strict code of rationing emotional handsels. 

Palmer


How does a normal rational empathetic person put a pet that they have watched grow from infancy to geriatric to sleep in one room and then walk ten feet away to another patient who you are expected to be jubilant and clear headed to examine, diagnose, and treat? Somewhere along the way we learn to mask, shelter, or disregard our emotions. Somewhere it became expected, and we learned to push feelings aside and press on. It is a recipe for a sychopath and a schizophrenic. And we do it every single day.

I will be the first to freely admit that I grapple every single day of my professional life with compassion fatigue. When you invest so much into one thing you expose yourself to being bankrupt should your house of cards fall. Can I tell myself that this is just a job, yes? Do I believe that being a vet is just performing a job? No.

How do I keep going? I pay attention. All the time.

I try to put myself first, I have to. I say no, a lot. I stay true to who I am. If you don’t care about your pet I am not the right vet for you. I stand by my core values.

I am also very honest. I tell my clients when I have just had to say goodbye to an old friend, and that I might need a moment to collect myself, refocus and devote the time and attention that I want to to their pet. I also invest my whole heart into what I do. I know that I cannot practice any other way. To do this I have to understand that there are clients that I am not right for. I can’t care more for their pet than they do, and I can’t be a compassionate vet any other way. I give termination letters to clients that do not share my perspective and I stand by my true clients come thick or thin, hell or high water.


And every day I remind myself how much I love to be a part of my client’s family, and how lucky I am to be living my dream.

Here is the advice from the professionals;  
  1. Put yourself first. 
  2. Stay an active student. Learn, grow, and challenge.
  3. Exercise, eat well, take care of your temple. 
  4. Be realistic with your expectations.
  5. Attitude is everything, keep your chin up. 
  6. Seek help if you feel overwhelmed.

Help, and seeking help, is something the doctors often feel embarrassed, ashamed, or beneath us to do. We are comfortable and expected to always be giving the medical advice and unable, unwilling, and mute to ask for it when it applies to ourselves.

Symptoms of compassion fatigue include excessive complaining, isolation, compulsive behaviors, poor sleep habits, poor hygiene, apathy, difficulty concentrating, chronic physical ailments, and withdrawal from friends, family, or prior interests.*

The next time you see your vet, tell them that you appreciate them, and remind them that you know that we are real people with real hearts. And for as many times as we vets tell our clients who say to us that they "will never get another pet because it's too hard to say goodbye when we lose them," the same goes for us. Don't lose your compassion in the trenches of our daily life. Remembering to love, care for, and maintain our empathy is what keeps us human.






*This blog was based on the facts presented at the 2009 CVC Baltimore lecture given by Renee Rucinsky, DVM, DABVP of the Cat Hospital of the Eastern Shore in Cordova MD.



59 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. The more vets and other vets that talk about this the stronger we all become because one of the worst parts of compassion fatigue is feeling like everyone else out there is coping better.

    This part particularly is true - "I stay true to who I am." - staying true to who we are is going to be a different for everyone. I got into this field because I love talking with people. If I rush through appointments and rush out the door at night, I spend more time at home, but I miss out on my favorite part of practice and the part that brings me the most joy.

    Again, thanks for being willing to share this.

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    1. Hello,

      I debated quite a bit about putting this out. I know I am not alone in feeling this way and I know that we mumble in hushed voices about the vets around us that we all believe are burning out. There are papers out in about what compassion fatigue looks like but few about what it feels like.

      I love our profession but there are aspects of it that leave us feeling as if we are in a vice.

      And I believe the face of veterinary medicine is evolving into a more compassionate pet centered profession. With the increased emotional ties between ourselves, our clients, and our past it is destined to be a place of precarious situations and scenarios.

      I am afraid that as the profession becomes dominated by more and more females we have to find a way to support each other, and be true to the core of who we are and why we chose to become veterinarians.

      Thanks for reading, and for sharing your thoughts.

      Krista

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  2. I agree with VetChangesWorld - thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences in such an honest way. I'm sharing the blog post throughout the Vetanswers community as much as I can.

    I especially think your suggestion to be honest and share with clients if you have just had to say goodbye or deal with other difficult situations is excellent advice. Sharing in this way doesn't make a vet unprofessional it makes them human - and I think showing such compassion can only increase their standing in the eyes of clients.

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    1. Hello,

      Thank you for reading and sharing.

      Being a pet care professional is about taking care of pets and exchanging information on how to best do this. Being a human is about helping each other through the difficult and easy times. Trying to be both, well, sometimes that means exposing your under belly and being honest that its not a familiar place we like to put ourselves in.

      My hope is to remind each other that we are all pulled and pushed in many directions and its very difficult to not leave yourself behind as you chose who to take care of.

      Thank you for your time in leaving a comment and offering a helping hand to others.

      krista

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  3. What an amazing post. Thank you. Your perspective is refreshing and sobering. Heartbreaking, really. Thank you.
    www.dogtreatweb.com

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    1. Hello,

      Thank You for reading and visiting!

      Take Care,
      Sincerely,
      krista

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  4. As a fellow veterinarian.. I can not tell you how great this posting is! I especially love the line about recipe for psychopaths and scheizophrenia (sp?)..It is so true, and SO overlooked day in and day out. It is honestly amazing that all of us don't fall off the deep end with what is expected of us. I will share a personal story:
    I refused to euthanize an aging dog with arthritis because the owners hadn't tried ANYTHING to help this dog. She was still happy, tail wagging and getting around pretty well despite no meds. I DONATED meds to the owners and asked them to give her two weeks on meds and see if they still wanted to end her life... Long story short, I received a two page hate letter from the woman a few days later stating that I was a heartless b***h for refusing to put her dog down, and that she had taken her somewhere else and had it done. That hurt, a LOT. I know that refusing was the right decision for me and the patient, but to be smeared so violently by that owner was heartbreaking..
    Thanks again for the post, I will be sharing it at the office.

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    1. Thank you for reading. And for taking the time to comment.

      But most especially thank you for caring more about that dog than those owners did. I am immensely proud of you!! And grateful to feel not alone.

      I wrote a blog on the very same experience. I'll send you the link when I'm not on my cell phone.

      I wish you the very best and I hope you know that you are not alone.

      Be brave be strong and be the person you are. Everyone else has to live with their own conscious and face their own internal demons.

      Ok, heres my "want to pound the crap out of a client" blog.

      http://kmdvm.blogspot.com/2013/10/bobcat-and-line-in-sand.html

      let me know what you think.

      Sincerely
      Krista

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    2. I'm a tech.

      I experience a lot of the same things. I'm in that room, I'm going through those emotions, I emotionally invest myself in cases in ways that I sometimes shouldn't (for my best).

      I think you having the right of refusal is one of the most priceless things you have to save your sanity. People are going to judge you however they see fit, but at the end of the day, you are the one that injects the solution. You are the one that makes that happen. If you don't feel good and right about it, you shouldn't do it. If I were a veterinarian, I would have done the same thing in your shoes. You didn't send her off without medication. You didn't let her suffer for years with arthritis without treating her until it became a death sentence in the eyes of her owners. In fact, you did the complete opposite. You made the best decision for her anyone has made for a while, and you made the best decision for you. It's nothing but sad that they attacked you in such a vindictive way, and put her to death without even trying somewhere else.

      But you have to do what is morally right for YOU.

      And you did. And you should stand by it.

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    3. I've done the exact same thing, refused to euthanasia an elderly dog that was still wagging his tail and eating treats. He was brought in by another family member, not even the owner. Who knows if the owner even knew about it. Refusing was also the right decision for me and I'd refuse again. I have to sleep at night. I end suffering. I do not end an elderly dog's life because it is more convenient for the owner.

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    4. I have also refused to perform many euthanasias on both young and old pets that had treatable illnesses that were not expensive to diagnose or treat (under $100, less than the cost of the euthanasia). I've also had owners sign their pets over to me so I can treat them myself and rehome them to owners who do care about them.

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  5. Thank you for such a timely, heart-felt and accurate post. We vets struggle with compassion fatigue daily and there is a cumulative deleterious effect if we don't take care of ourselves in whatever highly-individual form that takes (for me, cooking, gardening, reading, and speaking to fellow vets about how I feel OR showing them compassion and love when they are deeply wounded by the burdens of our chosen profession).

    Thank you for saying what many if not most of us veterinarians experience and feel.

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    1. Hello Sharon,

      Thank You for reading, taking the time to write and most especially for helping others understand that this profession can be filled with compassion, even it if comes primarily from our peers.

      There is great comfort in knowing that we are not alone and that others have figured out ways to help address the pain and heal our wounds.

      Take care, and best of luck in all of your endeavors.
      Sincerely,
      Krista

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  6. Thank you. We vet techs often feel this strain and burn out as well, and it's refreshing and reassuring to know the vets we work for and with are right there with us, especially because we have less control over such situations. So again. Thank you. A million times over, thank you.

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    1. Hello Samantha,

      Thanks for reading. I understand exactly how you feel. I was a tech for a very long time and there were many many times that I felt stuck in between a pet who I knew needed something, an owner who didn't or couldn't provide it, and a vet who just didn't seem to care about the situation half as much as I did.

      It was frustrating and heart wrenching to say the least.

      This profession isn't easy for any of us, but we need technicians who care, and who are devoted to all of the miracles that they provide our patients every single day.

      I wish you the very best, and I hope that you know in your heart that you save lives and make a difference every day.

      There are lots and lots of awesome clients, we just need to focus on them and not the few bad apples that can so easily spoil the rest of our day.

      Take Care,
      Krista

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  7. Thank you for sharing. I have lived that life and finally got a new veterinary position where I am now supported by my coworkers rather than brought down. I am so blessed to be living my dream of being a veterinarian, but have struggled with many things, including now having 2 chronic diseases that we cannot find a primary cause for them...I attribute them to stress and compassion fatigue. I do not like "the poor me" mentality, but it is good to know that there are others that understand and can raise each of us up when we are felling low.

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    1. Hello Dr Goble,

      Many thanks for sharing your story.

      It is vital to find a place where we feel supported and have confidants to help us deal with the difficult times and situations. Stress can be such a terrible beast to resolve and can reek such havoc. Certainly enough to cause chronic mystery etiologies.

      I hope that your new life allows you all of the joy that this profession can bring, and I wish you good health and above all happiness.

      Take Care,
      Sincerely,
      Krista

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  8. I came across a link on Facebook to this post---and I am so very glad that I did. I am just one of those 'clients' that adore my dogs, they are our family, and have a long-term relationship with my local vet (female, btw) through the good and the bad. I just want to share my admiration and gratitude to you (and all of those compassionate vets). I lean heavily on my vet at times, and she never fails to try to direct me, be it through research, new meds, 'time' for letting go, or referral to larger clinics if it's outside of her ability. I will always be grateful to each of you. I know your calling in life is not an easy one, but one that is so very needed and much appreciated, at least by this client. Huge thanks to all of you vets.

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    1. Thank-You Angie! It is so appreciated to hear those two words!

      And I am so glad that you have a vet that you trust and believe in. We are humans, imperfect, but dedicated. Being a part of our clients family, helping each other through good times and bad, is the most treasured place anyone could ever hope to be.

      Thank You for reading and for your support. We all need each other!

      My best to you and your family.
      Krista

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  9. Thank you so much for putting together these thoughts that so thoroughly describe the state in which so many veterinarians live every day. I have seen it in my collegues and have probably experienced it myself. No profession comes without stress and anxiety producing incidents, but some days, being a Walmart greeter sure does seem attractive. Also, as we age, it becomes harder to deal with the physical demands of the work. Arthritic hands, stiff knees, and an aching back can make even the most dedicated of us lose our smile at times. I would not trade my career for any other, but once in a while, just a little understanding wpuld go a ling way.

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    1. Hello Lisa,

      I hear you so loud and clear!

      And I chuckle every time I think about being a Wal-Mart greeter! I promise I will be repeating this out loud to the staff on the bad days.

      I try to remember that every job comes with its up and downs, and every time I am in Wal-Mart henceforth I promise to give a nice, big sincere "HELLO!" back at those greeters. Maybe I can pay it forward in the hopes of having it come back to all of us someday.

      Take Care,
      And Thanks for reading, and putting your thoughts into words,

      Sincerely,
      Krista

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  10. "Compassion Fatigue" - Thank you for putting a name on how I'm feeling. I'm just a dog groomer, so I certainly only experience a tiny amount of what Veterinarians must go through, but I see stuff all the time and some of it is crippling me. I told a woman last week that grooming her shih tzus once every six months was neglect. That if I could not find her pups feet and eyes beneath all the matting that surely she wasn't doing enough for them. Oh, I was as nice about it as I could be and knew I was about to lose a client, but at the end of the day, someone needed to plant in her mind that she should get her act together or give these two pups up. This sort of thing is taking its toll on me though and I've been searching on ways to better handle the ugly. Thank you!!!!! This article helps a lot, can you continue to write about it, I need a pep talk to get back in there and help where I can. I especially love, "I try to put myself first, I have to. I say no, a lot. I stay true to who I am. If you don’t care about your pet I am not the right vet for you. I stand by my core values."

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    1. Hello Mimi,

      Thank you for reading and for leaving such a heartfelt comment. I sincerely hope that you see yourself as a vital part of the care giver pet circle. At my clinic I value my groomers as much as any other part of our team. In fact many times they find pet issues and bring up concerns to both myself and the pet parent and are vital in providing exemplary care to our patients.
      It is a difficult thing to do, stepping in for a pet, feeling as if you are jeopardizing a client relationship, and so often feeling completely unsure as to what to do. But it takes courage to speak up, and I would bet that you were, and remain confident, that what you said what what you felt was right. That's the most important aspect of this. You stood by what you believed, and you were brave enough to say it.

      Here's the hard part, and something I try to do everyday, figure out a way to say it, convey it, and maintain the relationship. It is a great challenge. It takes finesse, charm, and some degree of acting, and car salesmenship to do well..(I am really really challenged by this!!) But the hope is that I can find someway for the client to understand that WE BOTH care about their pet, and I often say to them, "What can I do to help you keep Fluffy groomed so that he can see and walk better?"

      Sometimes it works, and sometimes I just remind myself that I am not a good car salesman.

      So heres what I propose..if you ever need a cheer leader, or a person to commiserate with, you can find me here, or on Pawbly.com, or facebook. I am happy to help.

      But know in your heart that you are not alone! I promise, we are here to keep you company. And those two pups say Thanks for sticking up for them!

      Take good care of yourself ALWAYS!

      Sincerely
      Krista

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  11. It is a strange profession that we have selected. Exam room 1 is a euthanasia of a family's pet of 15 years that you have helped care for - exam room 2 is a new puppy coming for the first time to see you. It is very difficult to switch gears, but we have all been there. Most difficult is when you care more about the patient than your client does.
    I got in a situation where I burned out. It wasn't just the compassion fatigue, but also the daily stresses of running my own practice. You feel a terrific burden to "care" for the people who work for you. There are a million things to do in running your own practice. - employees, drug bills, insurance, taxes, etc., etc. Trying to do everything can wear you down too.
    I had to change some things in my life. I now practice part time, and I do management part time. That was an important step, but more important to me is doing volunteer work away from the profession. My Labrador Retriever "Max" is a therapy dog, and we visit the local children's hospital. Sometimes I am not sure who is getting therapy. I have also gotten active in our local Kiwanis club. These have been very helpful to me as well as getting professional help.
    Don't be embarrassed to seek help if you need it. For too long there has been a stigma associated with "needing" help. I thought that I was strong enough to handle my own problems (somewhat of a man thing). It turns out I was not. These are the things that helped me, as well as a loving family. Hopefully this helps someone else.

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    1. Hello Robert,

      Thank You for sharing your story. I understand completely! I also own my practice. It is an 8 Dr, 7 day a week operation. I feel an immense responsibility to my staff, my clients, and my patients. Everyday I try to remind myself to keep from getting bogged down and overwhelmed by trying to make everyone happy. It is impossible to do this and I am getting better at being open, honest, and remaining kind, caring, and compassionate..But I do feel as if there will be a day when the constant barrage of waves of requests will cause me to either walk away from exhaustion, indifference, or surrender.

      I love your statement about providing therapy for yourself, Max and the kids. Isn't that what life is all about? Helping each other with love and kindness? I hope so..and I hope I never lose sight of it.

      I think that your words will help, and I think they helped me, so Thanks!!! for taking the time to read and comment...and if you are ever in my part of the world stop in and say hello..and give Max a hug for me..

      My very best to you and Max.

      Sincerely,
      krista

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  12. Thanks for such a great blog! I am a vet and lecture on compassion fatigue. You are definitely doing a great job of identifying the things that ease CF. Doing them.....well, that's hard for all of us! I always tell my students that "NO" is the most important tool. And for such a little word - it can be SO hard to say! I hope you find your peaceful place!

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    1. Hello Dr Buisson,

      Thanks for reading, and helping others through this. It is a much needed to be talked about topic.

      I appreciate your well wishes, I would like to reply, "No worries with me Doc, I've got all my shit together." But really how accurate can that be for any of us?

      So I get up everyday, stay optimistic, lean on my friends, and smile my way through this little fleeting time I have. We all know how short and precious life is, so I try very hard to enjoy it.

      Thanks for visiting, and writing.

      Krista

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  13. Thanks for posting this. I'm not a vet, but a good friend is. She just read this and is having a lot of the same thoughts and considerations.

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    1. Hello,
      Thanks for reading, and tell your friend that she is in my thoughts and that I wish her the best.

      Thanks for sharing the blog!

      Take care,
      Krista

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  14. I'm a lawyer reading this as I spend my Sunday in bed, listening to my roommates laugh and enjoying their day off in the living room. So this resonated with me. I have no doubt that a much smaller percentage of lawyers deal with this than vets, and even fewer with issues of life and death. But for those that do, I think its the isolation that makes it most difficult--not feeling like you are fully heard by people closest to you on all the troubling issues you have to persistently stare in the face.

    We have been conditioned to be a very unconscious society and avoid dealing with too much truth so we can get through our day. I believe this is changing as we all become more informed and more people express themselves like this. It should have been obvious to me, but my current self-absorption kept me from being thinking how vets go through the same thing. So thanks for your post and for taking care of the creatures that I think are essential to the development the our collective consciousness.

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    1. Hello Jake,

      What an articulate poignant collection of thoughts!You should write a blog! You would be great at it!

      It would be interesting to hear from doctors and lawyers (and other professions) about how they relate to this.

      I'm sure that in many respects we share many of the same thoughts, feelings, guilt, and regrets.

      I suppose its all about how you feel about the service you provide society, and the peace you have within.

      I appreciate your time in putting your thoughts to paper, and I wish you the best.

      Take Care Counselor!

      Sincerely
      Krista

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  15. Compassion fatigue, along with working in poorly managed practices, led me to move from private practice to working for the government. It was a very difficult decision to make. I had spent my entire life planning on being a rural mixed animal veterinarian, and I decided to abandon that dream to keep my sanity. Perhaps working in the right practice would have allowed me to hang on longer. I'm happy with my decision, for the most part, in that I have better pay and benefits with the government. I miss a lot of aspects of practice, though. Thanks for writing about this. It's a difficult topic for most of us.

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    1. Hello Jaime,

      I am sad to hear that you felt you had to leave something that you had spent so long trying to attain. I understand that statement absolutely in its entirety. (Stay tuned for some really tough gut wrenching blogs on this subject. Gotta wait til a statue of limitations to run out,,,lol, seriously).

      Like all of life, we make hard decisions that we hope we wont regret later, and then we have to make the most of them.

      Better pay, benefits, and a sense of inner peace, is certainly a plus though.

      There is no perfect workplace, there is only our ability to forge our own path, and try to be good to ourselves and those around us.

      I wish you the very best.
      Thanks for sharing your story.

      Krista

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  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Hello,

      Thank you for your perspective and opinion. In an effort to defend myself (silly as that seems) and be brave I would add that I have made no reference nor do I feel that it needs to be made that veterinarians of any kind lack compassion.

      I never refuse care, nor do I ever turn away a client without first trying (desperately and sometimes to no avail) to help their pet. I will however firmly and bravely stand my ground when I am asked to end a life that I do not feel right about doing. And for the record I do not declaw, debark, or alter ears because I do not believe it is ethical to do so. These are a few of the cases that make me "not the right vet for some clients."

      To assume that you know my opinion on animal care and assume that I would only serve those aligned with it is incorrect. I am a veterinarian for all kinds of people from all walks of life with all kinds of beliefs. You have missed the point on my statements.

      I am not practicing veterinary medicine to serve myself, nor do I believe that I am short sighted in any decision that I make. Most of my time, cases, and work is for non-profits and is done pro bono. And it is always done with the clear understanding that I serve my community, my patients, and my clients. There have been actions that I regret, patients I have not served as I wish I had, and clients that I have failed. It is life and I accept them as learning experiences and move on.

      Telling someone who struggles with issues of compassion fatigue, depression, or any other condition that causes them to question their profession, dreams, or feelings of self worth to put others before them (the flip side to "I put myself first") is not only dangerous but insulting and self righteous. I had a difficult time putting my honest emotions in print, which of course leaves me openly vulnerable to insult and opinion, but to be told that "I must do something" is not your place, nor your right.

      I would add further that serving people and pets is a gift. And we are all free to provide that gift to those we see fit. To be mandated to serve all at the expense of ourselves is a clear path to self destruction.

      This blog was intended to give a voice to those who struggle with issues that I can identify with. I hope that it helps someone feel that they are not alone and helps them be brave in taking care of themselves so that they can continue to serve others.

      If this seems self righteous then so be it.

      Sincerely
      Krista

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  17. Thank you for this. I've worked in veterinary medicine for around 30 years from kennel, to assistant, to management, and now as a certified tech. I've been talking about this since the late 90's when I first heard the term. It makes so much sense, but so many in our profession don't understand it when it happens to them. One problem is that everyone around them SEEMS to have everything under control, so they figure it is something wrong just with them. We all need to be open about it and share our strategies for dealing with this, especially with those new to the profession.

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    1. Hello Denise,

      This is certainly a subject that gets swept under the rug a lot.

      We vet caretakers are so busy that we forget to take a moment and remind ourselves who we are, where we are going, and what we are leaving as our legacy along the way. It is a brutal, demanding job. Full of stories of hope, courage, and happy endings, and also full of people who try to break you by taking advantage of our soft spots.

      Keep spreading the word, and thanks for all you do to help animals every single day!

      Sincerely,
      Krista

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  18. I'm also just a pet owner, but one who is incredibly thankful to vets like you who put the animals and their wellbeing first. My beloved dog suffered a broken leg at six months. He had three surgeries and needed extensive recuperation to heal properly and throughout the process many questioned why we didn't just euthanize him in favour of another dog. Now, at nine years old, he has as much energy, vivacity and spirit as he did when he was a puppy. He's lived a lot of happy life in that time (and I hope he has more ahead of him). It breaks my heart that others dismiss his value as an individual or his integral role in our family simply because he isn't human. Thank you for standing up for animals, even when it is trying to do so. We clients truly appreciate how much you do to maintain the health and vitality of those family members who are so precious to us. We are guilty of not saying it enough, but after your poignant words, I'm resolved to say it much more!

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    1. Hello Diana,

      Thanks for writing, and thanks most especially for sharing your story and for being such a devoted mom.

      I wish you and your pup the very best, and I thank you for your gratitude, it means a lot!

      Best wishes,
      Krista

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  19. Thank you! Both to Krista and to those that have commented. Its so nice to know that I'm not alone in how I feel and that just because I don't work with people like me there are plenty of you out there!!! <3

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    1. Thanks Lily!

      It certainly feels like there are many of us banding together to take care of each other. The true definition of compassion!

      Please know that I am here if you ever need anyone!

      All my best to you.
      Krista

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  20. I put this on the wall of a Facebook friend who is a vet, but thought I'd share here too. I'm just a pet owner, but vet and vet techs, across the board, are some of the best people I have ever known. Most, in my experience at least, has an "extra dimension" of compassion and perspective that bleeds into life overall. I always think those qualities come from being regularly tuned in to the animal wavelength, which gives humans so much in return. So many of my doc friends are bitter and jaded because people patients can be such a-holes to deal with and so self-destructive. I'm not surprised vets burn out from constantly feeling too deeply. Fighting the good fight for those among us who are vulnerable, good, and have no voice would get to anyone over time. Sigh. But it is such honorable, needed, and noble work that adds so much good in the world that I hope serves as a meaningful counterpoint.

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    1. Hello Linda,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. It has been so incredibly amazing to hear from so many people who understand and identify. It makes us feel as if we are not alone and the power of emotional support from people from every walk of life is beyond words.

      Thank you for sharing the blog. I hope that it inspires people to be true to themselves and their inner peace.

      People, they can be the most loving compassionate people who helps in the most awe inspiring ways, OR they can be vile, selfish, jerks! But for every jerk their are hundreds of you!

      Thanks from the bottom of my heart!
      Krista

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  21. Hi Krista
    Wonderful reading your blog!
    I have a little story for you which will warm your heart.
    I moved back home 8 years ago after my Mum died, to keep Dad company. He will be 91 in January and is retired after 50 years in medical practice. We heard screaming sounds from next door (pensioners flats) an abandoned and very scared small kitten. We have taken it in, it's been 10 days now and Dad (he still walks for 1 to 2 hours each day) has a new best friend that somebody had abandoned. I am an empath and work on horses and dogs - more mental than physical and to see Dad play with this kitten is great! Keep up writing this blog - you are making a difference!!!

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    1. Hello Peter,

      Thank you for making my day better! Your story is exactly why I love being a vet and why helping people through helping their pets is such an honorable calling!

      My very best to your dad and his new buddy.

      Sincerely,
      Krista

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  22. I'm a vet tech, duly licensed by N.Y. State, started in 1978, and finally crumbled in 2012. If you took all the hours I worked in that 34 years and spread them out as 40hr work weeks, it would be closer to 50 yrs. My spirit is willing, but the body is kaput. This job is tough on the body and tough on the spirit, but I would not change a thing, wellll, might have worn my back brace belt more, & sooner. hee! This job took some latent allergies and turned them to asthma, my Dr, said he could stabilize me enough to work, but it would probably shorten my lifespan by a decade, I took the job. I ruined my spine with 80lb dogs and cases of LRS, & canned food, I herniated my L5 so badly it paralyzed me, the back surgery mostly worked, I learned to walk again, & went back to work, I have enough scar tissue to qualify as a combat veteran, and finally had to leave work to get my knees replaced. I'm 62 now, and my Temple is nailed, braced, glued, and patched; so much so I retired this year. I WOULDN'T Change My Life, I handled everything from lion cubs to sea turtles, cats & dogs of every type, snakes, and rats, squirrels, & bats, I was a wildlife rehaber, and a surgical tech. Mostly I worked ICU, & the ER. I have clinical depression, & learned to work around it, but you are right, try to have a life outside the job, marry or live with someone tolerant enough to put up with orphan kittens, puppies, squirrels, birds, & G-D knows what, & supportive enough that even if they can't figure out why you do it, they'll aid & abet you anyway ( <3 U, Babe), try to take care of yourself, & share as much as you can with your co-workers, family, friends. You may all be in the same leaky boat, but hey it helps if we all bail together. I still lend a hand when I can. I miss my job, if I had died in my tracks in the middle of a shift, my only regret would have been that it would upset my co-worker!

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    1. Hello,

      What a wonderful. inspiring, witty, tongue-in-cheek genuine biography. It is so encouraging to hear someone who gave so much, lost so much, and still feels grateful for all of the tiny steps along the way to retirement.

      Your dedication, passion, and determination to live the life you loved is so vivid, its powerful and moving.

      I am so thankful that you shared it, and I so wish I could share a cup of tea/wine, etc with you to hear about those cases..

      We could swap case stories and our spouses could commiserate over our ridiculous requests/orphans/and over night house guests (because we were too afraid they might die overnight if left at the clinic).

      I am smiling as I re-read your comment, and grateful to feel that I am in such good company with such colorful colleagues!
      Thanks for writing...and best of luck with your tired battered body.

      Sincerely,
      Krista

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  23. I've been a vet for 30 years and have made it a priority as a practitioner and as a practice owner to avoid burnout in my own professional life and in the lives of my associate vets. One thing I have learned; don't rely on the gratitude of your clients for personal satisfaction. We live in an expectation society, not a gratitude society. Want to avoid burnout? Find joy in your job through your own professional growth and the little successes you achieve every day. Focus on the positive. Live a life outside of practice. I have many more rules that have worked for me, except tonight I'm too tired after a nasty calving. Mom got up and looked good afterward by the way. Another little victory.

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    1. Thank You Dr. Joe for taking the time to read and for leaving a few pearls of wisdom.
      How true it is that with each obstacle comes an opportunity to learn and grow. And that with each of the life lessons we encounter we can either find a different path or seek a different purpose. In many cases it is the little victories, whether seen or acknowledged, that remind us why we feel compelled and called to this profession.
      By the way, high five on the calving! (Just in case your client didn't provide you with one).

      I sincerely appreciate your advice,

      Krista

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  24. I read your blog post and all the comments with great interest. I'm not a vet, but I'm a horse and dog mom who can't say enough about all the wonderful things my vets have done not just for my animals, but for me.

    In 2011, I had a very diffficult year. I was just emerging from a catastrophic marital separation, a long illness, and was then confronted with both my horses sustaining life-threatening injuries within months of each other. I like to say that my equine vet not only saved my horses lives, she saved mine, too -- although she didn't even know she was doing it. She was "just" doing her job. But I can't ever express how much it meant to me that there were times when I saw tears in her eyes at a farm call. Like the time she came out and my one horse had developed neck abscesses from some IM injections I had administered -- despite taking precautions of swabbing the injection sites with alcohol, and being meticulous with the needles. I was so upset with myself, blaming myself for causing this. My vet patiently reassured me that this could have happened to her as well (whether that's true or not, it made me feel better.) She gave me instructions for applying hot compresses to the swollen areas on the neck, and she spent plenty of time coaching me on how to make the compresses out of cotton batting and plastic rectal exam sleeves!

    When the abscesses didn't resolve as we hoped, and she began to suspect clostridial myositis, she contacted New Bolton Center on my behalf, and helped me make arrangements for immediate transport (I don't have a trailer.) All in all this was a terrifying experience for me, but my vet was there for me every step of the way, available to me whenever I needed her by phone, text or e-mail.

    My horse, Ben, survived the ordeal, and went on to live another 8 months, happy until the end, when his osteoarthritis, worsened by the joint injury he'd sustained earlier in the year, worsened to the point that his quality of life was severely compromised. I will never forget the morning that I arrived at the barn and saw him standing out in the pasture. I took one look at him and could see that the light had gone out of his eyes. I have no better way of explaining it than that. I just knew, by his expression, that it was time to let him go.

    I called Rachel, my vet, and told her what I observed. She came out that afternoon, allowing me time to call a few friends so I would have some emotional support. She coached me every step of the way, and she exhorted me to be there to hold my horse and help him feel safe and secure to the very last moment of consciousness. She knew I had the strength to handle it, even when I didn't think I did.

    So...this is quite a long way of saying, my vets haven't just provided amazing, compassionate care to my animals...they have also taken care of ME. At times they have held me up, emotionally, when I thought I would break. There is no way I can ever adequately express my gratitude for that. I have certainly told Rachel how I feel, and I sent her a card letting her know how much I appreciated everything she did. But my words, written or spoken, are just not big enough to convey the depth of my feelings.

    So please know, that in the midst of your compassion fatigue, there are many of us out here -- your pet parent clients -- who truly, deeply, appreciate and respect not just what you do for our pets, but what you do for those of us who love them so much. Thank you!

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    1. Hello Suzanne,

      Thank you so much for your story, and for your kind sweet words. I am so grateful to all of the strangers who have taken a moment to provide a heart felt Thank You,,it is incredible how much love and support we are surrounded by. It has rekindled my giving spirit and reminded me that I am not alone,,,what an incredible generous gift!

      I wish you the best, and I thank you!

      Sincerely,
      Krista

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  25. Outstanding post, thank you for writing this. I'm a former veterinary hospital manager, and I've seen compassion fatigue in both veterinarians and staff - and yet, there is so little information about it out there. Sometimes, even being able to put a label on what you're feeling can help others feel less alone. I hope you'll consider speaking about this topic at veterinary conferences.

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    1. Hello Ingrid,

      Thanks so much for reading, and for taking the time to comment. I am a huge fan of your blog and your work,,so I am truly honored to have your praise..

      This blog (well excerpts) has been included in the December Vet Economics. It is certainly a subject that many people relate to. I hope that it helps others to not feel alone, and to remember that they can't take care of others if they lose themselves in the chaos of our daily lives.

      I love your blog! It inspires me everyday!

      Have a wonderful holiday..hope to see you again at BlogPaws.

      Sincerely
      Krista

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  26. I am still struggling to recover from severe compassion fatigue and depression that resulted in the loss of my job. After 22 years in private practice, I'm not sure I can go back to that life. No, listening to myself, I know it is time to move on and share my gifts a different way. Thank you for giving voice to a problem a lot of vets and techs share.
    Dawn Bradshaw, DVM

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    1. Hello Dawn,
      I am so sorry to hear that things got so bad that you thought it would be better to leave medicine than to continue putting up with the stress, but I understand and I empathize.
      I hope that you are happy (ier) with your new path and I wish you the very best moving forward.
      Sincerely,
      Krista

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  27. Last year I left private veterinary practice. I wish I'd had the courage to do so five years ago; I'd have saved myself and everyone around me from heartache and misery. Sometimes people who knew me when I was practicing tell me "it's such a waste - you're a talented veterinarian" but I'm so much happier now. No, my veterinary education wasn't "wasted", because I'm still working as a veterinarian in a job most veterinarians aren't qualified to perform... I just don't work with clients. I don't miss them or their many issues, and I certainly don't miss the mental games I had to play with myself in order to function.

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    1. Hello Jenna,

      Thank you for sharing your story and I am glad to hear that you are happier now.
      Although it is intriguing to think about what you are doing now? I hope that it fills you with a deep sense of purpose and that your time spent trudging through vet school wasnt all for naught.

      Best of luck and thank you for taking the time to read and write

      Wishing you a very Happy 2014!
      Sincerely,
      krista

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  28. Thank you for this amazing post. I can't tell you how much it touched me. I left private practice 4.5 years ago because of some of the clients and how they treated their animals. I was expected to show unending compassion (often for free), while they were permitted to callously demand euthanasia for non-lethal conditions and insult my integrity when I refused.

    After 4.5 years in a larger-organisation, what I've learnt is that even though I no longer deal with external clients, internal clients can be just as, or even more, difficult. It is a daily struggle to remember to put myself first and not allow my work to wear me down.

    Thank you so much for posting this.

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    1. Hello,
      Thank you for reading and for taking the time to write and share your story.

      I hope that you take comfort in knowing that you are not alone, and that there are always friends out there to help.

      In whatever way I can I will be one of those.. so if you need a shoulder to lean on, find me here..and along the way in between, remember that no other person ever matters more than the voice in your soul and your conscious..they are never for lease/sale/ or available for anyone to take a piece of..stand up for who you are and what you believe in, and make the world a better place in your reflection. It may be a quiet spot of just one, but there is great peace in knowing that your life is yours, and no one else's opinion matters.

      with love, and best wishes,
      Krista

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