• Burnout in Veterinary Medicine: A Work-Life Balance Guide

    Burnout in Veterinary Medicine: A Work-Life Balance Guide

    Jan 18 2024

    One of the most exciting things about running the VetHealth Podcast has been the different insights that we’ve gained on fighting burnout in veterinary medicine. It’s the central question that we had in mind when we started the show. How can caregivers look after their own needs in a world that constantly demands more and more from them? Chances are you’re already aware that burnout is a major problem in the field- but you might not realize how pervasive the impact really is. Even as things have improved post-Covid, the outlook is dire and the issues is not limited to DVMs. Veterinary technician burnout is a huge concern and rates of veterinary compassion fatigue are extremely high. The personal cost is obvious- practitioners struggling emotionally, with many leaving the field. Collectively, a recent Cornell study put the economic cost of burnout in the veterinary industry at nearly $2 billion in a year. The question is how we can respond. This guide looks at both individual and organizational approaches to fighting burnout. Personal Steps for Fighting Burnout It’s that line you always hear before your flight takes off: make sure to secure your own mask before helping someone else with theirs. Fighting burnout in veterinary medicine starts with a range of individual habits and processes. Here are the major suggestions we’ve gotten from professionals across the field.  1. Let Go of Control Solo practitioner Dr. Shawna Garner recommends drawing clear lines for yourself to decide where your responsibility ends and the pet owner’s responsibility begins. It’s an important step to recognize that you’re not the sole arbiter of an animal’s health.  In her words: “A lot of times, veterinarians will take on a patient personally… they want to do absolutely everything and if the pet owner can’t, they feel the guilt.” Long-term, it’s healthier to make your recommendations, then let it go. You’re only one stakeholder. If the pet owner can’t or won’t take the recommended steps, you’ve done your job. The rest is out of your hands. Similarly, Dr. Rachael Kuhn recommends taking a step back and delegating more. She sees DVMs taking on more of a supervisory role, allowing their teams to handle more day-to-day. That means taking the time to really train staff, but it allows for veterinarians to focus on the things that they truly need to do without taking on too much. 2. The Hardest Part is Getting There Whether it’s driving to the trailhead or going out to dinner with friends, a lot of the most meaningful ways that we can take care of ourselves involve an initial step out of the door. That can be hard after a long day in-clinic, or a long week of on-call.  For practice owner Aliyah Pipal, it’s important to recognize that the initial step might sound unappealing, but that self-care is an active process. Intentionally building in time and space for the things you love to do will pay off in the long-run, even if it’s tough to take the initial steps. 3. Be Intentional About When You Work In particular, be intentional about when you shut off. Dr. Shawna does anti-social Sundays, where she steps away from social media and only uses her phone for calls. Dr. Cherice Roth takes time to get her hair done, knowing that it’s an hour where she absolutely can’t work. In-clinic, this can be as simple as fighting the urge to respond to an email on your lunch break, or it can be actually using your PTO to take a real vacation. Just make sure that you’re giving yourself the space to be off the clock. One simple way to decompress during the day can be to walk out to your car and give yourself five minutes to breathe. If you are going to answer work-related questions outside of your regular hours, consider offering that support as telemedicine and charging for your time. Essentially, the goal here is to segment your day-to-day life more clearly between the personal and professional. It's a valuable step toward recuperating during your off hours and avoiding veterinary compassion fatigue. 4. Know Yourself (and Be Selfish) Professor and former AVMA-president Dr. Lori Teller recommends recognizing and prioritizing the things you need to do to recuperate. An extroverted adrenaline junkie is going to approach self-care in a fundamentally different way from an introverted bookworm, and both approaches are completely valid.  Whatever your methods for self-care, those might clash at times with other aspects of your life- i.e. the ways that your spouse blows off steam after a long day. It’s important to have conversations about your needs and prioritize the things that make you feel your best. If you need to take an hour to read in silence when you get home from the clinic, make that clear and build it into your weekly schedule. 5. Talk About Your Struggles Whether you’re dealing with veterinary compassion fatigue, exhaustion from on-call hours, or you’re stressed out from the daily struggles of practice management, it’s important to avoid bottling it up. Fighting burnout in veterinary medicine means prioritizing those conversations within your team, with a licensed therapist, via online veterinary communities, and/or with friends and family. Remember to check in with your staff as well! Even if it’s only for a couple of minutes between appointments, taking the time to talk and catch up helps everyone to feel better and can be useful for fighting veterinary technician burnout. One last thing to remember: as a leader in your practice, the ways that you take care of yourself will shape the ways that others in your practice look after themselves. Here’s how Dr. Roth put it: “I can’t keep sending emails at 3 o’clock in the morning because people are responding to them because they see it’s from me. That’s not cool.” Setting an example of a healthier work-life balance can have a ripple effect throughout your clinic. On the flip side- constantly overworking, refusing to take breaks, and responding to questions off-the-clock can build up an unhealthy culture. If not for yourself, build some breathing room into your schedule so your team knows to do the same. It's Still Not Enough Here’s the thing: these are all helpful actions to take, but they aren’t enough by themselves.  Most clinics were built and structured based on a level of demand that just isn’t accurate anymore. Between surges in pet ownership and changing client expectations, small day-to-day interventions aren’t enough. Instead, fighting burnout in veterinary medicine means looking at the structure of our clinics and finding ways to simplify, streamline, and offload tasks wherever possible. Collective Steps for Fighting Burnout in Veterinary Medicine Again: the challenges that cause veterinary burnout and veterinary compassion fatigue can’t be solved just via individual actions. So what can we do to build healthier structures into our clinics? 1. Organize Your Processes A chaotic practice is a high stress space. It’s really that simple, and taking the time to create clear standard operating procedures for your team is a huge step toward a smoother workday. If you already have written SOPs, it might be a good time to take a look and see if they’re as clear and streamlined as possible. In particular, auditing your SOPs can be helpful for segmenting roles and recognizing where DVMs might be doing work that would be better handled by technicians. That wastes valuable time and can hurt the overall job satisfaction of your team- feeling under-utilized is a major driver of veterinary technician burnout. Similarly, you might find areas where your front desk could be more efficient or certain tasks could be offloaded. Speaking of which… 2. Use the Tools Available to You You don’t need to be extremely tech-forward to find a lot of opportunities here. Whether you look within the veterinary industry or at virtual tools more broadly, a lot of basic clinic operations can move more smoothly with the right toolset.  On a simple level, Dr. Rachael Kuhn has found that texting templates allow for really simple, quick customer communications, winning back time for reception staff to focus on client service. Similarly, Jotform allows her team to take care of customer paperwork before a client even arrives at the clinic.  Shawna uses Talkatoo for medical dictation services, automatically transcribing her voice into a script that can go directly into the PIMS. She also recommends Vetsource as a virtual pharmacy.  Dr. Teller highly recommends GuardianVets for providing after hours care, saying: “The private practice that I came from- one of the best things they ever did was start utilizing GuardianVets… they use that after hours for triage purposes and I think that was a huge benefit to our clients.” On top of supporting your community, partnering with GuardianVets gives your team more nights off and less distractions. It’s a huge way that clinics can take care of their people- providing gold-standard medicine without the long nights. Remember: you don't need to fight burnout in veterinary medicine alone. 3. Manage Relationships with Clients Every DVM has stories about inappropriate times that they’ve been asked for veterinary advice. Your front desk staff has absolutely dealt with angry callers and frustrated clients in the waiting room. Issues are unavoidable (and a huge driver of veterinary compassion fatigue), but there is work that we can do day-to-day to alleviate some of the common problems. What we’re really talking about here is managing expectations and setting boundaries. It isn’t easy, but it’s vital to maintaining a healthier practice.  At its absolute worst, this can end up looking like cyberbullying, and the AVMA actually offers a toolkit for managing your reputation. It’s a phenomenal resource that you can check out here. For more standard day-to-day concerns, there are a number of steps that you can take.  First, build your operations such that no one ever needs to contact a client using their personal number. This is especially important for DVMs on-call. Once that boundary has been breached, it’s really hard to go back. DVMs can end up getting late night calls and texts anytime the pet owner has a concern.  Second, figure out where you’re willing to be flexible and where you have hard boundaries and be consistent. Will you squeeze in one last case at 5 p.m. when the clinic is closing? If not- where do you direct someone looking for support at that time? Setting clear protocols for yourself and your team can alleviate some of the stress in these moments. Finally: when you need to, don’t be afraid to send a client elsewhere. If you find that a relationship is overly clingy or becoming toxic, recommend they move to another clinic. It’s not easy, but the worst relationships often end up taking more time and energy than any other. Don’t let angry clients take away the joy of practicing medicine. The future of veterinary medicine can be better for practitioners. It needs to be. These steps can be incredibly valuable for fighting veterinary burnout, and we’d love to know what other tips and recommendations you have!  Reach out to us on social media: @guardianvets.

  • Buying a Veterinary Practice: 5 Things to Keep in Mind

    Buying a Veterinary Practice: 5 Things to Keep in Mind

    Jan 12 2024

    Buying a veterinary practice is one of the most exciting (and terrifying) journeys you can take as a veterinary professional. It pushes you in ways that fall outside of your clinical training, and likely outside of your comfort zone. While it can be really rewarding, the journey isn’t easy. So what should you know when you decide to take that big step? This guide is a quick starting point to help you formulate your game plan and figure out the right questions to ask. Buying a Veterinary Practice: Go in Prepared! When I asked Dr. Shawna Garner for her advice on buying a veterinary practice, she laughed out loud and told me “be as prepared as you can.” Her experience was the opposite, and was often quite hectic. This process can be intense, and there’s a lot you won’t be able to expect. The goal, then, is to go in with as few question marks as possible. Luckily, there are a lot of resources available in the veterinary world that can offer some additional direction on the business side. VetPartners comes highly recommended, as do Veterinary Growth Partners and Ignite. A membership in VMG (Veterinary Management Groups) offers access to a large knowledge base, as well as professional development and discounts on purchasing.  One more option here: there are a handful of veterinary practice management certificate programs available through different colleges (including Purdue) that cover the most important elements of running a veterinary clinic day-to-day. Buying a Veterinary Practice: Put Together the Right Team So the good news about buying a veterinary practice is that you’re not alone. Alongside the above resources, there’s the actual team that you’ll work with throughout the purchasing process. Just as a starting point, you’ll be coordinating with your bank, your accountant, and your lawyer. Those can be fantastic partners, as long as you find the right people.  As a starting point, Shawna recommends meeting with a financial advisor to learn what type of loan you should take out. This advisor can also help you to determine if your financial goals are attainable for your region, how long it will likely take to be profitable, and more. The valuation process is particularly important, and it’s worth working with someone that has particular expertise in the veterinary field. A veterinary-specific CPA is your best bet. On that note… Buying a Veterinary Practice: Know What You’re Buying It’s really important that you understand a practice inside and out before taking the step of making the purchase. Even if you’ve worked at the clinic and are now moving into ownership, buying a veterinary practice requires an in-depth knowledge of every part of the operations.  As a starting point: What is the clinic’s gross revenue? Does it have any outstanding debt? Is the equipment up-to-date and high quality? Are there any outstanding legal concerns? What is the current cost of staffing? The two most important documents here are the P&L (Profit and Loss Statement) and the Balance Sheet. One value to look at in particular: average daily transaction. You can compare this figure to baselines in your region to get a sense of whether the clinic you’re buying is leaving money on the table from the average appointment. This is a chance to start making improvements right off the bat. Buying a Veterinary Practice: Prepare Emotionally The first thing to know is that you’re in it for the long haul. Buying a veterinary practice takes time and energy on top of your normal schedule, and it can be exhausting. Deal fatigue often sets in as you work through a months-long back and forth. It’s normal to feel frustrated. It’s normal to feel stressed out. Here’s how new clinic owner Aliyah Pipal put it: “Just remember that there is a reason you want to buy the practice and don't let the process make you forget the reasons you said yes in the first place.” A few quick tips: Be prepared for delays! Buying a veterinary practice is a complex process. If you’re buying from someone you know, it can add weight to your relationship. Discuss the additional strain beforehand. Look for ways to reduce stress in your day-to-day life. Figure out what you need to do to blow off steam and do it consistently. Remember: business can feel very personal at times, and jobs in the veterinary industry tend to be emotionally charged. Find ways to step back and breathe throughout the process. Buying a Veterinary Practice: Retain and Attract Talent Regardless of your plans for the clinic that you buy, you’ll need great people. Of course, staffing in today’s veterinary industry is particularly difficult. Turnover is high, and retaining and attracting talent are both tough. You’re competing for a relatively small number of people with clinics across the country.  Pay is the obvious starting point, but it’s not the only way to attract talent. The other side is offering a better work-life balance and a healthier clinic environment. After buying a veterinary practice, you have the opportunity to create new processes that can make your clinic particularly attractive as a workplace. For example: more and more DVMs are saying no to on-call, but that doesn’t mean you should leave your clients out in the cold. Using an external after hours service (like GuardianVets) can be a great way to provide support without demanding too much from your team. Our staff of credentialed veterinary technicians takes care of your community while you sleep. Think of it like this: you have the chance to offer a new beginning for your newly-purchased clinic. Improve your team’s quality of life from the word “go.”

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