Burnout in Veterinary Medicine: A Work-Life Balance GuideJan 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.
4 Things to Look for in a Veterinary Answering ServiceJan 3 2024
What are your biggest frustrations day-to-day? What distracts you from practicing, keeps you up at night, and takes time away from patients that really need you? A veterinary answering service won’t solve all the problems that come with high demand, but it can help in key ways. Whether you represent an emergency room that’s feeling overwhelmed or a general practice burnt out from on-call, your phone lines are probably a major pain point. Maybe you’re just tired of leaving clients out in the cold after hours, and you’d like to offer support, even when you’re not there. The major problem is that veterinary hospitals have really specific needs, and working with a veterinary answering service means finding a team with complementary skills to yours. So what are the non-negotiable things that you need from a virtual veterinary receptionist? What makes a veterinary call center work for you? Here are the four key things to look for: The best veterinary answering services specialize in VetMed The best veterinary answering services follow your protocols The best veterinary answering services triage cases The best veterinary answering services provide great customer service 1) The best veterinary answering services specialize in VetMed One of the major issues that clinics face with a virtual veterinary receptionist is the lack of specific knowledge. One of our customers recently told us that their previous answering service didn’t know the word “equine.” That’s a major issue when they’re taking calls for you, and it results in frustrated clients. When a veterinary call center can’t answer basic questions, the call ends up getting kicked to your team. That’s a waste of your client’s time, and it negates any time-saving impact on your end as well. Here's the tl;dr: look for a veterinary call center that clearly showcases the expertise of its team. One easy test is to see if they know how to navigate your PiMS. If they don’t- run. 2) The best veterinary answering services follow your protocols How does your team handle a call about a vomiting puppy? Where do you direct toxic ingestion cases? What are your procedures for on-call? Even if they have specific veterinary knowledge, the problem with many veterinary answering services starts here- the inability to handle cases the way that your internal staff would. Generally, most veterinary answering services have a really limited set of functions that they’re able to perform. The question might be what specific set of roles you need a virtual veterinary receptionist for. At a base level, you’ll want a team that can help with: Scheduling Triage Administrative requests According to one survey, administrative tasks are the number one frustration for 40% of veterinarians. If you fall into this category, make sure that the veterinary call center you work with is able to actually alleviate that problem. Here’s an easy place to start: list out the tasks that you’d like to offload to an external team. For example, when they answer a call, they should be able to do x, y, z. The team you end up choosing may or may not be able to handle everything you want, but this process can help you to figure out how they might fit into your workflows. 3) The best veterinary answering services triage cases This is a particularly specialized skill, but it’s also incredibly important. For general practices, triage is especially important after hours. If you’re on-call and using a virtual veterinary receptionist, the goal is to cut back the number of calls coming through to the DVM. If your partner is unable to meaningfully reduce the number of cases you receive, then the money you’re spending is wasted. Similarly, if you're paying for a phone service for your emergency room and it's unable to divert non-critical cases, you're getting only a fraction of the value that the service should offer. Phone triage is the most important differentiator between veterinary answering services, because it’s the place where medical knowledge intersects with customer service. Easy test here: do they know what you mean when you bring up veterinary triage? Try going a step further, though: what is their philosophy about triage? Just as a quick example: GuardianVets’ philosophy is that the question is never if a patient needs to be seen. We provide triage to help the client decide how soon they need medical attention from a DVM. 4) The best veterinary answering services provide great customer service This might seem self-explanatory. After all, you’d expect that any business selling itself on customer interactions would at least be good at that. The thing is, customer service is as much a structure as a series of conversations, and long-term relationships are built when you nail both. Think about it like this: paying for triage in your moment of need is a terrible experience. Even if the service that provides support is gentle and welcoming and offers good advice, your client has just paid $50 to find out if they need to go to the emergency room to pay more money. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and can drive clients to look for a better option. If the best support that a veterinary call service can provide is directing your client to reach out to an external triage provider, then they’ve already failed. Similarly, if a client is calling to book an appointment or check in about an Rx refill, they should be able to handle those issues then and there, rather than needing to call back the next day. So yes, it’s important to know that your calls are being handled by a polite, compassionate team. It’s also vitally important that the support provided is structured to be as helpful and seamless as possible. GuardianVets is not a veterinary answering service We’re something better. When your hospital partners with GuardianVets, we create a virtual representation of your protocols in our software. That means we can follow your processes to the letter, whether for scheduling, deciding what kinds of cases you do and don’t see, and even dealing with specific medical concerns. Our team of credentialed veterinary technicians are trained to provide both gold-standard triage and incredible client support. This means that we can actively support your team in day-to-day tasks. We’re a virtual extension of your staff, rather than a hoop for your customers to jump through on their way to receiving care. With GuardianVets, an anxious pet parent can call your clinic at 2 a.m. and receive triage support from an expert technician without paying any additional fees. Our team will then work within your existing protocols to decide whether to contact the on-call DVM, send the case to the emergency room, or schedule the next-available appointment. It’s a more complete level of support than a virtual receptionist could provide. Here’s what we’ve seen again and again: clinics partner with a call center, then cancel after a couple of months because the additional support hasn’t meaningfully changed their workload. That’s because a veterinary answering service isn’t really the answer. We’d love to learn more about your hospital! If GV can't provide the support you need, we’ll be happy to direct you to the right service. You can schedule a quick consultation here.
You Don’t Have to Do It Alone: Why Virtual Task Utilization is the New StandardOct 20 2023
Folks, we need to talk about the division of labor. It’s one of those unsexy topics that most veterinarians have a hard time getting excited about. I’m right there with you- I studied medicine to practice medicine, not to research Excel alternatives. Here’s the thing: building well-structured processes can have huge knock-on effects across your hospital. If there’s one thing that separates healthy clinics from unhealthy ones, it’s the way that we divvy up the different tasks that need to get done. And sure, every veterinary clinic outsources some parts of its operations. Chances are, your hospital uses an external CPA. Why do we outsource items? Generally, we do this because certain tasks are outside of our core competencies. We provide amazing care to our patients, but we’re not expert accountants. In addition to outsourcing, so many of our daily task items can be handled virtually. We call this virtual task utilization. Do you know the most commonly used virtual tool in VetMed? Your PIMS! Maybe you’re using a couple of other tools to simplify and streamline different parts of your operations, but there’s a whole world of opportunity out there for clinics that are ready to make the change. So let’s talk about the ways that we can outsource and make certain tasks virtual for smoother operations and happier clinics overall. Why Handle Some Tasks Virtually? It’s simple: these options are faster, more efficient, and free up space in your clinic to focus on the essentials. For processes like overnight triage, virtual outsourcing avoids staffing and training headaches while providing lifesaving service for your community. Just as a quick example, my clinic uses: Talkatoo for medical dictation services. This saves time on medical records by automatically transcribing my voice into script that can go directly into the PIMS. Vetsource for online pharmacy needs, streamlining online client prescription requests back to my practice. This keeps revenue streams within my clinic. GuardianVets for after hours triage support. This gives my patients access to care without adding on-call hours to my schedule. It also drives revenue by preventing unnecessary trips to the ER. So What Can We Handle Virtually? Let’s start with the tasks that absolutely need to be done in-clinic. In-Clinic Tasks: Greeting a client PE Diagnostics Physical treatments Cleaning Physical care for patients Sorting mail It’s a surprisingly short list, right? With the constant hustle and bustle of running a clinic, it’s easy to forget that not everything needs to happen within your four walls. So what can we handle virtually? Well… a lot. Scheduling appointments Follow up calls Rx refill requests Triage Call back reminders Check-in forms Deposits/pre-pay To see the change in practice, let’s break down the structure of an ordinary visit. A client calls to set up an appointment. They get a callback reminder a day or so before, and when they arrive at the hospital, they sit with their pet in the lobby as they work through the check-in forms. Either before or after the appointment, your staff runs their credit card to make a payment. A couple days later, one of your CSRs calls to conduct a follow up. A week after that, the client calls your clinic at 9 p.m., anxious because they’ve run out of medication and they’re convinced that they need a refill ASAP. At each step in this process, your clinic has opportunities to streamline and offload labor. Imagine the difference: A client requests an appointment through an external phone service and receives an automated reminder a day or so before. They fill out the check-in forms and make their deposit before arriving at the clinic, so they can head right in. When they call late at night, the call is routed to an external triage team. The refill request is submitted as a form that your team can handle in the morning. The Result? Well, it depends on your goals. If your practice is overwhelmed, reducing the number of elements you’re taking care of in-clinic gives your staff some room to breathe. No more losing techs to cover the phone lines. Ready to grow? Integrating a virtual toolset can free up your staff to focus on the most important elements of their work, and the additional space is a huge opportunity for growth. Looking to better serve your community? Hybridizing in-person and virtual approaches to your practice can reduce hold times, streamline visits, and open up new touchpoints throughout the life of the pet. We came to VetMed because we love animals and we care about making a difference in their lives. Figuring out tech solutions can feel like a distraction or an unwanted complication in that journey. These decisions aren’t an ancillary part of running a practice, though. They’re fundamental building blocks that shape the long-term trajectory of a hospital. For your staff, clients, and patients, it’s worth taking a long, hard look at your fundamental processes. Whether you need help with phone overflow, appointment scheduling, triage, or virtual communications, GV’s team of experienced veterinary professionals can help. Learn more about our toolset here.