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Veterinary Nurses: We get compassion fatigue because we care

Posted in Guest Blogger @ Dec 11th 2014 - By Rosie Overfield, HR Consultant & Counsellor, CCG
Compassion fatigue because we care

Examing stress and fatigue in veterinary nurses and other paraprofessionals.

When veterinary nurses are asked why they do their jobs, the overwhelming response is “because I want to help animals”. Veterinary nursing is often more than just a career – it’s a deep-seated calling which starts at a young age. It attracts those caring and compassionate individuals who want to help alleviate the suffering and hurt of animals. Because of the nature of the veterinary profession, caring and compassionate individuals can be exposed to traumatic situations such as animal abuse, neglect, frequent euthanasia and the complexities of angry and grieving pet owners. It is precisely this desire to care that makes all veterinary nurses susceptible to compassion fatigue.

We engage in emotionally intense work, and in doing so often give at a cost to ourselves.

In 2010 I launched a nationwide survey to answer the question ‘how stressed and emotionally fatigued are Australian paraprofessionals?’ The aims and reasons for conducting the survey were as follows:

  • Investigate veterinary nurse perceptions of their role as a helper in the industry and wider community
  • Explore the link between the profession of veterinary nursing and psychological and physical well-being
  • Investigate the prevalence of stress and emotional and physical fatigue in veterinary nurses and animal carers
  • Explore perception of self-care practices and how they are used by veterinary nurses and animal carers.

Over 550 respondents across Australian and New Zealand responded to the survey and the data was interesting.

  • 86% of respondents agree or strongly agree that they are happy that they chose this career, however only 24.3% of respondents strongly agree or agree that they believe   veterinary nursing is recognised and valued in the community.
  • 84.1% of respondents strongly agree that they get satisfaction helping animals, however only 50% of respondents get the same satisfaction from helping clients.
  • 70.2% of respondents regularly skip lunch breaks and work beyond their shift
  • 82.8% of respondents are in agreement that they feel worn out because of their role as a veterinary professional
  • 79.7% of respondents never detach, or find it difficult to detach, from their work at the end of  the day
  • The two biggest stressors in the job identified by the respondents were ‘Handling Difficult Clients’ and ‘Not Having Enough Time’, followed by 'Discussing/Disputing Professional Fees' and ‘Problems with Colleagues’.
  • 84.6% of respondents agree or strongly agree that they see the value in caring for themselves physically and emotionally; however 78.1% of respondents do not check themselves for stress on a daily basis.

This month, in partnership with the VNCA, I am re-launching the survey tool with the aim to see what’s new.

Have we become more aware of the stressors in our chosen careers?

Are we normalizing the conversation about mental health and compassion fatigue?

Are veterinary practices doing more to support their team members in non-technical skills?

I invite every Australian veterinary nurse to participate in this important survey. The findings will be presented at both the 2015 VNCA Conference and the 2015 Pan Pacific Conference. 

Sorry - this survey is now closed but we look forward to seeing the results! 

Rosie is a HR consultant and counsellor with Crampton Consulting Group specialising in stress management, compassion fatigue and grief. She is also a qualified veterinary nurse and has been working in, and for, the industry for nearly 20 years. Having previously studied a B. Communication, Rosie is now focused on her Master of Human Resources and Organisational Development. She has also spent time in Canada studying compassion fatigue and its effects on professional helpers.

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