Today's VETgirl online veterinary CE guest blogger is Julie Squires,** Certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist & Educator and founder of Rekindle LLC. In this four-part series, she discusses some important - but tough - topics in veterinary medicine.
The Cost of Caring: Where Do We Go From Here?
You can’t change that which you don’t acknowledge.
When I speak or teach workshops on compassion fatigue I am always struck by how quickly I see the pain well up in my audience. It often takes less then three minutes. At the same time I am bearing witness to the “cost of caring” (Figley), I also witness a sigh of relief from those attending a workshop.
What I’m told over and over again is “Thank you for talking about this”, “This should be talked about more” “We really need this” and “This needs to be part of every vet students training”.
I’ve also presented in front of hospital managers and a few have said they don’t want to “open a can of worms” in their practice. This infuriates me.
Organizational health has two components: the organization and the professional/employee.
It is the responsibility of the practice to provide a workplace that protects and supports the wellness of it’s employees. This is not benign work and employees that are supported in this way are more engaged, healthier, happier, more productive and ultimately give more to the practice. I believe a practice’s mission statement should include the well-being of their staff. After all the success of the practice is determined but the satisfaction of their employees. It’s impossible for clients to have a stellar experience in your practice while engaging with staff that rank their workplace satisfaction as a 2 out of 10.
The veterinary professional must also assume their responsibility in the area of wellness. No one can do this for you regardless of how supportive your practice may be, it has to be your priority. Just like the instructions for the oxygen mask on the airplane, you must put yours on first before assisting someone else. You must provide care for yourself before you can truly provide it to another. Many caregivers lack in the ability to turn their compassion inward, yet it is critical for well-being.
As we look towards the future, the change must begin in vet school and continue in practice. Not only must the insane academic drive soften but training must be offered for compassion fatigue. The same goes for vet techs. Your staff is struggling too and if someone told me 20 years ago when I was a tech that firstly, it was ok to feel the way I felt and here’s what you can do about it, I would’ve been saved from a lot of self-medicating. I know I am not alone.
Professional wellness is not a one and done, it just like anything else you value, it requires maintenance.
Here is some of what we know works to combat compassion fatigue and essentially what I teach in my seminars and workshops*:
- Social support in the workplace and personal life
- Improved communication and common language about compassion fatigue among staff
- Rebalancing workload & workload reduction
- Improved work/life balance
- Training and implementation of self-care and self-awareness
- Developing compassion fatigue resiliency through relaxation training and stress reduction techniques
- Limiting trauma exposure
- Accessing Coaching/Counseling/Professional help if needed
*Based on Françoise Mathieu M.Ed, CCC
While there are some things we can change and skills we can learn, the nature of the work remains. Clients will still be non-compliant or difficult, some patients will not get better despite our care, finances often trump our desire for patient care and veterinarians will still have to defend against Dr. Google. But what can change is how we react to and what we have in place to self-protect and mitigate stress.
As my meditation teacher says, “You can’t change the tide, but you can learn to surf.”
Surf’s up everyone, grab your board. You’ve got this!