‘Is being a vet stressful?’
This is a question many prospective professionals ask before embarking on their careers.
And the truth is, it can be.
According to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RVCS), 90% of vets found their jobs stressful1. Additionally, according to the British Veterinary Association (BVA), stress was one of the main reasons why vets (if given the chance) would choose a different career path2.
Given the scale and potential impact of the issue, what can be done to reduce stress and help vets cope in practice?
Managing Stress in Practice
In practice, there are many stressors for veterinarians. They include (but are not limited to) poor work/life balance, personal finances (due to either insufficient wages or veterinary debt), compassion fatigue and underinvestment in non-clinical skills needed to navigate human relationships.
Given that many vets tend to be high achievers (often perfectionistic) and empathetic, this can make them especially vulnerable to anxiety in the workplace, as the perceived cost of making mistakes is high.
To combat this, there are several tactics veterinary professionals can utilise.
Triage, Triage, Triage
The high pressure, fast-paced nature of veterinary care can make even the most hardened vets crumble. Being able to prioritise and delegate tasks, therefore, is key for effective time and stress management.
Triage (which means ‘to sort’ in French) is one of the most effective ways to do this. There are several triage scoring systems out there, and choosing one is just a matter of preference.
The veterinary triage list (VTL)
Animal trauma triage system (ATT)
Acute patient physiological and patient evaluation (APPLE)
Once a vet has prioritised their patients, they should delegate tasks accordingly.
Another technique veterinarians can utilise is the 60-second rule. Between tasks, vets should reflect on their to-do list and ask -what can I do in 60 seconds or less? If they have a task that can be completed within this time frame, they should do it. If not, they should pass it on to someone else (if possible) or put it aside for another time.
This technique can be a great way for veterinarians to stay on top of small tasks to reduce stress.
Take a Break
Numerous studies have shown that breaks are needed to maintain performance and reduce stress at work.
One study by Korpela, Kinnunen, Geurts, de Bloom and Sianoja, found that lunchtime breaks increased levels of energy and decreased exhaustion in the workplace3. After a year of instituting regular breaks at their place of study, researchers found that staff had increased vigour and energy at work.
Veterinarians who find themselves consistently missing their breaks should bring it up with management. It is a right (and a necessity) to have a break during the day; not having one can put both clients and vets at risk.
Although mindfulness can seem like a bit of a buzzword nowadays, its effectiveness for reducing stress is scientifically proven and well documented.
In a systematic review of several mindfulness studies, researchers found that mindfulness reduced levels of emotional exhaustion, stress, depression, anxiety, and occupational stress significantly4. They further found that mindfulness improved personal accomplishment, self-compassion, quality of sleep, and relaxation.
Mindfulness techniques can even be used to manage symptoms of compassion fatigue. In one study examining the occurrence of compassion fatigue in nurses, researchers found that a short meditation session had long term benefits on participants’ emotional regulation5.
Mindfulness techniques are fantastic, as they can be practised anywhere and can take very little time if need be. To learn about mindfulness, listen to our podcast below.
Feeling stressed? Maybe it is time to break a sweat!
Although veterinarians’ heavy workloads can inhibit how much they can exercise, fitting in a short workout at some stage during the day can be a great stress buster. While exercise initially spikes the stress response in the body, after a workout, individuals experience lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline (epinephrine).
Exercise not only reduces stress in the short term but can help with long term anxiety. Regular exercise can improve mental resilience, aiding in the process of emotional regulation6.
But are all exercises made equal?
According to research, a 10-minute walk can be as beneficial to a person’s mental health as a 45-minute workout. Further, low-intensity aerobic exercises (undertaken for 30-35 minutes, 3-5 days a week) have been found to be optimal for positive mental functioning7.
Try and take a walk during lunch, or even cycle to work in the morning. The key to managing stress through exercise is a moderate and consistent routine that can fit within a busy day.
Stress can be inevitable, but also manageable.
Whilst veterinarians often cannot avoid occupational stress, they can change the way they perceive it. Stress doesn’t have to be a wholly negative experience and having tried and tested techniques to manage it can be beneficial for both vets and their clients.
For veterinarians looking for a community of friendly professionals navigating their veterinary careers, look no further. Our Veterinary career success group shares and discusses key topics in veterinary care, and functions as a support network for new vets. To check it out, click the link here.
1- “The 2019 survey of the veterinary profession – Royal College of ….” https://www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-views/publications/the-2019-survey-of-the-veterinary-profession/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.
2- “BVA policy – good veterinary workplaces.” https://www.bva.co.uk/take-action/our-policies/good-veterinary-workplaces/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.
3- “Recovery during Lunch Breaks: Testing Long-Term Relations with ….” 30 Aug. 2016, https://www.sjwop.com/articles/10.16993/sjwop.13/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.
4- “Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on … – PubMed.” 24 Jan. 2018, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29364935/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.
5- “Evaluation of a Meditation Intervention to Reduce the Effects of ….” 23 Nov. 2015, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26598000/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.
6- “A Randomized Control Intervention Investigating the … – PubMed.” 1 Sept. 2017, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28760175/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.
7- “Mental health benefits from lifestyle physical … – Guilford Journals.” 28 Dec. 2020, https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/10.1521/bumc.2020.84.4.337. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.