With four out of ten veterinarians ‘actively’ considering leaving the profession, there is clearly an underlying issue within veterinary care.
And this problem is sure to impact practice owners the most.
As an industry with one of the highest staff turnover rates (averaging between 30-50%), the monetary and time-related costs of hiring and training are going up.
Additionally, in a report by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RVCS), researchers have found that more veterinarians were planning to leave the profession in 2019 than nine years ago.
But why are professionals leaving veterinary care- and what can be done about it?
In this article, using data from RVCS, we outline the top three reasons why professionals are leaving veterinary care, and how you, as an employer, can retain your staff.
Whilst we all experience stress at work sometimes, veterinarians are uniquely afflicted by a chronically stressful work environment.
From the moment a student begins their veterinary education, they are pushed to achieve an impossibly high standard of academic perfection.
Most students after they graduate are then thrust into high-pressure environments, whereby a mistake can cost an animal it’s life.
On top of the long-working hours and high emotional strain, many vets also have to deal with the current covid restrictions.
According to a recent British Veterinary Association poll, almost three-quarters of vets are concerned about stress and burnout within the profession as a result of Covid-19.
So how can we make veterinary practices better environments to work in?
That’s a tricky question.
First things first, make sure your staff are getting their allocated breaks.
Although this is not always possible in a practice setting, ensuring that your staff at least get a decent breather during the day is imperative to their physical and mental wellbeing.
If your staff are constantly skipping their lunches and tea breaks, this might be an indicator that you are taking on too many clients- and need to review your client capacity.
As vets we seem to operate from a position of scarcity marketing, believing we must service any and all clients. A position that is clearly not possible and is directly responsible for the current status of overrun clinics across the planet.
Fostering an environment whereby staff members feel supported and not afraid to ask for help will also be beneficial (see here how to incorporate these values into your practice). Without a support network or space to decompress, veterinarians are sure to burn out and move on from your practice- and more worryingly, the profession.
Not Feeling Rewarded/Valued (In Non-Financial Terms)
Although you may feel like it’s not your job to validate your staff, it can be easy to forget what it feels like to be unappreciated sometimes.
55.2% of veterinarians stated that they wanted to leave the profession because they didn’t feel rewarded/valued, indicating a wider cultural issue.
Seeing as many practice owners have likely worked their way up to the position, they probably take for granted how demanding the industry can be- having practically spent their whole lives working this way. Many will have adapted over time to endure more stress than others.
Whilst this way of practice life is normal for them, for younger veterinarians, this can come as a real culture shock, putting them off the profession entirely (unsure how to motivate your younger staff? Listen below).
So what’s the solution to this?
Practicing empathy with your staff members is key.
Think back to how you felt as a new vet – it was likely quite overwhelming for you too! It’s easy to forget this as the memories fade, but few of us arrived immediately at greatness!
Taking the time to praise your staff members’ efforts will not only make them feel closer to the practice- but also to you!
Poor Work-Life Balance
The top reason vets leave the profession is due to a poor work-life balance.
A whopping 60.3% of professionals list this as the main reason why they wanted to leave, indicating a growing sentiment (indeed resentment) within veterinary medicine.
The inability to have both a personal and professional life (especially as one gets older and has children) overall contributes to a dissatisfaction that pushes many professionals out of veterinary care.
Working long hours can have an especially negative impact on workers’ mental health. One study found that there was a correlation between long working hours and the prevalence of depression and suicidal ideation (read here how to make mental health a priority in your practice).
And considering that veterinarians tend to have a higher suicide rate than the average person, it clearly highlights an issue that is already having a catastrophic effect on the veterinary community.
So how can you improve the work-life balance in your practice?
As a team leader, it’s your responsibility to respect the boundaries of others, as you do yourself.
What this means is that you respect your employee’s free time, and do not frequently pressurize your staff to work when they need time to relax.
And this goes both ways. Although technology makes us accessible 24/7, it doesn’t mean you need to be too.
Turn off those notifications, and make it clear to your staff that when you’re off- your off. So if they need to contact you, it better be an emergency!
Following on from this, designate and stick to the hours that you set for your staff members to work. Although inevitably veterinarians need a little flexibility with their schedule, ensure those extra hours worked are compensated for, so your staff has the time to recharge.
There are many reasons why professionals are leaving veterinary care, and realistically you can’t expect employees to hang around forever.
But there are certain things that you can do to make your practice a place where veterinarians want to stay in.
By identifying the main reasons why vets leave the profession, we can not only improve the satisfaction of our employees but nurture professional relationships which can make the difference between a good practice and a great one.
Ever called it quits on a veterinary job? Tell us why in the comments, or check out our other articles on leadership and personal growth here.
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