Pulse - September 2021 - 31

THE RVT
The Reality of Compassion Fatigue
Caring for the People Who Care for the Animals
Joseph G. Herman, BS, RVT
V
eterinary medicine is the only profession where
you step away from a room full of tearful family
members following the death of their pet, to
another room full of frisky kittens, all without stopping
to process what has just taken place.
While being caught in the middle of such extremes might happen
only occasionally, repeated exposure to the emotional ups and
downs of veterinary medicine does have consequences. Over time,
our ability to separate one emotion from another might blur. Situations
that once brought professional fulfillment to our lives may
now be greeted with numbness. And if allowed to go unchecked,
this emotional back and forth can cause what is referred to as
" compassion fatigue, " which can lead to a shortening of our veterinary
medicine careers.
" Compassion fatigue occurs when we're hammered with so
much sadness, and cases that don't go the way we planned, and
having to support stressed-out owners, that we take it home, " said
Sumitra J. Price, BA, RVT, CVPM, CCFP, a Certified Compassion
Fatigue Professional. " We're simply not able to bounce back
from all that, and it builds up to the point where we start questioning
our drive in the field. It's the inability to reset our emotions
to full potential. "
Beyond Burnout
A distinction is made between compassion fatigue and the
more common state of burnout. JAVMA News once reported that
" Burnout is associated with where you work. Compassion fatigue
is associated with the work you do. "
So if you have an overbearing boss or coworkers you don't get
along with, or if you're putting in excessive overtime, or you have a
long commute, those are physical stressors that can lay the groundwork
for burnout. But because these stressors are physical in nature,
they often can be allayed by either changing employers or taking a
long vacation (with the laptop left at home). Compassion fatigue,
on the other hand, is an emotional exhaustion brought about by
deeply caring for patients and owners to the point where you just
can't care anymore. Your capacity for showing compassion-now
and in the future-gradually shuts down.
" Burnout tends to be environmental, " said Price, a Training
Coordinator at VCA California Veterinary Specialists in Murrieta.
" As such, it can be controlled, largely by changing your perception
of the situation. For instance, rather than dwelling on the negative,
tell yourself, 'I'm doing my job, and I'm good at it,' despite all of
the distractions. However, " continued Price, " if you have a large
amount of burnout that you can't control, that very well could
lead to compassion fatigue, which will affect your entire life, and
requires lifestyle changes to help address it. "
PULSE
SEPTEMBER 2021
A Serious Threat
The reality of compassion fatigue is so concerning that it often is
referred to in far more graphic terms, including " vicarious trauma, "
" secondary victimization, " and " secondary traumatization stress. " Its
symptoms range from apathy, difficulty concentrating, and chronic
physical ailments, to isolation, recurring nightmares, and substance
abuse-and in many cases, to complete emotional withdrawal.
" You're so fatigued, " said Price, " that you just emotionally
disengage in order to protect yourself. And people who do this
think that it's helping them cope, when in reality it's just putting
a Band-Aid on the problem. " The primary lifestyle changes necessary
to alleviate compassion fatigue, said Price, are " self-care " and
" self-regulating our thoughts " in order to build a resilience to the
unavoidable stressors that come with the job.
" Self-regulating our thoughts involves controlling our anxiety, "
said Price. " This means taking two minutes to grab a couple of deep
breaths before moving on to the next patient, to help release the
tension that's building up. It also involves making connections with
other people in the field who have gone through what you're feeling,
as well as talking to family members when you get home... not
necessarily looking for answers, but just having someone to listen.
" And then self-care, " continued Price. " Taking time to step
away to recharge. If you're supposed to go to lunch, go to lunch. If
you're supposed to take a break, take a break. Everything is going
to be there when you get back. "
Building Up Resilience
A critical step in building up one's resilience to the everyday
stresses of working in veterinary medicine is to go in with a plan,
said Price, " so that you're not just pulling at straws out of panic
and reaction. If you know that a certain scenario will present
itself-such as having to phone an upset client-then prepare a
plan in your mind as to how you're going to handle it, so that
you're not going in blindly. "
Price also used the recent 4th of July holiday as an example:
" We knew that we were going to be busy, " said Price, " but we
anticipated that. So instead of panicking, we developed a plan that
allowed us to control our emotions and decisions, so that we could
intentionally reduce our anxiety and fatigue. "
Realistic Expectations
It's been said that " Kindness is the thread of humanity. " If that's
so, then compassion fatigue is where those threads begin to unravel.
Perhaps the best way to prevent compassion fatigue is to
understand that in veterinary medicine, disappointments and
losses will happen. That realization alone will go far toward
tempering our emotions while maintaining our love-our
compassion-for our patients. P
31

Pulse - September 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Pulse - September 2021

Pulse - September 2021
Chapter Meetings & Calendar
President’s Perspective
Pulsepoints
SCVMA Profile
How Veterinary Managers’ Jobs Differ
Practical Pathology
Medical Leeway
UC Davis Update
Tools for Success
Angel Fund
Dear Tabby
The RVT
Industry Insights
Quick Reference
AVMA Diplomates
Digital Photography for Veterinarians
Resources
Disease Table
From the SCVMA Office
Pulse - September 2021 - Pulse - September 2021
Pulse - September 2021 - Cover2
Pulse - September 2021 - 1
Pulse - September 2021 - 2
Pulse - September 2021 - Chapter Meetings & Calendar
Pulse - September 2021 - President’s Perspective
Pulse - September 2021 - Pulsepoints
Pulse - September 2021 - 6
Pulse - September 2021 - 7
Pulse - September 2021 - 8
Pulse - September 2021 - 9
Pulse - September 2021 - 10
Pulse - September 2021 - SCVMA Profile
Pulse - September 2021 - How Veterinary Managers’ Jobs Differ
Pulse - September 2021 - 13
Pulse - September 2021 - 14
Pulse - September 2021 - 15
Pulse - September 2021 - 16
Pulse - September 2021 - 17
Pulse - September 2021 - 18
Pulse - September 2021 - 19
Pulse - September 2021 - 20
Pulse - September 2021 - 21
Pulse - September 2021 - 22
Pulse - September 2021 - 23
Pulse - September 2021 - Practical Pathology
Pulse - September 2021 - Medical Leeway
Pulse - September 2021 - UC Davis Update
Pulse - September 2021 - Tools for Success
Pulse - September 2021 - 28
Pulse - September 2021 - Angel Fund
Pulse - September 2021 - Dear Tabby
Pulse - September 2021 - The RVT
Pulse - September 2021 - Industry Insights
Pulse - September 2021 - Quick Reference
Pulse - September 2021 - AVMA Diplomates
Pulse - September 2021 - Digital Photography for Veterinarians
Pulse - September 2021 - 36
Pulse - September 2021 - 37
Pulse - September 2021 - 38
Pulse - September 2021 - Resources
Pulse - September 2021 - 40
Pulse - September 2021 - Disease Table
Pulse - September 2021 - 42
Pulse - September 2021 - 43
Pulse - September 2021 - 44
Pulse - September 2021 - 45
Pulse - September 2021 - 46
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Pulse - September 2021 - From the SCVMA Office
Pulse - September 2021 - Cover3
Pulse - September 2021 - Cover4
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