Identifying & Reducing Burnout in Veterinary Teams

Thomas C. Favale, Jr, DVM, LMSW, University of Tennessee

ArticleLast Updated August 20233 min read
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In the Literature 

Holowaychuk MK, Lamb KE. Burnout symptoms and workplace satisfaction among veterinary emergency care providers. J Vet Emerg Crit Care (San Antonio). 2023;33(2):180-191. doi:10.1111/vec.13271 

The Research … 

According to the World Health Organization, burnout is a syndrome in which an individual may have feelings of exhaustion or energy depletion, cynicism or negativity pertaining to work, and a sense of reduced professional efficacy.1 Burnout results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. 

This study* used the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) Human Services Survey for Medical Personnel and the Areas of Worklife Survey (AWS) to assess burnout syndrome among veterinary emergency care providers. MBI comprises 3 subscales referring to symptoms of burnout (ie, emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, personal accomplishment) and has been widely used and recognized to assess burnout. AWS assesses 6 workplace domains (ie, workload, control, reward, community, fairness, values) of potential stress and burnout. 

An online questionnaire using the MBI and AWS was emailed to members of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society and distributed on social media platforms over a 3-month period. Individuals working <20 hours per week were excluded. Respondents who completed surveys (n = 1,204) included nonspecialists, American College of Veterinary Emergency Critical Care specialists, residents, interns, students, and hospital staff. Practice settings included emergency hospitals, academic referral hospitals, private and corporate referral hospitals, and general practices.   

Based on MBI and AWS scores, veterinary emergency care providers exhibited more symptoms of burnout compared with human health care professionals in the emergency setting. Respondents practicing emergency medicine for >20 years showed higher workplace satisfaction and fewer symptoms of burnout. American College of Veterinary Emergency Critical Care residents experienced higher levels of depersonalization and dissatisfaction with workload, control over work, and recognition for work performed compared with specialists.  

… The Takeaways

Key pearls to put into practice: 

  • A sense of control over work shifts and workload, ability to make decisions, respect from colleagues, and recognition from peers and supervisors are associated with lower burnout scores for individuals in veterinary emergency practice. Control over and input in workplace choices and decisions can result in more predictability in the workplace and reduce anxiety associated with uncertain work demands.   

  • Veterinary emergency care providers may face higher rates of burnout due to an interplay of workplace variables. Personal habits (eg, sleep, substance use, exercise, friendships, social media) may also play a role. Compassion fatigue results from secondary traumatic stress or vicarious trauma in health care providers and can occur in conjunction with burnout.2 Both of these conditions should be investigated further, as the causes and remedies of burnout and compassion fatigue differ.  

  • Acknowledging work being done, providing positive feedback, and facilitating team-building activities are vital to help alleviate burnout. Employees should have some sense of control and autonomy over their work environment (eg, schedule, caseload, decision-making). 

*Funded in part by Hill’s Pet Nutrition Canada