Impact of Workplace Factors on Veterinary Mental Health

Josh Vaisman, MAPPCP (PgD), Flourish Veterinary Consulting, Boulder, Colorado

ArticleLast Updated August 20232 min read
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In the Literature 

Hilton KR, Burke KJ, Signal T. Mental health in the veterinary profession: an individual or organizational focus? Aust Vet J. 2023;101(1-2):41-48. doi:10.1111/avj.13215 

The Research … 

Mental health, well-being, and attrition are significant concerns in the veterinary profession, especially as the demand for veterinary care continues to rise. Surveys of clinicians in Australia found 20% were considering leaving the profession and 55% struggle with burnout early in their career.1,2 In the United Kingdom, practice managers stated clinicians quit for personal reasons, but clinicians reported leaving prior employers due to poor management.3 

This study sought to identify the relationship between unfavorable workplace factors and both mental health and turnover intention among 73 practicing clinicians in Australia. Participants completed a 76-item survey that measured subjective experience with 11 modifiable workplace factors; perceived resilience; current state of depression, anxiety, and stress; job appreciation; and likelihood of leaving the current job and/or profession.  

Nine of the 11 workplace factors were significantly predictive of depression, anxiety, stress, and job appreciation, with working beyond scheduled hours, ability to take regular breaks, sacrificing lunch breaks, having allocated catch-up time, and having control over daily structure being most predictive of these outcomes.  

Personal resilience was predictive of positive psychological outcomes; however, unfavorable workplace factors remained predictive of depression, anxiety, stress, and job appreciation.

… The Takeaways 

Key pearls to put into practice: 

  • Primary themes that correlated with improved mental health outcomes and job appreciation were downtime and control. Practice leadership should strive to modify workplace factors to support both of these experiences. 

  • Decision latitude (ie, control over how work is completed) may help protect against mental health challenges in veterinary workplaces.4,5 Clinicians with a strong sense of decision latitude may be able to endure longer hours sometimes required in practice. 

  • Although resilience is important, resilience alone appears insufficient to overcome unfavorable workplace conditions, and workplace factors are more easily modified than the resilience of each team member. 

  • Practice leadership should ensure downtime is available to—and used by—clinicians to help improve retention and minimize risk to mental health. Meaningful control and decision latitude among clinicians, especially regarding how to accomplish expectations, should also be prioritized.