The job as a veterinary professional can be straining, both physically and emotionally. Here are strategies from NAVTA President Erin Spencer on how veterinary technicians can combat the difficult aspects of work and maintain job satisfaction.
What do you normally do when you’re faced with frustration or fatigue at work? Do you look for a job somewhere else? Keep your head down and just push through it?
Erin Spencer has other answers. She speaks to Dr. Natalie Marks in the Quick Cup of Knowledge video “NAVTA” about what veterinary technicians can do when the job gets the best of them.
What is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion fatigue is described by Charles Figley, PhD, (the one said to have coined the term) as “a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is a state of extreme tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.”
In veterinary medicine, you regularly see patients and clients suffer. You also often see clients struggle to balance their financial needs with the medical needs of their pets. Negative reactions to those experiences, combined with long hours at work, can lead to compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue expresses itself differently in each individual, but the symptoms can include the inability to concentrate, isolation, apathy, voicing excessive complaints about the job or coworkers, lack of self-care, and even substance abuse.
Don’t think that being happy at your job and not having compassion fatigue means you don’t care about your patients enough. Dedicating attention to your well-being and feeling satisfied at work despite moments of sadness or frustration is healthy, a goal everyone should have.
What Can You Do?
Whether you find yourself struggling or you want to help friends and coworkers, there are actions you can take to improve your environment and feel more connected or involved.
As president of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) and a certified veterinary technician, Erin Spencer believes that getting involved in organized medicine, showing your worth at your practice, and supporting your colleagues are effective ways of combating compassion fatigue and general frustration at work.
Get involved in a specialized community, either at the local or national level. Spencer says that with the dissatisfied technicians she speaks to, the common reaction is to want to distance themselves from the organization or people that caused that dissatisfaction or frustration.
However, distancing yourself is not the most conducive to positive change and doesn’t solve any problems. Instead of moving away, Spencer advises becoming more involved in the organization or group to make the change you want. Not only will there be an increased sense of belonging and community, but it will improve patient care as well.
Even if you're involved in a national organization like NAVTA, knowing that there are other like-minded people in similar situations and having access to helpful resources can make a big difference. Going to conferences, courses, and other educational or networking events gives a greater sense of community and purpose.
Show your worth to associates, managers, and others at your practice. Job dissatisfaction for veterinary technicians can come from feeling that they’re being underutilized at work.
Spencer mentions that in some instances, veterinarians aren’t very familiar with what technicians have learned in school or what they are trained to do. Veterinarians learn how to insert a catheter in school, for example, and may assume it is one of their responsibilities. They may not realize that their technicians have received extensive training on how to insert a catheter as well.
In these situations, speaking up and telling practitioners what you’ve been trained to do can change your day-to-day work experience for the better. Associations like NAVTA have tools and resources to help you know what to say and how to say it.
Give people the benefit of the doubt and put yourself in their shoes. The bottom line for combating problems at work is to be kind to one another. A team should be the source of compassion and support rather than the cause of frustration and low job satisfaction.
Working together to create a healthy work environment will raise satisfaction and productivity in each team member, and it will help you know when one of your team members is struggling.
NAVTA, as Spencer explains, has gone through a lot of changes within the last year but wants to use it as an opportunity to provide more services that members want. She says that addressing issues like compassion fatigue and technician utilization, starting important conversations about them, is one of NAVTA’s goals moving forward.
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