5 questions on the most difficult decision - DVM
News Center
DVM Featuring Information from:


5 questions on the most difficult decision


A 2003 survey of veterinarians by the Humane Society of the United States found compassion fatigue impacted all members of the veterinary team, from doctors to technicians to office staff. It was not limited to the people who euthanized animals. Results were reported in the book "Compassion Fatigue in the Animal-Care Community" published in 2006 by the Humane Society Press.

A survey given at the 2003 AVMA conference in Denver and reported in the April 2004 AVMA Wellness Report found that 84.6 percent of respondents surveyed identified stress, burnout and compassion fatigue wellness issues facing the profession. Other wellness issues identified included depression, anger management, anxiety disorders, alcohol abuse and drug dependency.

DVM: Are there steps to preventing compassion fatigue?

Weber: There are many steps that can be taken to help prevent compassion fatigue. The general rule is to take care of yourself. If you give and give to others without filling up your own cup, your cup empties. Learn and use healthy stress management skills daily.

Some steps include:

  • Maintain a balance between your work life and personal life.
  • Be able to say no. Set boundaries to protect time for yourself and time for family.
  • Eat healthy, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.
  • Find the healthy level of emotional involvement in cases (called "detached concern"). Avoid the extremes of emotional over-involvement and over-identification, on the one side, and a cold, insensitive, callous detachment on the other.
  • Build a strong support system of people inside and outside the profession.
  • Keep your eye on the rewards of your work and celebrate your achievements.
  • Avoid self-medicating with alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription drugs as a way of coping with stress.
  • Know when you're getting stressed out, burned out and fatigued. Have self-awareness to know when your gas tank is low and find ways to refill it.

A good book is The Resilient Physician by Wayne and Mary Sotile. Published by the American Medical Association (2002) for physicians, it offers good advice for veterinarians. This compassion fatigue article on the Family Practice Management Web page also is helpful: http://www.aafp.org/fmp/20000400/39over.html


Click here