Work/life balance poses concerns for DVMs-making time to have a life outside of the practice can be a challenge

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Aug 01, 2006

National Report — Achieving an appropriate balance between work and home life was cited by veterinarians most frequently as their greatest professional life concern.

In fact, 43 percent of practitioner's participating in a DVM Newsmagazine survey rated it tops, ahead of money worries, staff turnover, malpractice claims and even state board intervention.

"My first job after veterinary school was working 60-hour weeks at a mixed practice," says Dr. Tammy Ferrara, associate veterinarian at Spring Hill Animal Clinic, Spring Hill, Fla. "I'd get pages at 3 a.m. and have to go to a farm and treat a horse. I'd get really bad backaches antagonized by stress."

She did that for three years, but now Ferrara is working at her second clinic post-graduation and says her work-week is more relaxed.

"I work four, 10-hour days," she says. "I still feel like there is more I should be doing sometimes, but there has to be a limit. My husband is understanding of my job, but I need to spend time doing things other than work."


Table 1 Greatest professional life concern
A 2004 DVM Newsmagazine survey also showed a disparity between how much time veterinarians were spending with the practice compared to family time. When respondents were asked about their preferences, veterinarians expressed a desire to spend greater time at home or away from the practice.

In the survey, veterinarians reported they would like to devote more time to family and personal activities. In fact, on average, 41 percent of their time was reportedly centered on work, but their preference was to devote about 29 percent of their day practicing. Their preference was to transfer about 11 percent of their day from work to family and personal activities.


Dr. Abby Snyder
Dr. Abby Snyder, owner of Grandview Animal Hospital, adds "The flexible schedule helps when my daughter is sick and things can't wait until the end of the day."

"It helps that no one makes me feel guilty about leaving when I need to," she adds.

Achieving this work-life balance can be so important, some look to less traditional careers as a veterinarian.

"I used to own a practice and found myself working 70-80 hour weeks," says Dr. Greg Lewis, Arizona Humane Society (AHS). "There is always one more client to be squeezed in, paperwork and research; leaving to do something for yourself seemed too selfish. I have been a veterinarian for 33 years, and decided I was going to focus on what I like to do the best — surgery, so I now work at the AHS."


Table 2 Number of hours worked in a week
Ferrara finds refuge with her 20-acre farm, three horses, three dogs and three cats and a cow.

"To unwind from the work week, I enjoy riding my horses or spending time with family and friends," she says. "I have accomplished a good balance now, but it is easy to see how guilt of leaving one more task at the clinic can become habit."