Burnout and compassion fatigue in the veterinary profession

taboo subject and still a topic that we should talk more about, burnout and compassion fatigue in the veterinary profession are a reality.

And, moreover, one of the top reasons many leave this field.

Oftentimes, people working in a vet practice feel like they are not allowed to be fatigued or stressed (and that stresses them out even more) or to wish for some time off.

It’s time for things to change. Veterinary professionals give their absolute best for their patients’ health.

Being all there and always there can, sooner than later, be too much for so many of us.

But what is “BURNOUT”?

“Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands”

Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal, M.A.

The sings of burnout can be put into three major categories:

1️⃣  Emotional and physical exhaustion with chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention, physical symptoms, anxiety, depression, and anger.

Physical symptoms may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and loss of appetite.

2️⃣  Feelings that you have failed to accomplish anything accompanied by apathy and hopelessness, increased irritability, lack of productivity, and poor performance.

3️⃣  Cynicism and detachment are characterized by loss of enjoyment, pessimism, isolation, and detachment.

Certainly, working in a veterinary practice means being surrounded by very ill/dying animals, ignorant people, and pet parents who are in a lot of emotional pain because of their pet’s suffering.

We always wish to ease the pain of both pets and their caregivers, and we wish for a happy ending for each one of them.

As a result, it’s easy to get caught up and forget about yourself. And that’s when compassion fatigue can step in.


“It’s a low level, chronic clouding of caring and concern for others in your life – whether you work in or outside the home. Over time, your ability to feel and care for others becomes eroded through the overuse of your skills of compassion. You also might experience an emotional blunting – whereby you react to situations differently than one would normally expect.”

F.Oshberg, MD

Usual symptoms of compassion fatigue are:

⚠ emotional numbness,

⚠ social awkwardness and withdrawal from social situations,

⚠ indifference towards people and situations,

⚠ sleeping difficulties (either insomnia or hypersomnia),

⚠ eating difficulties (trouble losing weight or trouble keeping the meals down),

⚠ anxiety at work,

⚠ chronic illnesses and a weaker immune system,

⚠ generally feeling overwhelmed with even the simplest tasks.

 Commonalities of Burnout and Compassion Fatigue:

♦ Emotional exhaustion

♦ Reduced sense of personal accomplishment or meaning in work

♦ Mental exhaustion

♦ Decreased interactions with others (isolation)

♦ Depersonalization (symptoms disconnected from real causes)

♦ Physical exhaustion

If you are experiencing burnout and compassion fatigue, this should be a wake-up call. It is very important for team members who identify with such a description to address signs as soon as possible and deal with the problems accordingly.