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How to Prevent Burnout in 2023 and Retain More Veterinarians

The hiring and retention of veterinarians was one of the top priorities of Veterinary employers in 2022. And as we enter a new year, it should once again be a top priority of employers in 2023—if not the number-one priority.

It’s been well documented that there is a shortage of veterinarians in the job market, a shortage that is expected to continue for at least the next decade. Since that’s the case, employers need to be sensitive to not only the needs of candidates who are considering their employment opportunities, but also their current employees. That’s because the only thing better than hiring new veterinarians is keeping the ones that you already have.

However, just as there are challenges and obstacles associated with hiring veterinarians in this current market, there are also challenges and obstacles associated with retaining them. One of these challenges has taken the form of burnout.

According to research published by the Cornell Center for Veterinary Business and Entrepreneurship late last year, workplace burnout costs the Veterinary industry $2 billion per year. (You read that correctly, that’s $2 billion with a “b.”) The findings were the result of a study authored by Clinton Neill, PhD, an assistant professor of veterinary economics and management at Cornell, and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Also, according to the research, the cost of burnout in the Veterinary industry each year:

  • Is equivalent to nearly 4% of the Veterinary industry’s entire value.
  • Includes both veterinarians and Veterinary technicians.
  • Is evenly divided between veterinarians the Veterinary technicians, with each accounting for $1 billion of lost value.
  • Ranges from $17,000 to $25,000 per veterinarian

However, perhaps the most insightful piece of information from the study is that more than half of all veterinarians suffer from burnout. In simplest terms, that means every Veterinary employer can count the number of veterinarians they have on staff and then assume that at least half of them are suffering from burnout.

The Cornell findings echo Merck Animal Health’s third “Veterinarian Wellbeing Study, conducted in collaboration with the AVMA in the fall of 2021. According to that study, 92% of respondents rated increased stress as one of their top mental health challenges. In addition, more than 90% of respondents cited the shortage of qualified Veterinary staff as one of their biggest concerns.

Other results of the Merck study included the following:

  • Sixty-eight percent (68%) of respondents cited the challenge of providing Veterinary services under the evolving pandemic and industry conditions as a top mental health challenge.
  • The percentage of veterinarians with serious psychological distress (as measured by the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale) increased to 7% in 2021 from 6.4% in 2019.
  • Almost half of Veterinary staff respondents (6%) and nearly a third of veterinarians (30.5%) reported that they were experiencing high levels of burnout.

The results of these surveys and studies are clear: veterinarians have been burned out and they’re becoming more burned out. Like the veterinarian shortage, this is not a trend that is likely to reverse itself anytime soon. Consequently, it falls to employers to do what is necessary to help prevent burnout among its employees including veterinarians. (And keep in mind that stress and anxiety are “contagious,” so to speak. If Veterinary technicians and other members of the Veterinary staff are stressed and burned out, it increases the likelihood that your veterinarians will be stressed, as well.)

According to LinkedIn’s “2022 Global Talent Trends Report,” 66% of Generation Z said they want a company culture built on mental health and wellness. Millennials were in second place at 51%, followed by Generation X at 41% and Baby Boomers at 31%. And while the younger generations are leading the way here, you can see that mental health and wellness is a concern for all generations.

So, what can Veterinary employers do? Below are five strategies for preventing burnout in 2023 and retaining more veterinarians:

#1—Show employees they’re valued and appreciated.

The first part of this is verbal praise, both private and public. An encouraging word or a pat on the back goes a long way, but recognizing someone in front of their co-workers is even better. You can even show how much you value them in more tangible ways, such as with a gift card or some other token of your appreciation.

#2—Treat your employees with respect.

Employees want to feel as though they are respected in the workplace. This includes being respected by both their co-workers and also the members of management. Even if they’re not the one being disrespected, watching it happen to someone else still creates a stressful environment for everyone. It’s unfortunate enough when pet owners and customers disrespect Veterinary staff, but it’s even worse when the disrespect originates from within.

#3—Model and enforce accountability from the top down.

Most employees do not mind being held accountable in the workplace. However, they DO mind if colleagues or co-workers are getting away with things and not being held accountable for them. Or even worse, if members of management are not being held accountable, either. Not only will this not ease their stress nor prevent burnout, but they might also start to view the workplace with suspicion.

#4—Offer more flexibility and other perks.

One of the most sought-after perks in the job market these days is working from home or remote work. However, not all employers in the Veterinary profession can offer that perk. That means you’ll have to be more creative, instead offering other forms of schedule flexibility to your top employees. You could also provide them with additional PTO in lieu of remote work other schedule flexibility.

#5—Do what you can to reduce their stress.

I have an example of this from my work as a Veterinary recruiter. A pet owner at one of our firm’s clients wanted to get their dog seen by the veterinarian. However, the practice told this person they were booked for two weeks. So the client said that he hoped everyone at the practice died in a vat of boiling hot water.

So, the Veterinary practice owner decided to close the hospital for a day. He paid all his employees, and they had a wellness day. He brought in a food truck, and they all had food in the parking lot. This was a great way to reduce stress, help prevent burnout, and cultivate loyalty with employees and foster a better culture within the organization.

All the strategies on the above list help to build trust between a Veterinary organization and its veterinarians and support staff. When a person trusts their employer, they’re more at ease, more focused, and more resilient in the face of adversity. Trust is difficult to build and easy to lose, but it’s an important key to preventing Veterinary burnout in 2023 and retaining more veterinarians.

We invite you to find out more about our Veterinary recruiting services for employers and also learn more about our recruiting process and how we can help you hire more veterinarians in 2023.

We help support careers in one of two ways: 1. By helping Animal Health and Veterinary professionals to find the right opportunity when the time is right, and 2. By helping to recruit top talent for the critical needs of Animal Health and Veterinary organizations. If this is something that you would like to explore further, please send an email to stacy@thevetrecruiter.com.

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