Compassion Fatigue Part 3: Identifying Stressors and Satisfiers

by Guest Blogger on October 7, 2013

Katherine Dobbs

Katherine Dobbs

Let’s learn more about the causes of compassion fatigue, and what is stressing us out at work. We will also see how we gain satisfaction from the work we do as veterinary professionals. Robert G. Roop, Ph.D., performed a survey of the veterinary profession (Humane Society of the U.S., 2003-2004). It was called the Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue Survey, and they surveyed veterinarians, technicians, assistants, office staff and managers to identify the top stressors and satisfiers. Let’s see what they discovered.

In general, there are personal reasons why we may become affected by compassion fatigue. It helps to look at these internal causes in order to create a plan to minimize compassion fatigue on us as individuals. Then we will look at the effects of the job we do.

Causes of compassion fatigue include:

  •  Placing needs of others before your own
  • Unresolved past trauma and pain
  • Lack of healthy life coping skills
  • Lack of self awareness that limits growth
  • Giving care to others under stress
  • Lack of personal boundaries
  • Inability to communicate needs

When these factors are in place within us, we become more susceptible to compassion fatigue. Then we can look at the external pressures that are put on each of us. The researchers realized that while there are things about our jobs that cause stress, there are also things about the job that create in us satisfaction, and the desire to stay in this difficult profession. It is supposed to be a balanced equation. Some of these stressors and satisfiers will be no surprise, and some will seem much more significant to our identification and healing of compassion fatigue.

1. Top Stressors for Veterinarians

  • Difficult or noncompliant clients
  • Not enough time
  • Discussing/disputing fees
  • Problems with staff performance
  • Concern about skills/accuracy
  • Lack of sufficient trained staff
  • Problems with co-workers
  • Others (e.g. noise, computer problems)

2. Top Satisfiers for Veterinarians

  • Helping/healing animals
  • Thankful clients
  • Working as a team
  • Using skills/learning new ones
  • Daily contact with animals
  • Educating clients
  • Financial rewards

3. Top Stressors for Veterinary Technicians and Assistants

  • Difficult or noncompliant clients
  • Problems with co-workers
  • Not enough time
  • Performing euthanasia
  • Very ill or high-risk patients
  • Disputes with supervisor
  • Lack of sufficient trained staff
  • Losing a patient
  • Fractious or dangerous animals
  • Other (e.g. noise, computer problems, etc.)

4. Top Satisfiers for Veterinary Technicians and Assistants

  • Helping/healing animals
  • Working as a team
  • Thankful clients
  • Using skills/learning new ones
  • Daily contact with animals
  • Educating clients

5. Top Stressors for Front Office and Practice Management

  • Difficult or noncompliant clients
  • Time demands
  • Disputes over fees/billing
  • Office stressors (e.g., noise, computer problems)
  • Understaffed/staff training
  • Discussing euthanasia with clients
  • Abusive/neglectful clients
  • Problems with supervisors

6. Top Satisfiers for Front Office and Practice Management

  • Thankful clients
  • Daily contact with animals
  • Helping/healing animals
  • Working as a team
  • Using skills/learning new ones
  • Educating clients

From this data, there are some interesting facts to be learned. All positions basically agree that helping and healing pets is the most satisfying part of the job, but the difficult clients are the toughest aspect to bear. There are also some assumptions to be made from this data. First of all, the amount or intensity of stressors will depend on what type of veterinary practice you work in. If your practice sees more patients that are very ill or high-risk, or you perform euthanasia more often, then you are at a higher risk for compassion fatigue. This describes most if not all emergency practices, and many types of specialty practices. Yet it can also describe certain general practices.

Obviously the management of your practice has something to do with the prevalence of compassion fatigue, because of the affect of disputes or problems with your supervisor and lack of sufficient, or sufficiently trained, staff. Even the relationships between co-workers and the level of teamwork achieved can be affected by the management of a practice, although we all must also recognize our individual responsibility to establish caring and meaningful relationships with our colleagues.

When these caring relationships are in existence, then working as a team is a great satisfier in our work. If we have a practice that provides opportunity for us to continue our learning, and challenges us to use those new skills, we are also more satisfied. We cannot underestimate the effect of our clientele on our work, as we can see that the biggest stressor is those difficult clients we deal with perhaps daily. On the flip side, the thankful clients provide a lot of satisfaction. So our challenge is to learn how to turn more difficult clients into thankful clients!

There are also some important lessons to be learned if we read between the lines of this survey. When it comes to management, it is known that they suffer their own brand of compassion fatigue. They are sandwiched between a staff that needs them, and the pressure of having to answer to the practice owner. When the manager has come up from the ranks in veterinary medicine, at one point their contact with animals provided a much-needed satisfier. Now as a manager, they have less contact with animals, and typically have to handle the worst of the difficult clients. It’s obvious that they are at high risk for compassion fatigue as well.

Another interesting point is that this survey also measured our risk of burnout. The results suggest that veterinarians are in control when it comes to achieving work-related goals, and therefore they are not at high risk for burnout. Veterinary technicians and assistants are at quite low risk for burnout as well, as are front office and managers. This is due to the presence of those compassion satisfiers. More often than not, when you or a colleague claims that you are feeling “burned out”, it is actually an expression of compassion fatigue…we just have heard the term burnout used with much more frequency than compassion fatigue. Perhaps there is also more negative stigma attached to having a tired heart in a profession full of compassion.

Now that we have identified the causes, stressors, and satisfiers, we are probably coming to terms with the level of compassion fatigue we are actually experiencing as veterinary professionals. The next question to answer is, how do I help myself get through this, to maintain my career in veterinary medicine? Stay tuned for answers to come…

You can learn more about Katherine Dobbs at http://www.katherinedobbs.com or katherinedobbs@sbcglobal.net 

Other posts written by Katherine are: Exposing Compassion Fatigue – Part 1 and Compassion Fatigue Part 2:Then and Now

 

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