Veterinarians—Masters Of Denial

Posted: Thursday, June 3, 2010




Veterinarians—Masters of Denial Veterinarians—Masters of Denial staff-safari By Katherine Dobbs

As I travel across the country, increasing awareness of Compassion Fatigue in veterinary medicine, I am still concerned that few veterinarians admit they have compassion fatigue. Often they say, “my team definitely has this issue,” but rarely do they believe they are susceptible themselves.

Denial is one of the best-developed coping reflexes in health care workers, 
 particularly physicians and nurses [or veterinarians and the medical staff, I would add].

           ~ Anthony Barbato, M.D.
              Foreword, Overcoming Secondary Stress in Medical and Nursing Practice


Even in the face of this denial, during my research into the “human” world of medicine I found an interesting summary of why healthcare workers are particularly prone to compassion fatigue:

Self-awareness is especially important for persons working in high-stress settings
that require great intelligence and high standards.
In such professions, “perfectionism and its associated demon, fear of failure”
can be quite dangerous to the types of persons attracted to health care…

It is believed that they should always be at the peak of technical proficiency,
emotionally available, straightforward, clear, and compassionate.

~Robert J. Wicks
Overcoming Secondary Stress in Medical and Nursing Practice

In reading this, it’s easy to see that we indeed have a tall order to fill. We typically fit all of these parameters, working in stressful settings at least a portion of the time, and our profession in general is expected to have higher standards than even human healthcare. How often has one of your clients said, “I wish you could be MY doctor’s office!”

Yet how realistic is it to believe that we can always be superb “technicians” in performing our daily tasks, open with our hearts, and compassionate with our words? Anyone would surely bend, and possibly break, under those circumstances. Each position in the practice is susceptible in their own way, yes, including the veterinarians. Perhaps more so, in fact, if you are the doctor who must bring the biggest part of the technical proficiency, as in knowing the medicine inside and out, and still be compassionate and emotionally available with clients while objective with the patient’s predicament. Any of us would admit how difficult this must be for the veterinarians.

Yet the first step is that the veterinarian himself or herself must admit there is an issue to face. Even though it’s normal to be susceptible to compassion fatigue in our profession, it still must be “owned” to enable the person to move forward and through the emotional waters that must be swam. There are even reasons beyond being selfish to face the issue of compassion fatigue and related stress:

One of the biggest favours any veterinarian can do for his or her patients,
 colleagues, and family, is to take self-care and stress control seriously.

Dr. Lisa Miller
(JAVMA News, 2004)

My hope is that as our profession embraces the realization of compassion fatigue, people from all positions will feel enabled to come forward and bring others with them through their experiences of minimizing compassion fatigue. 

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As I travel across the country, increasing awareness of Compassion Fatigue in veterinary medicine, I am still concerned that few veterinarians admit they have compassion fatigue. As I travel across the country, increasing awareness of Compassion Fatigue in veterinary medicine, I am still concerned that few veterinarians admit they have compassion fatigue. compassion fatigue, veterinarians, stress, veterinarians, compassionate

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