On Veterinary Support Personnel Network (VSPN), there is a public message board on compassion fatigue that I moderate. It has turned out to be a great place for veterinary professionals to come share their thoughts, feelings and predicaments as it were, and receive support from others who have “been there, done that.” Recently one of the topic threads has touched on burnout, and here is a posting I added recently to help those trying to figure out where they stand when it comes to burnout. I have also shared this with several audiences. See if this speaks to you, or helps in any way:
If we are experiencing negative feelings now—whether it be called burnout, compassion fatigue, or something else unnamed—another factor that adds to our negative feelings is a realization that we did not start out feeling the way we may feel now. We began with noble ideas of helping animals, and the good way that sense of purpose would make us feel. In a discussion about burnout, these first feelings were identified as what “fueled our fires” back in the beginning, and they include a time when:
- We felt challenged and could meet those challenges.
- We had the power to effect change.
- We were proud of our own abilities and performance, sometimes to the point of feeling omnipotent.
- We felt appreciated materially and/or emotionally for our contribution.
- We had a positive connection to, or sense of community with the people we were working with, for, or on behalf of.
- We enjoyed the process of doing what we were doing and could be playful at the same time as working hard.
(Dina Glouberman, 2003)
These are feelings we need to remember, and reconnect with, particularly if we are feeling an urge to change jobs or especially change professions. Try this exercise: take 15 minutes of quiet “me time,” and reflect on why you entered the veterinary profession in the first place. Have you thought of leaving the profession since then? Do you feel that way now? What goals did you set for yourself or what picture did you see on the horizon when you began your work as an animal caregiver? Have you reached those goals, painted that picture? Have your goals changed over time?
Now write down what those goals included, and whether you have met or not met each one. This list helps you to prioritize the sense of purpose that you are searching for right now. You do have a choice; veterinary medicine is not the only field in which you can work. In fact, many of our medical support staff are jumping over to “human medicine”… but what would your goals look like over there? Are they similar to the goals you had when you started caring for animals? Recognize that we all have choices, but try to be mindful of the big picture when making those choices.
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