Here’s a thoughtful article about compassion fatigue as an occupational hazard for veterinarians, its contributing factors, and suggestions for combating it.
Compassion fatigue is defined as:
fatigue, emotional distress, or apathy resulting from the constant demands of caring for others or from constant appeals from charities: “compassion fatigue experienced by doctors and nurses.”
It is most commonly applied to (human) healthcare practitioners and individuals who have gone past the point of saturation with pleas for and/or sensationalist tragedies, but it doesn’t take a leap to see how it could affect veterinarians as well. Long hours, stressed and occasionally abusive owners, not being able to save every animal — even a labor of love can be emotionally taxing.
When we published “Burnout: The Monster in the Rescue Closet” back in 2003, which dealt with the stress, anger, and guilt that can accumulate in those who devote their lives to rescue, it was amazing how many readers wrote us to say “That’s ME in that article!” and gratifying to hear how Vicki DeGruy’s suggestions helped people find balance in their life while still helping animals.
The existence of compassion fatigue (or more simply: “burnout”) has been known in the medical community for a long, long time (it was officially diagnosed way back in the 1950s), so it is doubtful there will be a flurry of epiphanies among veterinarians as there was among people in the rescue community 12 years ago. But the above article is important for spreading awareness to people outside the field. As an outsider, when you see somebody who is intelligent, capable, and lucky enough to be pursuing their life’s dream, it can easy to dismiss the emotional toll of their job.