Compassion fatigue is a cumulative process, a type of burnout that affects healthcare professionals, especially those who are dedicated to the care of others and experience daily negative situations.
These situations are traumatic for individuals themselves and don’t always have an outcome or resolution despite their best efforts.
All of this leads to a permanent state of physical and mental exhaustion, disillusionment and a feeling of helplessness with a low capacity to cope with everyday living.
It can lead to severe psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress and depression.
Compassion fatigue is underdiagnosed in veterinary practices and prevents the affected professionals from practising according to the highest quality standards. There is also a high risk of sick leave due to burnout and career withdrawal from the profession.
What can I do as the person in charge of the veterinary centre?
As a veterinary centre manager, you have the opportunity to be proactive in demonstrating the company’s emotional support for your staff, while also looking after their mental health.
The first step in this proactive approach is the mental health assessment of the employees. They often don’t think about their emotional state until it is too late, such as when a crisis occurs or when they have already reached their breaking point. They also don’t always realise it could be compassion fatigue.
Promoting the routine use of a tool such as the Compassion Fatigue Test will help you and your employees to recognise the visible and invisible signs of compassion fatigue, investigate the root causes, and seek professional help if necessary.
Compassion Fatigue Test
The way we perceive ourselves and our emotional state can be significantly different from the way others see us. Often co-workers can detect changes in our mood or behavioural patterns that we are not fully aware of.
To make the Compassion Fatigue Test as accurate as possible, it has been divided into two parts: The first is on a personal level, to be answered individually and anonymously by each team member.
The second is aimed at discovering the signs of Compassion Fatigue that are perceived by co-workers even if the person is not aware of it.
How to Proceed with the Compassion Fatigue Test
Step 1. Before handing out the Compassion Fatigue Tests to staff, make sure you understand what Compassion Fatigue is. Review the article Compassion fatigue in vets and vet nurses: identify the symptoms and learn how to protect yourself published in the MENTALVET section regarding this condition.
Step 2. Organise an initial briefing with staff to ensure that everyone understands the concept of compassion fatigue and the reasons for distributing this test. Responses should, at least initially, be anonymous. Use the Compassion Fatigue Discussion Guide to prepare the talk. Underline that it is not a professional performance evaluation, but a tool to improve the emotional well-being of all staff.
Step 3. Establish a time frame for discussing the results of the assessment.
Step 4. Distribute the Compassion Fatigue Test to staff participating in the meeting.
They can use the self-assessment test by following the instructions at the top of the form. The staff will return the test to the centre’s managers when they are finished.
Step 5. Distribute copies of the Co-worker Compassion Fatigue Evaluation Test to all staff members and ask them to name the person(s) in whom they have detected these symptoms.
Step 6. Evaluate the test results with the rest of your management team if appropriate during the scheduled time. If the results show a high risk of compassion fatigue among employees, it is recommended to provide professional psychological support to staff from the centre. It is also recommended to assess how to strengthen the emotional support of the group to prevent compassion fatigue in the future.
Compassion fatigue discussion guide for practice managers
Before the first test, send or distribute the article Compassion fatigue in vets and vet nurses: identify the symptoms and learn how to protect yourself to your staff to ensure that everyone is informed. You will find a download link at the end of the article.
You can also organise a talk to explain this condition if you feel comfortable explaining the concept of Compassion Fatigue to your workforce yourself. This will help them understand the concept and proceed with the test in a safe way.
- Do I understand compassion fatigue?
- What are potential sources of compassion fatigue?
- How can I help my staff avoid compassion fatigue?
- Are there resources available to staff at my Vet Hospital/Clinic that can help avoid compassion fatigue?
Then, use the following questions to guide your discussion. Make sure to cover:
- What is compassion fatigue?
- What causes compassion fatigue?
- How can we identify compassion fatigue?
- What resources are available for staff?
You should make organizational resources available to help your staff to prevent or alleviate compassion fatigue. For example:
- Implement a compassion fatigue questionnaire on a tri- or bi-annual basis for everyone (including yourself if you are a practising veterinary professional).
- Dedicate mandatory time in clinical meetings to talk about the emotional impact that cases or clients have or have had on specific people. Approach this as a kind of “internal” group therapy by promoting the exchange of experiences and feelings by the team.
- Encourage conversations about issues that affect the mental/emotional health of staff in relation to the profession as a rule, and make it easier to ask for help.
- Take real steps to protect the team such as: ending relationships with toxic or bullying clients, adapting specific spaces in the clinic for staff’s daily mental breaks, faithfully respecting their hours and rest days, involving them in the day’s clinical achievements and successes by encouraging them to fill out a whiteboard display of “things that went well today”.
If you are interested in improving your hospital or clinical space to make it more staff friendly, we recommend the articles “Improving Comfort in the Clinic to Reduce Staff Stress”, “Silence, Music and Pleasant Smells. Are They Achievable in a Veterinary Clinic?” and “How Light and Colours in the Vet Practice Affect Our State of Mind”.