Your hospital or clinic probably has a large majority of female veterinarians. They are highly qualified women, some with specialised diplomas. One day, one of these female talents tells you that she is resigning to go and work in a smaller clinic. She no longer cares about the prestige of the centre or the academic possibilities in her future. Although she doesn’t tell you, it’s possible that she has burnout. She can’t take it any more. She doesn’t want to leave the profession but wants to do it her way, under less pressure, without so much stress and without sacrificing her family life for her work. How can we avoid it?
This scenario is becoming increasingly common in large veterinary hospitals and clinics. Whose fault is it? We know that the profession, like all health professions, is vocational and very demanding. We tend to put ourselves and our family aside for the sake of a patient, we are constantly concerned about their progress and we empathise with the suffering of the pets’ guardians.
In addition to emotional exhaustion, another factor comes into play, and this is the responsibility of the management of large centres: work overload and the lack of flexible working hours.
The importance of organising your own work to reduce stress
One of the most stressful factors for veterinarians is the lack of control over their work and the impossibility of managing it according to their needs.
In the article “Improving work organisation to reduce stress in Veterinarians” we already mentioned how the lack of autonomy in making decisions and modifying the workload can aggravate burnout and provoke anxiety. Especially because the current schedules in large veterinary centres make it very difficult to balance work and family life.
This lack of control and independence particularly affects female veterinarians. The female sex is clearly dominating the profession, a trend that is on the rise in Europe as demonstrated by the VetSurvey survey in 2018. Women are now forced to make real trade-offs in order to reconcile their practice with their family, give up motherhood to devote themselves fully to their professional careers, or refocus their work to improve their family balance.
What are women veterinarians doing to improve work-life balance?
Female veterinarians who own their own practice
Women who are responsible for their own businesses have the great advantage of being able to organise their timetable at the clinic according to their family needs. As Diana Palacios told us in the interview published in HappyVetProject, as a businesswoman she has to cover the needs of the Hospital, but she puts herself in working mothers’ shoes and tries to make their lives as easy as possible.
Veterinarians who work for a clinic or hospital on a salary basis
The vast majority of veterinarians leave their jobs in large clinics and hospitals when they want to become mothers or have small children. This loss of talent for the large centres usually has one culprit: burnout.
Those who don’t want to leave the clinic reinvent themselves: some set up their own clinics, such as Marta Olivella and Gloria Secanella or Belén Montoya, others make home visits -always during the day for safety reasons- and others work freelance in their specialisation: ultrasound scans, specialised surgery, ethology, nutrition and others look for work in smaller clinics or practices without so much work pressure.
“This loss of talent for the large centres usually has one culprit: burnout.”
How to avoid loss of talent in large veterinary clinics and hospitals
Every time a veterinarian leaves your organisation it represents a considerable financial loss. Burnout affects veterinarians of both sexes. We’ve seen it worsen in women with young children until they finally make the decision to leave large clinics and hospitals.
In the article “Avoid the economic cost of burnout in your veterinary clinic” we echoed the study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science in which it was calculated that the company lost between 2/3 and 3/4 of the salary of the person who resigned.
Burnout is having serious economic consequences for the sector: recurring sick leave, talent leaving the centre to work in other less stressful clinics and a decrease in work performance.
As a manager or head of a large veterinary hospital, retaining the talent of female veterinarians (they make up almost 70% of the profession!) should be a must. How can you do this? By listening to their needs, implementing a time structure that allows for flexibility, authorising more administrative work from home and allowing shift changes between colleagues to cover sudden absences due to a child’s illness.
The future of the veterinary sector will be largely female, full of highly educated women, some with European speciality diplomas, who will sooner or later want to start a family. Are we ready to get serious about keeping all this talent?
VetSurvey 2018. Survey of the veterinary profession in Europe. Federation of Veterinarians of Europe.