Veterinarians have been busy working through an unprecedented and challenging time with the COVID-19 pandemic. If the appropriate strategies are not in place, veterinarians feeling overworked can run the risk of becoming burnt out. When this happens, a range of physical and psychological symptoms can be experienced.

Psychologist Dr Nadine Hamilton from Positive Psych Solutions, author of the book Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian, has shared some valuable advice for veterinarians feeling overworked and who may be experiencing burnout. Dr Hamilton said it is important to manage overwork and burnout as early as possible.

“When someone gets to the point of burnout it can be a lot harder to treat and manage than if they had been proactive and effectively ’nipping it in the bud’ before it got to the point of burnout.  Feeling burnt out can leave a person feeling resentful and cynical towards their job, as well as contributing to absenteeism and loss of productivity – which unfortunately can also affect the organisation’s bottom line. Additionally, if the burnout is not treated appropriately, it can leave some feeling helpless and potentially contribute to feeling suicidal”, said Dr Hamilton.  

Not being afraid to speak up and talk to someone about what you are experiencing is vitally important. “Recognise the warning signs and symptoms, and be proactive when dealing with it. Speak to someone and please seek professional help if you don’t feel you can effectively deal with this on your own.”

“In my opinion, prevention is better than cure, so the more people can be proactive when dealing with their psychological health and wellbeing, the better chance they have of addressing things if and when they arise.  I am also a huge believer and advocate for setting and implementing boundaries – be it with clients, your boss or others”, said Dr Hamilton.

Through her work Dr Hamilton has seen veterinarians benefit from a range of strategies, “I have noticed that a lot of vets use exercise and fitness as a way of coping. Some are also trying to enforce healthier boundaries by speaking up and making sure that they take their breaks, or trying to leave work on time, and also engaging in pleasurable activities outside of work”, said Dr Hamilton.

In terms of determining whether the strategies being implemented are effective, Dr Hamilton said you should start to notice some improvement. “It may not all happen at once, but the original symptoms should start to lessen or subside. Being able to notice the symptoms you originally started with, and then taking stock of whether these are still prevalent is important. The ability to return to, or remain at work without these negative symptoms could also be an indication that the strategies are proving effective”.

Dr Hamilton has recently launched the Positive Psych Solutions Veterinary Circle Membership Group, a support group for veterinarians who are keen to help better manage their mental health and wellbeing. “The aim of this group is to have a central and safe place for veterinary professionals to join with their colleagues, share ideas, mentor, network, and also have exclusive access to myself in order to ask questions pertaining to their work as a veterinary professional or any other factors that may be impacting on their level of wellbeing.  Members can also get discounts on my e-books and wellbeing sessions”, said Dr Hamilton.  

Often the key to dealing with overworking and burnout is to recognise the warning signs, and seek support through speaking with someone you trust, or with one of the many organisations able to help such as Lifeline 13 11 14, Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or the AVA’s 24-hour counselling service on 1300 687 327.