I love being a veterinarian. It’s wonderful when a client thanks me for the care I’ve provided to their family pet. When I diagnose a rare disease or complete a difficult surgery, it is personally and intellectually gratifying. And, let’s be honest, nothing makes my day like an eight-week-old puppy enthusiastically bounding across the lobby to see me and splattering my face with kisses. This is why veterinarians choose this profession. The mix of appreciation from clients and patients, the daily challenges to conquer and the meaningful nature of this field attract potential vets to this fulfilling occupation.
When I started my career, veterinary clients understood the humanity of our jobs. When we “buried our mistakes” (and if you have not heard this phrase, it proves my point) clients consoled us knowing we did the best we could. Fast forward to today, the veterinary consumer expects world-class care for their pets, appointments on demand, the best technology available and veterinarians that are specialists in every area…all provided for the best price.
Adding to these pressures on today’s veterinarian is the immense financial load of student loans—often into six figures. As a result, production-based pay is the norm. The onus is placed squarely on the veterinarian employee to work harder and smarter in order to make an income sufficient enough to pay down student loans. Consequently, veterinarians work long shifts, handle multiple cases at once and play a multitude of veterinary specialty roles simultaneously. Understandably, the client wants the veterinarian to show the compassion, care and focus required to prove that theirs is the only pet in the world needing attention. Add a backdrop of social media reviews and the pressure to post their best self on Facebook, one is left with a veterinarian who has hit their limit emotionally, intellectually and physically.
Veterinarians, given a problem, set about solving it within the parameters given. Veterinarians are great at finding solutions. Collectively, it seems as though the solution we have come up with to handle these pressures is the concept of work-life balance. But what exactly is work-life balance as defined by those using it?
A quick analysis of several job postings on the AVMA Career Center website using this term revealed some interesting findings…
One posting in Pittsburgh with the title “Life Changing Career” seemed to indicate that the mere act of living in Pittsburgh brought all the work-life balance opportunity needed, including hiking and bike trails in the nearby mountains.
A recent posting in Tennessee simply mentioned the fact that work-life balance was “valued.” There was nothing in the job description indicating how they provide it. In fact, the three open positions at this particular eight-doctor practice provided insight into just how busy things would be.
A posting for a veterinary emergency position at a hospital near D.C. advertised work-life balance with “only 12 shifts per month!” Unfortunately, I could not find any mention as to the length of the shifts themselves.
Another posting in Ohio simply offered “no after-hours emergency duty.”
In North Carolina, a position was proud to offer “just a four-day work week” yet required a shift every other Saturday.
And, near Nashville, Tennessee, work-life balance was again described in a posting as “no emergency duty, a four-day work week and holidays off.”
Given the parameters of traditional veterinary practice, the work-life balance theme seems to be fewer shifts per week, longer shifts, no emergency duty and picturesque scenery to experience while recuperating from those long shifts. However, during my deep dive into these job postings, I discovered a few non-traditional offers to prospective veterinarians…
A relief veterinary service advertising work-life balance in its title promoted the idea of “working as little or as much as you want” and “having control over your schedule.”
In another post, a dental-specific vet practice seemed to imply that their clinic is the place where stressed-out veterinarians have ended up and are happy. The shifts were long (10-11 hours each), four-day weeks, plus a shift every other Saturday.
However, these posts were starting to get to the real deal: The draw to these clinics was control over your schedule and narrowing one’s focus.
In order for veterinarians to achieve true work-life balance, we need to make a valid attempt at defining it. Work-life balance is not simply about hiking on weekends or cramming your work week into as few days as possible. It should be about achieving balance throughout each and every hour of every day.
There is no firm border between work and life. For the health of our industry, we need to recreate the traditional work parameters given so that we can enjoy work; not just get through our day.
The health and wellbeing of the veterinarian is a key pillar to the success of any clinic. Without a happy vet, you’re not providing the best treatment for the animals and their families. In order to create that healthy and happy work environment, a clinic should strive to allow for reasonable work hours, sustainable workloads and the ability to leave your work at work.
Having a narrowed-down focus can go a long away; for instance, focusing on primary care without the stress of surgery or the burden of navigating specialty cases at the same time. Some veterinarians prefer to work through one case at a time, giving quality care to each of their patients.
Today’s veterinarians are seeking more than just a steady income, with limited shift lengths or set hours per day being at the top of their lists. There are far too many practices where shifts longer than eight hours a day are keeping veterinarians away from any personal time. But by offering a finite, manageable work schedule, we can offer the balance that so many vets are seeking.
Finally, by limiting the scope of the cases, there is an opportunity for our industry to cut down on the amount of “work worry” that vets often carry home. A limited area of focus allows for the vet to come into work the next day clear-minded, well-rested and ready to take on whatever is presented to them.
As an industry we can demand more for our vet and pet care. As the rate of pet ownership continues to grow, this futuristic model will prove necessary. Why not create an environment that veterinarians and man’s best friend can both enjoy? +