Exhaustion takes a heavy toll on veterinary medicine

veterinary doctor

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Workplace burnout costs the veterinary industry $2 billion annually, according to research from the Cornell Center for Veterinary Business and Entrepreneurship.

“Putting a price tag on how this human problem affects veterinarians and technicians makes it tangible. The reality is sinking,” says Dr. Clinton Neal, associate professor of veterinary economics and management, who leads the College of Veterinary Medicine’s research in this area. He authored a foundational study examining the economic cost of burnout.

Neil has been partnering with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) on much of this work. He recently joined them as Senior Economist and Co-Director of Strategic Business Research and Communication, in addition to his role at Cornell.

“When we hear about burnout, we often don’t understand the cost. That’s what’s missing from our literature,” says Charlotte Hansen, an economist and assistant director of statistical analysis at AVMA.

Neil and Hansen say it is critical to demonstrate the financial side of workplace burnout for the veterinary industry so that organizations and practices across the country can begin to take steps to mitigate the problem.

They use the World Health Organization’s definition of workplace burnout: a syndrome “resulting from chronic stress in the workplace that has not been successfully managed”. An individual experiencing fatigue may feel exhausted energy levelsExtreme fatigue and cynicism about the job. This could lead to poor performance, missing days, looking for new jobs, or retiring early. in both human and Veterinary medicineExhaustion can lead to an increase in medical errors.

“It’s not good for medicine of any kind,” says Neal.

The $2 billion figure comes from “The Economic Cost of Veterinary Fatigue,” which Neil and colleagues published in the journal Frontiers in veterinary science in February. Revenue losses are approximately $2 billion, 4% of the industry’s total value. The cost includes both vets and technicians, each accounting for nearly a billion dollars in lost dollars per kit.

Calculate the spread of fatigue

Neil’s research shows that more than half of vets experience fatigue. According to the AVMA, nearly 118,000 veterinarians worked in the United States in 2020, more than three-quarters of whom were AVMA members. Use AVMA 2016-2020 survey data of 15,315 responses to calculate fatigue prevalence, turnover, and reduction work hours. The authors cited other studies on the prevalence of burnout in the veterinary industry, which showed burnout to be higher among recent veterinary graduates; veterinarians with a high veterinary education debt; those who spent most of their time with cats and dogs; and among women. They also indicated that fatigue is more prevalent among those in private clinics.

“There’s actually less potential for fatigue if you’re a practice owner,” says Neal. “This is likely because in contrast, you have more control over opening hours and availability.”

Using AVMA data and two common quality-of-life measures, Neil and colleagues divided the answers into three categories: no fatigue, moderately burned and severely burned. He identified that these classifications are important because workplace burnout is not a binary concept. “It’s a spectrum, with different levels of stress contributing.”


The researchers focused on calculating the cost of the “moderately debilitated” and “severely debilitated” categories, using a cost-and-outcome analysis already established in Human Medicine. In basic terms, the analysis contains two main questions: How much revenue does someone bring into a practice and how much is lost when they leave?

When calculating their hours worked, the number of dollars they bring in, turnover, training costs and other similar items, Neil finds that the cost of burnout per vet ranges from $17,000 to $25,000 per year. He says this is a conservative estimate and that a reasonable cost is between two-thirds and three-quarters of a vet’s salary.

“If the average practice made six or seven hundred thousand dollars a year, and I had two exhausted vets, it could cost me as much as fifty thousand dollars,” says Neal. “That’s a lot of money in revenue and profits that can affect your business.”

Because this foundational study relies on data, Hansen notes that there are some things that cannot be measured in dollars when workplace burnout occurs. “When you lose people who have been in the field for so long — that knowledge base, that experience, that leadership — that’s a complete loss,” Hansen says. “It’s an intangible but important human consideration.”

She says it’s critical for data to feed any research into the topic, so that any solutions that emerge from it have a solid foundation. “It’s a commitment that AVMA takes very seriously and that our partnerships with third parties, including Cornell, add to the richness of that data.”

Contributing factors

Not a single smoking gun causes workplace burnout. “There are many factors that contribute to a person’s fatigue levels,” says Neal. “For veterinarians, debt in particular poses additional stresses on mental health.”

When taking into account licensed veterinary technicians, the contributing factors to fatigue differ slightly. “The element of burnout is the same, although they usually deal with clients more,” says Neal. “If you’re thinking about epidemiological changes like vet service on the sidewalk, they’re probably the ones to adapt and facilitate that as well.”

Hansen notes that workplace burnout is a larger phenomenon that is not unique to the human health care and veterinary fields. “It’s everywhere,” she says. “We see it in education with teachers, among social workers, and among law enforcement.”

With regard to veterinary professionals, the main factor driving burnout in the workplace is a Work environment They face time and time again long work hours, animal deaths, unexpected patient outcomes, customer complaints and more – all compounded, making recovery from workplace burnout a challenge for anyone.

Burnout rates were high even before the coronavirus pandemic, and data now released shows it has exacerbated the problem, Neil adds. “The major resignation, or major change, that has occurred in all industries in terms of employment, has not overtaken veterinary medicine,” he says. “Although the impact of the pandemic on employee turnover has dampened some, the health and well-being of the veterinary workforce remains a major issue for the profession.”

Searching for solutions

By providing data-driven research, AVMA and its partners hope to develop treatment plans for burnout at the organizational level, which Neil et al. highlight as essential to eventual success in relieving workplace burnout.

“This is a workplace issue that impacts the industry, so we want to provide a different view of what it actually costs in dollars — to understand it from an organizational standpoint, rather than telling individuals that the onus is on them alone to address it,” says Neal.

In the next stage of discovery, Neil and his colleagues teamed up with Dr. Sunita Sah of Cornell SC Johnson’s School of Business to find solutions to the problem of veterinary burnout in the workplace.

“If they implement the right interventions, managers can make a greater difference to relieving burnout in their organizations than individuals can do on their own,” says Sah, director of the Institute for Academic Leadership at Cornell University and associate professor of management and organizations.

Hansen, who will also collaborate on this stage of the research, agrees. “We have to move from individual solutions, because they don’t affect the large scale,” she says. “Fatigue is not just a feeling that someone can eventually get over on their own. It will take a system-wide change to alleviate it.”

Researchers suggest that veterinary medicine takes lessons from human medicine, which has successfully demonstrated a two-pronged approach to addressing work-related issues and providing support for an individual’s personal life.

“For business solutions, managers can improve their communications and teamwork processes to facilitate discussion of how best to work and overcome problems,” says Sah. She adds that open communication can lead to improvements that serve everyone, while creating a safe psychological environment for employees to express their concerns without fear of reprisal. “Work environments that the team perceived as psychologically safe were shown to have less stress, turnover, and fatigue.”

Neale agrees that applying specific models from human healthcare to veterinary medicine in a systematic way across industries can be key, and that the effects of the pandemic on the field can be an opportunity to think about how we operate in a very different way.

Ultimately, this research lays an important fatigue foundation for industry-wide change. Neil and colleagues expect that the industry’s final steps to address burnout will have a much more reasonable economic cost than Burnt Itself. For now, however, they’re letting this price tag sink into the field in general.

Neal says, “It costs you your business money. This is a really tangible thing for people.”

Workplace climate drives nurses’ perception of burnout

more information:
Clinton L. Neil et al., The Economic Cost of Fatigue in Veterinary Medicine, Frontiers in veterinary science (2022). DOI: 10.3389 / fvets.2022.814104

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the quote: Burnout Causes Exorbitant Financial Losses to Veterinary Medicine (2022, August 29) Retrieved August 29, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-burnout-heavy-financial-toll-veterinary.html

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