Jessica DeCesare, the chief people officer at VetEvolve, has spent 22 years providing consultative practice management solutions to a broad range of U.S. veterinary practices. She is a certified veterinary practice manager and a member of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association, the International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, and the Society of Human Resource Management.Read Articles Written by Jessica DeCesare
Since joining the veterinary profession in 2000, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with many fantastic veterinarians as they face good days and bad. Because of the experiences, I have become in tune with how they feel. Sometimes, it’s written all over their faces. But sometimes, too, I detect indicators that might be masked by a smile, whether genuine or forced. All too often these days, I see signs of stress, burnout, compassion fatigue, personal challenges and more. Try as the veterinarians might, it’s not something they can hide for long.
We’ve all seen the stats. A recent study by Merck Animal Health, for example, found that 92% of the respondents rated increased stress as one of their top mental health challenges. And it’s not limited to the folks with DVM/VMD after their name. The same goes for technicians, assistants, administrators and anyone else who helps make a veterinary practice run smoothly. The stressors might vary, but they are no less serious to one’s mental health.
The good news is that veterinarians and staff members have become more open and honest about their well-being. As the chief people officer at VetEvolve, a multilocation veterinary practice management group, my responsibility is to care for the mental well-being of our veterinarians and team members while they care for the well-being of pets and the people who love them. That requires not only acknowledging the challenges faced by practice teams every day but also providing resources to ease the related stress.
At VetEvolve, we strive to make happiness a fundamental part of our practices, as evidenced by our “Happy Starts Here” initiative. While being happy doesn’t necessarily mean being stress-free, everything we offer and all we do is intended to support the happiness of our veterinarians and team members — from providing professional development and the freedom to practice medicine their way to checking in with them and celebrating their personal and professional successes.
Here are a few ways to support your team inside and outside of work.
1. Lunch Breaks
We make sure our team members take time out for lunch. Many times, lunch breaks can be consumed by patient callbacks or paperwork. We encourage doctors to carve out a lunch brain break. A recent enhancement to our resources are health and wellness workshops called “The Betterinary Series: Building a Betterinarian.” Open to all team members and featuring an expert speaker, the online sessions are designed to help individuals manage job stress and become happier professionally and personally. The feedback is overwhelmingly positive, and several participants offered good suggestions for future topics. Other opportunities to unwind include a series of lunchtime classes focusing on stress-management techniques, including virtual yoga and Tai Chi Easy. Again, those options are available to the entire team. No yoga pants or mat required.
2. Time Off
Sometimes, the simplest and most obvious things can help reduce daily or long-term stress. Taking time off is an extremely important benefit our veterinarians have as part of their compensation package. Leadership not only encourages but also requires our employees to take time to enjoy vacation, hobbies and friends and family, and not feel guilty about it. We bring in relief veterinarians to ensure we continue to provide high-quality, necessary veterinary care. Each day, our employees are encouraged to step outside for a few minutes between appointments, take a brisk walk at lunchtime and leave a scheduled shift on time.
3. Mentoring Programs
There are times when having someone to talk to is important, regardless of whether the issue involves something on or off the job. Peer-to-peer and mentor-mentee opportunities are widely available throughout the organization. We encourage people to listen to one another, understand and adapt to different communication styles, and take a hands-on approach to their training and growth as well as those of others. We know they work in a tough, often stressful environment, and we want them to know that we will support them personally and professionally at every stage of their career and that they can always reach out to our leadership or one another for a simple conversation, advice or career support. In situations where early-career veterinarians might feel more comfortable talking to someone outside the organization, we sponsor their participation in an external program where veterinarians share challenges, frustrations and victories with each other.
4. Support From the Start
New veterinarians are welcomed into a supportive environment and treated like family even before Day One. Personalized onboarding plans include mentorships with long-time veterinarians who share not only their professional knowledge but also their secrets to success. These early relationships often prove to be career-long. Cross-clinic collaboration and camaraderie are facilitated by Community, an online message board where veterinarians can post comments, questions or concerns, often sparking lively, peer-to-peer conversations.
5. Always Listening
We know that team members’ personal and professional needs and wants change, so we work together on customized career plans to help support their goals, interests and overall work-life balance so they can live a full life. Candid, one-on-one conversations about where they are now and where they hope to be in two or three years help chart a basic course.
It’s only natural for anyone in the veterinary industry to feel stressed from time to time. But by reducing the stressors and providing relief valves, we can help teams stay physically and mentally healthy, and the smiles won’t have anything to hide.