Although compassion fatigue is a relatively new concept to the veterinary profession, burn out is not! We would all probably say “Yes!” if asked if we have experienced burn out. In fact, these are both conditions that can lead to lower job satisfaction and decreased physical and mental health, but for different reasons.
In the research I have done, I found this to be the best way of distinguishing one from the other (and this comes from a doctor in the “human” healthcare world):
Burn out is a result of the stresses that arise from the work environment, whereas compassion fatigue is a result of the stresses that arise from our personal relationships with clients and patient.
So, if you are tired of long shifts, low pay, a long commute, a broken-down facility with equipment in disarray, you are experiencing stress because of the external environment surrounding you at work.
However, if you form very strong relationships with the pets and their families, you are susceptible to compassion fatigue. The difficulty is learning how to have these relationships when we are so empathic that hearing stories of trauma from our families, watching a befriended animal die, or feeling the myriad of emotions overwhelms and disables us.
By sheer necessity, some begin building a wall. Some of us will take big, heavy bricks, grunt, pull, work hard to put them in place and hide behind this impermeable barricade. Others will have realized how to add a screen door, or a see-through storm door, or a trellis to stay behind, still feeling the feelings that called us to veterinary medicine, while protecting us from the worst of it.
I once asked the veterinary community, do you care too little? Or do you care too much? Getting closer to an answer for YOU will help you start navigating the territory where compassion fatigue lives.
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