New resource helps practices safeguard mental health of staff, clients

Veterinarians have a tall order in front of them when it comes to managing the health and mental well-being of their patients, their clients, their co-workers - and themselves.

While many veterinarians might think that they’re capable of juggling those priorities, many eventually find that they have let problems intensify to the point where their professional or personal lives suffer.

Because many practices are unprepared to help staff effectively handle work-related stress or navigate difficult situations, AAHA Vice President Kate Crumley, DVM, MS, worked with an ad-hoc committee to develop an interactive document titled Human Support in Veterinary Settings.

Crumley took time to tell NEWStat why her committee felt the need to create the document, as well as how proper support can benefit veterinary practices.

Consequences of neglecting emotional support

Each day in a veterinary practice presents new opportunities for emotionally impactful experiences that staff members might not be equipped to adequately handle.

They could end up dealing with a client who is severely depressed over the loss of a pet, a staff member suffering from burnout or compassion fatigue, or a human resources issue that is quickly escalating to disruptive levels, Crumley said.

The consequences for practice staff of not promptly and effectively dealing with cases such as those can include:

  • Burnout
  • Personnel issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Domestic abuse
  • Physical illness

Clients can also succumb to issues related to emotionally trying situations, exhibiting some of the same signs as veterinarians and sometimes resorting to animal abuse or animal hoarding.

In the event of situations that are beyond the staff's scope, Crumley said it is important to immediately know when to contact a human support professional, which type of professional is needed, and which specific person to contact.

Crumley and the ad-hoc produced the Human Support in Veterinary Settings document to help practices answer those specific questions.

Putting a support plan in place

Human Support in Veterinary Settings describes resources that are available to veterinary practices to protect the emotional and mental welfare of employees. These include social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors.

The document discusses each resource’s areas of expertise and level of education to help people differentiate between them. The document also features worksheets that help practices identify local resources and decide when it is appropriate to use them.

“The document is an organizational tool that will make you think about things before you have to think about things,” Crumley said. “It increases our understanding of what these professionals do and how they can help us.”

Human Support in Veterinary Settings covers topics such as:

  • Different types of resources available to hospitals
  • How to locate resources in the practice’s area
  • How to evaluate resources and choose the right ones
  • How to make a referral for counseling
  • Worksheets for outlining human support resources

Dedicating some time to reading and filling out the document can give practices a head-start in knowing how to properly mitigate challenging situations, Crumley said.

“Knowing who you can call without trying to take all of that on either on yourself or on your practice manager, that’s a very efficient use of time and practice money,” Crumley said.

Read Human Support in Veterinary Settings (PDF document)