Contrary to what many people might think, the veterinary profession isn’t always warm and fuzzy.
Like any other health-care worker, those who care for others all day may feel drained, as though their well of empathy has run dry. It’s a phenomenon known as compassion fatigue.
Mindfulness has become an important tool in navigating the daily challenges of veterinary practice for Dr. Kim Freeman, a board-certified veterinary oncologist at Veterinary Cancer & Surgery Specialists in Milwaukie.
“To me compassion fatigue is about losing sight of why we as veterinarians became veterinarians,” she says.
Early in her career, she was beginning to feel compassion fatigue creep in, so she attended a workshop based on Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen’s “Finding Meaning in Medicine” program. She learned a journaling exercise there that helped her shift perspective dramatically.
“There are all kinds of positive things that come out of what I do,” she says. “Trying to focus on those parts of the day rather than the exhausting and draining parts of the day was really helpful for me.” There are certainly plenty of patients that have good outcomes and successes. Sometimes those successes are small, but they still count as success. However, not every patient has a good outcome and often the situations are very emotional and upsetting. Finding tools to cope with this part of the job is important, otherwise it is hard to stay focused and provide the best care. As the airline industry always points out when you get on the plane: in case of emergency, please put on your own oxygen mask first, before you help the person next to you. It is so important to remember that you can best help others, by taking care of yourself first.