Veterinarians: Minimizing Occupational Hazards

Veterinarians Minimizing Occupational Hazards by Deborah Y. Strauss D.V.M.

As with any healthcare profession, veterinarians are prone to certain occupational hazards. Part of being an expert in the industry is taking control of your own personal safety. You won’t be useful to any animals if you’re injured yourself.

Coping with Unpredictable Animals

Animals who visit the vet are often scared and in pain. When animals feel threatened, their instinct is sometimes to protect themselves. When it’s just a bite or scratch from a smaller animal, like a cat or a rabbit, most vets consider this a routine part of the day. Personal protective equipment, proper vaccination and being aware of your surroundings are three ways to ensure minimal damage.

What’s more dangerous is when veterinary professionals are treating large animals. Bigger dogs are one example, but many vets (such as myself), also travel to farms and care for horses, cattle, etc. In addition to being sure that you never stand within kicking range of a large horse, it’s also important that vets are cautious of farm equipment.

Home Visits

That leads me to my second point. I visit farms fairly frequently, but I also visit homes to do euthanizations and other treatments. When traveling to unpredictable houses alone, it’s always important to remember your personal safety.

For example, make sure at least one person knows the addresses you’ll be visiting, along with the time you’ll be home. There is a very slim chance of anything going wrong, but you can never be too cautious.

During travel, motor vehicle safety is another part of the equation. Safe driving is a given, but you should also be sure that you do routine vehicle maintenance so you don’t break down on the side of the road. Something as simple as a flat tire could inconvenience both you and your clients.

Medical Equipment

Whether in the office or on the road, veterinary professionals may come in contact with hazardous drugs, needles, and harmful chemicals.

Wearing the proper safety equipment, such as gloves, masks, eyewear, etc., is the best way to stay protected.

Other Professionals

This topic goes beyond veterinarians and vet techs. Animal groomers, zoo and aquarium workers, animal shelter volunteers and animal trainers should all be conscious of the workplace hazards they could be exposed to, and ask about precautions they should be taking for the safety of themselves and other animals.

How Veterinarians Cope with Euthanasia

How Veterinarians Cope with Euthanasia by Deborah Y. Strauss D.V.M.

Perhaps the only thing harder than losing a pet is having to endure the experience several times a day. Veterinarians and their staff can sometimes participate in four or five euthanizations in a single day. Doing so is difficult and doesn’t seem to get any easier with time.

It’s tough to make the process painless for anyone (except the animal), but there are ways vets and their staff can cope with these losses.

Showing Emotion

Vets and staff members often cry when euthanizing an animal, and it’s important to make it known that this is okay. Doing so honors the loss and lets the family know that others truly care about both them and their animal. The rule of thumb is generally not to cry harder than the pet’s owner, but a good cry is a healthy and natural response that vets shouldn’t stifle.

Grieve Together

Veterinary office staff work together and support each other every day to save lives. There is no reason not to do the same when a life ends. Once a month, have a short staff meeting where the pets who were lost during the month are remembered. Grieving together is often helpful and the ceremony can serve as a rite of passage that helps bring closure.

Make Smart Hires

Some veterinary clinics will euthanize an animal at the owner’s request, even if the pet isn’t sick or injured. Known as convenience euthanization, this procedure is sometimes viewed as cruel. Some vets won’t perform this procedure, but others will. It’s important for clinics that do provide this service to tell potential employees that during their interview. Some people find this practice immoral and will struggle if asked to participate. They may do better working elsewhere.

Choose Participants Carefully

Over time, vets and vet techs form special bonds with certain pets and their owners. If a bonded animal needs euthanized, it’s a good idea to ask the staff member if they wish to assist. Some will want to be present when special animals go to sleep. Others won’t. Respecting these wishes allows staff members to grieve in the best way for them.

Send a Note

Doing good feels good, so encourage staff members to provide comfort to pet owners. Send a sympathy card shortly after the appointment and again on the anniversary date. This helps pet owners know that their beloved animal is remembered and can help staff members feel good about offering continuing support to clients.

Services at My Deborah Y. Strauss D.V.M. Mobile Veterinary Clinic

One way my practice is unique is that I’m willing to do house calls for euthanization. For example, if your beloved pet would be more comfortable passing at home instead of making a stressful trip to the office, that is a courtesy I’m more than willing to provide. I’ve found that it’s a more pleasant experience for pets and owners alike.

Tips for Managing Work-Related Stress as a Veterinarian

Tips for Managing Work-Related Stress as a Veterinarian by Deborah Y. Strauss D.V.M.

I know what you might be thinking… Veterinarians get to work with adorable animals all day. What is there to stress about?! The truth is that a veterinarian’s job can be just as stressful as any career in the medical profession.

Dangers of High Stress

Taking time to relieve stress is vital to a vet’s overall health. If a veterinarian has high stress levels for a prolonged period of time, it could lead to depression, anxiety, related health problems, or even burnout at work.

Managing Stress

Everyone veterinarian has different methods for managing their stress levels. Some turn to exercise and practice yoga, running, etc. Others prefer more artistic outlets, such as expressive writing. For me, my artwork is a stress-relieving part of my day.

One approach that I’ve seen help most people is mindfulness. When you notice that you’re becoming stressed, take a step back and examine your thoughts. If possible, take a short break from what you’re doing, breathe deeply, then continue on with your day. The power of positive thinking (and sometimes humor) can do wonders for your peace of mind and productivity.

There is also no shame in asking for professional help. Even those in the medical profession sometimes need to seek expert advice from a psychologist or psychiatrist. The key is finding stress management tactics that work for you.

Don’t let stress become a part of life that you just accept. Be proactive in finding ways to cope with that stress for a happier, healthier life.