Long before COVID-19 arrived, vets and vet nurses were quiet, hard workers who didn’t complain about less than ideal working conditions. And, possibly unbeknownst to most of the pet-owning public, for many veterinary staff, challenging working conditions were the norm.
Since this crisis hit, these essential workers are not getting much opportunity or airtime to communicate the difficulties they currently face at work.
The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has put the challenges of veterinary work on steroids.
I know a bit about what it takes to work in this industry. I fell in love with veterinary work at 15, when I started volunteering at a local vet clinic. I wiped down tables, cleaned cages, and held animals. Then I started work as a casual junior vet nurse on Saturday mornings.
I committed the second half of my teenage years to the tunnel-visioned hard work it took to get into veterinary science at university.
I worked as a small animal vet for twenty years, in many different practices in Australia and the UK. Working conditions ranged from excellent to atrocious.
Thanks to my experiences, I know this:
Vets don’t talk about their work stresses outside their own tightly knit vet circles. Some of us don’t even confide our struggles to our colleagues. We talk about our cases in detail for hours, but many of us still cringe at opening up about the state of our mental health.
Our clients get our kindness, our compassion, our sympathy, our skills, our knowledge, our communication skills. But they never see our vulnerability. They don’t understand how high our risk of burnout (borne of caring too much and being overworked and undervalued) is.
They don’t see that when we walk through the door of the clinic our rostered working hours become irrelevant because we give ourselves over completely to everyone else who walks through that door after us.