Burnout and Veterinary Practice Owners: Do You Know the Short and Long Term Effects?

How a Bump in the Road Can Impact the Value of Your Practice.

Signs and Symptoms of Occupational Burnout

Veterinary clinic owners are the pillars of their practice. They are multi-tasking entrepreneurs that wear so many hats during a normal business day. Today, running a successful animal health practice requires the owner to have a full list of skills and knowledge. These go far beyond what is studied in school and include accounting, human resources, property management, equipment maintenance, and ordering and purchasing to name just a few. Vets tend to be over-achievers who believe that they are invincible. Despite the beliefs, you are human and are affected by stress just like anyone else.

The veterinary field is no different than other fields of medicine when it comes to stress, long hours, and a need for a healthy work-life balance. In fact, animal healthcare may be more stressful at times; you not only have a patient to evaluate and treat, but also have an owner(s) that is/are concerned about their pet’s ongoing needs and medical care. This, combined with professional and personal obligations associated with veterinary medicine, can lead to occupation burnout and potentially serious health issues.

The observation of compassion fatigue and occupational stress among professionals working in animal care occupations has gained interest over the past decade. Several studieswithin the last five years have evaluated this relationship and found that people caring for suffering animals and those involved in the process of euthanasia reported significantly greater levels of work stress and lower job satisfaction[1]. This may result in employee turnover at higher rates than normal, psychological stress, and other conditions directly related to stress.


What is Occupational Burnout?

Occupational burnout is your mind and body’s reaction to chronic stress related to your occupation. The psychological, behavioral and physiological effects of occupational stress can lead to the classic signs of burnout. These can include lower levels of self‐esteem, motivation and job satisfaction, exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of reduced professional ability.


Identifying the Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

The signs and symptoms can be divided into three main categories. They include physical and emotional exhaustion, feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment and cynicism and detachment. Each of these categories is characterized by certain signs and symptoms.


Signs of physical and emotional exhaustion:


  • Insomnia
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Forgetfulness, impaired concentration, and attention
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Neuroticism
  • Increased incidence of illness
  • Physical symptoms including chest pain, headaches and gastrointestinal disorders

Signs of Ineffectiveness and Lack of Accomplishment


  • Increased irritability
  • Feelings of apathy and hopelessness
  • Lack of productivity
  • Poor work performance

Signs of Cynicism and Detachment


  • Pessimism
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Isolation
  • Detachment


A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education found that personality changes indicated above are an excellent predictor of occupational stress[2]. Previous research focused on environmental factors and overlooked the influence on personality.

If you, any associates, or staff members are experiencing these symptoms, there is a good chance that you need to identify and address the factors that are affecting you. If you aren’t experiencing these symptoms, you should still keep these warning signs in mind. Burnout does not happen overnight. It is something that can creep up on you as you’re living your busy life. There are many ways to decrease stress and prevent burnout.


Ways to Decrease Stress and Prevent Burnout

Taking time out of each day to relieve stress from your mind and body is absolutely vital. Stress reduction can include anything from deep breathing exercises to a vigorous cardio workout. These preventative measures can be done before, during or after work. Some suggestions include:

  • Take a walk (even during a lunch break)
  • Watch a movie that makes you laugh
  • Play a game with friends or family
  • Paint, draw or write
  • Try yoga, meditation or tai chi


You need to identify what makes you most stressful, the way you feel when this happens and what will work for youto decrease this stress. If you know that you are about to experience an event that is particularly stressful for you, take about 10 to 15 minutes for quiet time. During this time, you can practice deep breathing and gather your thoughts. The best thing you can do is to identify the situations or events that are triggers for stress and take immediate action. If you choose not to recognize them, you risk burnout.

Consequences of Burnout That Affect Veterinary Business Owners

The result of occupational stress can also impact the practice and may include lower levels of productivity and performance, loss of revenue and growth potential, poor relationships and teamwork, and increased absenteeism and turnover.

Loss of Revenue

The first place most clinic owners notice the impact of absenteeism is on their practice’s bottom line. If he or she needs to stop working, who will threat their patients or perform surgical procedures? Burnout can lead to lost wages, decreased productivity, poor quality of services and additional management time.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, on average, companies lose approximately 2.8 million workdays a year[3]. They report that almost 2/3 of unscheduled absences have to do with illness and family issues. The others are due to personal needs, stress and workplace injuries.  In Canada, companies lose an estimated $16.6 billion in productivity each year due to workers calling in sick, as a result of mental health issues related to stress, disability, and financial concerns[4].  As you are aware, it is far easier to hire an employee for a technical position than it is to replace a vet. There is greater impact if the vet clinic owner needs to be replaced (short of long-term) because of burn-out.

Leadership Abilities

The more time a person in a leadership role is on leave of absence, more difficult is becomes to keep the business on track.  In addition, absenteeism affects the other members of the team. The employees who continue to work are often burdened with extra duties, responsibilities, and overtime to fill in for missing coworkers. This can lead to feelings of frustration and a decline in morale.

Some businesses see a change in their team dynamic after the owner is out for just a 2-week vacation. Imagine what would happen with a 2-month leave. Some individuals might challenge the status quo and push to make changes; these could include changing effective schedules and protocols currently in place. These challenges can be difficult to overcome, especially for a returning vet owner who is not completely well or healed. The vet owner might decide to lower his or her expectations regarding  customer service standard.

Progressive Return

After an extended leave of absence, there may be a fear associated with working at full capacity. An individual returning after experience the consequences of burnout might need a progressive return and be concerned about the amount of time he or she is now investing. When you are a business owner, this reduction in the workload will ultimately negatively impact your income. It will also limit your availability for the pet owners who love you the most.

Growth Opportunities

If you are experiencing the symptoms of burnout as were discussed above (lower levels of self‐esteem, motivation and job satisfaction, exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of reduced professional ability), you might pass on an opportunity that could be beneficial.  This change in your energy level will have an impact on your clinic, and you as the driving force. These opportunities could include the expansion of the clinic, being involved in a local shelter or even starting a new project. It is like being forced to “take a back seat” while your competitors are excelling. If you see this in yourself, it’s time to make a change for the better.

Oxilia Can Help

For practice owners, temporary (or relief) veterinary staff can offer more than just relief from what seems to be endlessly stressful workdays. These qualified individuals can provide support during periods of temporary staffing shortages (vacations, medical and maternity leaves, etc.), and can make it possible for a practice to get qualified help without the financial commitment of adding a 40-hour-per-week staff member.

Staffing for Planned and Unexpected Absences

Everyone needs a break for one reason or another! As a successful business owner, you know that the doors to your clinic cannot close because of an illness, vacation or extended leave.  Oxilia has the resources and experience to match your needs with skilled veterinarians, animal health technicians or veterinary students.  Through our online recruitment platform, we have access to animal health professionals across Canada and are able to place these individuals in any setting throughout all ten provinces.

Expand Your Business and Generate More Revenue

Have you ever wanted to find more hours in the day? Our temporary placement service is here for you! Using a relief veterinarian, animal health technicians or veterinary student to grow your business can allow you the flexibility to add more hours of service, provide breaks for staff and reduce the burden of overtime. This can also help minimize staff leave of absences and possible turnover due to burnout. All while providing for your clients and patients with quality professional services, without the expenses associated with hiring a part-time or full-time associate. With Oxilia, you can utilize our available professionals on an as-needed basis. Use our staff to cover all of the demands of running a successful practice. We can you find the perfect relief professionals to suit your needs. Hire a relief veterinarian today!


[1]“Interventions for occupational stress and compassion … – APA PsycNET.” 11 Sep. 2018, http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2018-09296-001.

[2]“The Effect of Personality on Occupational Stress … – jvme – UTP Journals.” https://jvme.utpjournals.press/doi/10.3138/jvme.0116-020R.

[3]“4.2 million workers have illness-related work absences in January 2018.” 29 Mar. 2018, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2018/4-point-2-million-workers-have-illness-related-work-absences-in-january-2018.htm?view_full.

[4]“How Much Are You Losing to Absenteeism? | Mercer Canada.” 26 Apr. 2018, https://www.mercer.ca/en/our-thinking/how-much-are-you-losing-to-absenteeism.html.