Does being a locum reduce compassion fatigue in veterinary medicine?

Oxilia has hypothesized that self-employed status does not cause more emotional fatigue than those with employee status in the veterinary profession. We even suspect the opposite effect. We have conducted a survey in December 2019 amongst members of our community. 32 responded. Among them, 81% consider that when they practice as a replacement, their level of compassion fatigue seems to be equal to or less than they would experience as an employee.


When we listen to the experts on the subject of compassion fatigue, we learn that one of the first strategies to put in place in order to protect ourselves is to establish limits to the sympathy we feel when we are facing pain in our clients and patients. The key is to be able to help as health professionals while keeping in mind that we are separate humans with our own emotional needs.

This observation made us think about the type of relationship that the animal health professional establishes with their employer; the status could have an impact on compassion fatigue. When the working relationship is not “employer-employee”, but rather temporary like that of a self-employed worker, we were anecdotally told that the emotional involvement was less. The self-employed being the CEO of his own micro-enterprise must preserve themselves against this exhaustion. Consequently, the individual creates this limit intuitively in order to ensure that they meet the requirements in the execution of their mandate above all.

In December 2019, a survey was sent to all members of our community of veterinary and registered veterinary technicians (RVTs). We had 32 respondents. To the question “do you feel that as a LOCUM, you feel more, less or as much compassionate fatigue compared to EMPLOYEE status?” 53% of animal health professionals who have performed replacement contracts responded “experiencing less compassionate fatigue” compared to their employee experiences, while only 9% considered the opposite.

Statically, the results of this survey are sufficient to justify a broader and more extensive scientific study. Considering the importance on veterinary well-being, this style of practice should be explored for individuals who have difficulty creating this limit with their clientele. Working in the same team for years means that we get attached to certain patients who visit us regularly. Their pain and ultimately their euthanasia become a source of suffering for the team who have become attached.


In addition to compassion fatigue, stress negatively affects animal health professionals. We wanted to determine which were the greatest sources of stress. Each respondent had to choose their 2 major sources from the following 5 response options:

  • Lack of qualified personnel;
  • Filling out files;
  • Client requirements;
  • Tensions within the team;
  • Performed euthanasia.


Among our 32 respondents, the sources were cited in decreasing order: the lack of qualified personnel (37%), customer requirements (29%) and tensions within the team (24%). Euthanasia and filling in the files get 5% for each. The shortage of animal health professionals puts stress not only on managers and owners of vet practices but also on the rest of the team. Access to health care is also at risk, knowing that some establishments will have to reduce their hours or patient-load. One might think that the lack of personnel indirectly induces tensions within the team, its members being exhausted.


Another facet that we wanted to understand is whether members of the Oxilia community had provided a financial cushion in the event of medical leave.  The question asked was “If you feel compassionate fatigue, could you financially afford to reduce your hours of work?” 56% of respondents say they cannot afford to reduce their hours worked if they experience compassion fatigue.

It is likely that more and more animal health professionals will want to find a solution to this challenge by becoming self-employed, which allows them to increase their hourly rates faster and allow themselves more rest when they feel it. The need to take short term leave without feeling guilty is ultimately better for the team and community as a whole.

This survey, although informal and scientifically invalid, is the first in our community. We are satisfied that our impressions are good; Oxilia represents a healthy and financially positive alternative both for managers of veterinary establishments and for animal health professionals. Oxilia offers the freedom to determine its schedule and revenues while allowing clinics to meet urgent staff needs, both short and long term.

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