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5 steps to becoming a better client for your veterinarian

Lack of rural veterinary services and a lack of people wanting to enter the industry is creating a crisis.

May 31, 2024

4 Min Read
A young female veterinarian crouched down near a Holstein cow
VET BURNOUT: Dr. Lacey Fahrmeier offers insight to help foster stronger connections and mindful adjustments to help keep stress on your veterinarian down. shironosov/Getty Images

“Veterinarians only have so much bandwidth. If you don’t want your vet to burn out, you probably need to implement some of these things we're going to discuss,” says Dr. Lacey Fahrmeier, Valley Vet Supply technical service veterinarian.

She says Valley Vet’s attention is focused on the shortage of rural veterinarians, combating soaring levels of burnout and navigating the ongoing mental health crisis affecting the veterinary profession.

“There is a lack of rural veterinary services and people wanting to come into our industry. It’s a crisis. We have to change the mentality and culture of our industry to make it a profession people want to be a part of again,” says Fahrmeier, who also is a practicing veterinarian and owner at Stillwater Veterinary Clinic in Montana and represents the Private-Practice Predominantly Food Animal interests of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Veterinary Service.

The rural veterinary shortage is greater than ever before. In 2023, USDA reported 237 rural veterinary shortage areas across 47 states. Couple these statistics with the stark reality that veterinarians experience a suicide rate four times higher than the general population. To reduce unintentional daily stressors regularly faced by veterinary teams, Fahrmeier offers insight to help foster stronger connections and mindful adjustments:

Have a “daylight relationship” and a true partnership with your veterinarian. “This is very important so that the only time a veterinarian sees you isn't just for emergencies,” Fahrmeier says. “This allows for a true veterinary-client-patient relationship where your veterinarian really understands your operation and promotes the development of good herd health prevention plans.

“View your veterinarian as an asset to provide you with another set of eyes, someone to brainstorm ideas with about how to improve your operation — from not only a health perspective, but also nutrition or technologies that could benefit your operation. I think that clients will find that it's well worth the investment to have that strong relationship with your veterinarian.”

Implement healthy boundaries and better communication. “Because of the deep desire veterinarians typically have to help animals and people, I think that lends itself to having difficulty with maintaining healthy boundaries,” Fahrmeier says. “The results of that, unfortunately, can be seen in the high level of burnout in the veterinary profession. As with any good relationship, whether that's personal or professional, it does require solid communication from both partners, understanding healthy boundaries, having mutual respect for one another and sharing some common goals.

“Taking those principles and applying them to the relationship you have with your veterinarian, making them a key team player, can better assist you with your operation. There are only so many hours in a day, and veterinarians only have so much time and energy. Concise communication on non-urgent items through channels like email is often really appreciated.”

Understand, with inflation, there may be potential increases in clinical services. “Veterinarians are not trying to price-gouge anyone, but with inflation and the cost of doing business, prices for veterinary services have had to go up to continue providing services in those communities,” Fahrmeier says. “Historically, veterinarians have not been very good at making incremental price increases. Clinics seek to have technicians who stay in the profession and veterinarians be able to afford to purchase their own home and support their families. These aspects are made possible with support for your local veterinarian, and understanding.”

Prioritize safety for your veterinarian and staff. “Anything you can do to ensure the safety of the veterinarian and team is really appreciated and crucial to being able to do their job and continue to serve the community,” Fahrmeier says. “Do a walk-through of your handling facilities days before the appointment to ensure all gates, chutes and any restraints you’ll be using are working properly. Make the veterinarian aware if there is something an animal is averse to or that frightens them.”

Give potential emergency situations great thought. “I recommend assessing the situation and asking yourself, ‘Is this truly an emergency?’” Fahrmeier says. “As a client, if you can try to respect your veterinarian’s time and avoid after-hours communications, unless absolutely necessary, this will help decrease the level of burnout and make sure that veterinarians are available and have the energy, should an urgent health issue need to be addressed. In this case, acting quickly and calling your veterinarian before things are at a catastrophic level will result in a better outcome for both the animal and the people involved.”

Fahrmeier adds, “As a veterinarian, sometimes you just run out of resources in a day, and that's where being flexible and understanding really does go a long way. We want to take care of the animals and our communities.” 

Consider these best practices to help make a meaningful impact. Continue learning about animal health and more at valleyvet.com.

Source: ValleyVet

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