At VCA Animal Hospitals, we are taking care of the future of veterinary medicine and that starts with taking care of our people. This profession attracts talented people with huge hearts—and there are elements of this unique work that can cause stress, compassion fatigue and burnout. So, it’s critical that we support our team members in a variety of meaningful ways.
Of course, these issues are not unique to VCA Animal Hospitals. Across the veterinary profession, research shows significant challenges to well-being. For example, a recent well-being study that surveyed 30,000 veterinary professionals—conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association, Merck Animal Health, and Brakke Consulting—found that 92 percent of respondents rated increased stress as one of their top mental health challenges. The percentage of veterinarians with serious psychological distress increased to 9.7 percent in 2021, compared to 6.4 percent in 2019, due in large part to the ongoing pandemic. And among veterinary staff members, the prevalence of serious psychological distress was nearly twice as high (18.1 percent). In addition, half of staff members responding and approximately one-third of veterinarians reported high levels of burnout.
At VCA Animal Hospitals, we acknowledge these challenging realities—and we’re taking action at every level of the organization to support our people. It’s critical to have a variety of tools at hand to catch and support people in need, ideally before they ever reach a moment of crisis.
At the national level, we are working to make sure every team member has access to services and support. For example, all our team members have access to 12 company-paid sessions each year with a Lyra Health coach or mental health counselor. This service offers proven, well-researched strategies for optimizing mental health, and customizes the approach for each person. We also offer free access to Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app that provides digital tools to help manage stress, improve sleep and stay centered and focused. We also provide online suicide prevention training – and it’s a requirement for leaders.
But our hospitals come in all shapes and sizes. So, it’s also important that leaders at each of our hometown hospitals feel empowered to identify and support the needs of their hometown teams. Their caring and creativity has generated many different approaches.
Some of our largest specialty hospitals have licensed social workers on site to alleviate the emotional burden that team members carry in those high-stakes environments. Social workers educate our veterinary teams about how to care for themselves, their colleagues and their clients. Social workers also provide emotional support to pet owners who are struggling with challenges sometimes including life and death decisions about their pets’ health.
That level of on-site, in-person support isn’t right for every hospital and many have created other ways to support their teams in a way that’s meaningful to them.
For example, some of our smaller veterinary hospitals have developed well-being boards or newsletters, which they use to keep the well-being of their teams top of mind. They share tips, resources and strategies for team members to experiment with. These efforts acknowledge the need for team members to focus on their well-being and mental health and they offer tools and support.
“Our Associates have so much passion for the work they do with patients and clients, and they bring that same care to looking after one another.”
Other veterinary hospitals dedicate some space in the facility to promote well-being. These calm rooms offer gentle lighting, soft furnishings—it’s a place to relax and escape the demands of the hospital environment if only for a moment. Other veterinary teams lean into the Headspace tools and integrate moments of mindfulness and meditation into their workday. These hospitals have made a culture shift to carve out that important time and invest in mental health.
Our Associates have so much passion for the work they do with patients and clients, and they bring that same care to looking after one another. It’s exciting and impressive to see how they’re supporting each other as individuals. They’re finding what’s effective, and as a company, we’re learning from their experiments and experiences. Together we can share ideas and create tools that will really resonate for our teams, because they were developed by the people who need and use them.
The more we raise awareness, the healthier habits we’ll develop as a profession, and the longer team members will stay in the veterinary profession and thrive. Together, we’re setting a better example for the veterinarians and team members who are beginning their careers today.
We’re focused on reducing barriers that our Associates have told us prevent them from seeking care. That’s why we provide company-paid resources that can be accessed in ways and on a schedule that work best for our people.
I've experienced several family situations where the obstacles to mental health care have been seemingly overwhelming, so it’s a personal mission of mine to ensure that people who are in need get help easily. I’ve seen what happens when they don’t.
Associates tell us the biggest challenge is making the time. It’s hard for us to prioritize ourselves. We’re used to looking after others. Our hospitals are busy and there are always more patients that need to be seen. And those are just the pressures at work – there are LOT of competing priorities.
On top of that, our Associates often tell me how their teams are so tight knit. And it can feel selfish to say, “I need a break,” because others would need to do more work. There’s a bonding experience that comes from putting your head down and getting the work done—and that cultural dedication is hard to change. Positive hospital cultures allow team members to express their needs and feel comfortable in doing so. That might look like taking a break outside to breathe fresh air or listening to a Headspace exercise in the breakroom.
Caring for the future of veterinary medicine begins with taking care of our people. We’ve made a significant investment in the Associate experience, and those investments are paying off. Our hospital champions are leading cultural change through mindful moments and critical conversations. We’re committed to taking better care of ourselves and each other – so that we can deliver the best possible care to our patients.
Learn more about how VCA is caring for its caregivers.