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Work-Life Balance & Wellness for Vet Techs

by Cathy Barnette - May 13, 2019 11:56:56 AM
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If you’re in vet tech school, I can almost guarantee that you have a passion for animals. You’re probably excited to be embarking on your career and looking forward to throwing yourself into your work, helping as many pets as possible.

Unfortunately, the same characteristics that drew you to this field can make it a difficult one for many vet techs. 

When you’re a person who cares for animals deeply, it can be easy to invest huge amounts of time and energy in your job. You might even be tempted to sacrifice your own needs for those of your patients. While this might sound like a good thing on the surface, it can actually harm your patients in the long run. You won’t be able to care for them effectively if you completely burn yourself out! 
The trick to a long, sustainable career in the veterinary field is striving for work-life balance and focusing on your personal wellness. 

What is work-life balance?

Work-life balance is a phrase that you’ll often hear tossed around, in the media and elsewhere, but it can be difficult to define. At its most basic, work-life balance is just what it sounds like… striking a healthy balance between your job and the rest of your life. Unfortunately, there’s no clear target or ideal for work-life balance. There is no way to look at someone’s job and say “Wow, that person has the perfect work-life balance!” The ideal work-life balance looks different to everyone and, in many cases, shifts throughout an individual’s lifetime. 
Some people are very passionate about their work and want to work long hours, bring work home with them, think about work-related issues in their free time, etc. Others might work very long hours out of financial necessity. While both of these may be feasible in the short term (to meet a specific goal), neither is sustainable over the long term. A lack of work-life balance often leads to exhaustion, poor health, and decreased social connections.(1)
Ultimately, work-life balance refers to a subjective feeling that your job is balanced with other key areas of your life. Your job is one of many contributors to personal wellness, and work-life balance comes from recognizing this fact and not making work your sole priority.
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Is it possible to find work-life balance in the veterinary field?

Work-life balance is possible for those in the veterinary field, but it isn’t always easy. A key component is setting healthy boundaries. 
While you may have little control over your work hours as a vet tech (this is a career in which emergencies often disrupt schedules!), there are a number of things that you can do to improve your work-life balance. The American Veterinary Medical Association makes the following recommendations for those in the veterinary profession:(2) 
  1. Don’t take work home. As tempting as it can be to bring home a patient that needs extra care, engage in conversation with clients after hours, think about patients in your free time, or stop by the clinic on your day off, these actions can negatively affect your work-life balance. Work hard while you’re at work, but try to put work out of your mind when you clock out for the day.
  2. Leave work on time as often as possible. While there will occasionally be emergencies that keep you at work late, you should be able to leave work on-time on a semi-regular basis. Try to work more efficiently, with the goal of leaving work on time. Consider speaking to your hospital management and coworkers, to see if you can implement a rotating schedule in which one or two techs are assigned to be the “late tech” if there are appointments that run past closing, emergencies, etc. If the culture of your practice is that no one ever leaves work on time and this is unlikely to change, consider looking for an employer that better supports work-life balance.
  3. Take a lunch break as often as possible. We all work through lunch occasionally, but this should be the exception, not the rule! When possible, get outside of the clinic for your lunch break. If you bring your lunch to work, try eating at a park or in your car instead of in the clinic break room.
  4. Use your free time efficiently. Try to improve your efficiency outside of work, using strategies like grouping errands together by location and limiting social media to help you reclaim “quality time.” The time that you free up can be spent on exercise, relaxation, family and friends, or other beneficial self-care. 
Work-life balance is a moving target and it’s nearly impossible to achieve “perfection” in this area. Still, seek out improvements when possible! Starting with those things that you can do yourself. Then, if necessary, speak with management and/or consider looking for better job situations. 

What is wellness and how does it relate to work-life balance?

According to psychologists, there are eight key categories of personal wellness.(3) These include: 
  1. Emotional Wellness: Ability to cope effectively with life
  2. Environmental Wellness: Occupying a pleasant environment
  3. Financial Wellness: Satisfaction with your current financial situation and future plans
  4. Intellectual Wellness: Having opportunities to be challenged and learn new things
  5. Occupational Wellness: Job satisfaction
  6. Physical Wellness: Healthy foods, physical activity, and adequate sleep
  7. Social Wellness: Having a support system or sense of community
  8. Spiritual Wellness: Finding purpose and meaning in life
In a perfect world, each of these categories would be given equal weight in your life. When looking at your work-life balance, think of which of these wellness categories are met through your work (in most cases, this will be occupational wellness and possibly financial wellness) and then ensure that you are giving attention to the other wellness categories in your life. 
Examples of career-related decisions that might negatively impact other areas of wellness, and ways to help minimize these impacts, include: 
  • A vet tech who works at a low-paying clinic, despite the fact that he/she is struggling to pay bills and save for their future, is negatively impacting their financial wellness. They should consider finding a higher-paying vet tech position, taking on a second job, moving into more affordable housing, and/or otherwise reducing monthly spending. 
  • A vet tech who works long hours and does not have time to prepare meals, instead frequently eating fast food on His/her way to and from work, is negatively impacting his/her physical wellness.They might consider preparing meals on the weekends to allow convenient access to healthy food, researching healthier options available at drive-through restaurants, and/or reducing work hours. 
  • A vet tech who frequently misses social events with friends and family, because he/she stays late at work nearly every night, is negatively affecting his/her social wellness. They might be able to minimize these effects by making a conscious effort to work efficiently and leave on time, helping to develop a rotating “late tech” schedule at their practice, scheduling social events on their days off work, changing their work hours, and/or seeking a job at a practice that closes earlier.
  • A vet tech whose job schedule results in him/her missing weekly religious services, which are very meaningful, is negatively impacting their spiritual wellness. Their options would include finding a religious service to attend on a different day, addressing their work schedule with her employer, and/or seeking a different job that would allow them to take that day off work.
The goal of work-life balance is to ensure that these eight wellness categories overall remain in balance. While there will always be emergencies that throw a loop in our best plans, and priorities often change from week to week, a good work-life balance should mean that work does not routinely have a negative impact on your emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, physical, social, or spiritual wellness. 
Re-evaluate the wellness categories often during your early years as a vet tech, searching for ways to improve your work-life balance. In many cases, being conscious of these issues will allow you to find your own solutions within a given job. In other cases, you may need to speak with your practice management to implement improvements within the workplace, or even consider a job change. 
Regardless of how you go about it, it’s important to find a healthy work-life balance in order to ensure a long, sustainable career as a vet tech. 

  1. Mayo Clinic. Work-Life Balance: Tips to Reclaim Control. 
  2. AVMA. Work-Life Balance & Boundaries. 
  3. Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. Eight Dimensions of Wellness. 
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About Cathy Barnette

Cathy Barnette is a practicing small animal veterinarian, freelance writer, and contributor to XPrep Learning Solutions. She is passionate about both veterinary medicine and education, working to provide helpful information to veterinary teams and the general public. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature with her family and leading a Girl Scout troop.

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