Compassion Fatigue affects veterinary medicine we know, but it also affects those involved in “human” medicine, where we can learn a great deal:
“Self-awareness is especially important for persons working in high-stress settings that require great intelligence and high standards. In such professions, “perfectionism and its associated demon, fear of failure” can be quite dangerous to the types of persons attracted to health care…It is believed that they should always be at the peak of technical proficiency, emotionally available, straightforward, clear, and compassionate.” ~ Robert J. Wicks, Overcoming Secondary Stress in Medical and Nursing Practice
I’m sure we would all agree that this is a tall order to fill. While it’s nice to know that we possess great intelligence and have high standards, we must also admit that we have planted ourselves in a high stress occupation. We often demand perfection, of ourselves and those around us. It is difficult for us to admit mistakes or even misgivings or fears of new challenges. When mistakes are made, we can be hard on each other…but that’s nothing compared to how hard we are on ourselves. Yet mistakes help us grow, so we need to be accepting of our challenges and those of others.
Due to the fact that we need to be at the peak of technical proficiency, we must continue to learn and grow as veterinary medicine evolves. In order to stay emotionally available, we must open our hearts to both our patients and our clients, yet maintain a healthy distance so that we avoid or minimize compassion fatigue. While we sometimes find it is easy for veterinary professionals to remain straightforward and clear, particularly when discussing the medicine aspect, to demonstrate compassion is a much more difficult thing to do.
Yet of all the factors that our clients expect, compassion is the most important. Compassion comes across in the words we say, but also in the things we do: appropriate eye contact, attentive listening, open body language, soft tone of voice, a touch of a hand on a shoulder, or a hug when needed. In order to preserve the human-animal bond, we must create human-human bonds as we move forward in our practices and profession.