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Burnout, compassion fatigue and moral distress in veterinary professionals

02 March 2023
19 mins read
Volume 14 · Issue 2
Table 1. Demographic data


Veterinary professionals are becoming increasingly exposed to, and concerned about, burnout, compassion fatigue and moral distress. Work-related stress can have a significant impact on quality of life and contribute to poor mental health. Several studies have shown that emotional exhaustion and mental health illnesses are significantly higher among veterinary surgeons, with the rate of suicide in the veterinary profession four times the rate in the general public. There is an abundance of evidence in the human healthcare field regarding burnout, compassion fatigue and moral distress, but there is very little research in the veterinary field. This study aimed to investigate whether veterinary professionals in the UK are experiencing burnout, compassion fatigue and moral distress, identify possible contributing factors, and ascertain whether veterinary professionals are able to recognise these conditions and have the tools to deal with them. The study found that veterinary professionals showed moderate levels of burnout and compassion fatigue, despite moderate levels of compassion satisfaction. Veterinary surgeons, patient care assistants and veterinary receptionists experienced low levels of moral distress, but registered veterinary nurses experienced moderate levels of moral distress.

Burnout, compassion fatigue and moral distress are prevalent in healthcare professions, yet there is limited evidence specifically relating to veterinary professionals (Gustavsson et al, 2010; Lamiani et al, 2017; Dev et al, 2018). Research highlights the prevalence of burnout and compassion fatigue in veterinary surgeons and veterinary students (Hansez et al, 2008; Reijula et al, 2003; Chigerwe et al, 2014; Mastenbroek et al, 2014; McArthur et al, 2017), but there is limited research regarding burnout in registered veterinary nurses, veterinary technicians and Australian veterinary nurses (Smith, 2016; Kogan et al, 2020; Beetham et al, 2020). Notably, Smith (2016) is the only UK-specific study of burnout and compassion fatigue in registered veterinary nurses and there are clear gaps within veterinary research exploring these conditions among patient care assistants and veterinary receptionists. Primary research among veterinary professionals regarding the prevalence and contributing factors of moral distress is extremely limited; and because veterinary professionals are involved in ethical dilemmas which other health professionals may not be exposed to, further research is required.

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