How to Beat Burnout, Based on an Industry Known for It
As quarantine drags on and the number of video conferences becomes incalculable, we’re all more prone to burnout than ever
As quarantine drags on and the number of video conferences becomes incalculable, we’re all more prone to burnout than ever. But while some offices are experiencing it for the first time, one animal clinic finds itself in overdrive towards its original aim: to end burnout in an industry notorious for it and preserve passion for the work. Leaders in any field can learn a lot from
’s well-timed debut last year and its wild 2020.
The veterinary world, it’s been noted, has shockingly high rates of burnout and suicide, with the latter 4.4 times the national average. It’s also been noted that the field is historically reticent to take advantage of new technologies and practices like telemedicine, until compelled by COVID-19.
With those occupational pressures in mind, Dr. Zaynab Satchu, DVM, and her two colleagues, Mo Punjani and Lukas Keindl, had co-founded Bond Vet to smooth out the vet care experience for all parties: practitioner, pet, parent. These are the principles that have carried Bond to expansive success since its inception and through quarantine.
Form follows function, function follows need
Bond conscientiously configured its clinics to save time while enhancing space—all the way down to a waiting room designed for animal accessibility and comfort. The primary and urgent care practice opened locations around New York City just before COVID-19’s explosive arrival shuttered the town.
Suddenly, all the care put into the in-office experience took a backseat to video chat. Yet surprisingly, the pandemic accelerated the business’s purpose, as telehealth streamlined cases by criteria for in-person care. While Satchu points out that video adds very little information to a phone consultation, she values telehealth as a triage method. “Launching telehealth was absolutely, in part, a way to reduce traffic through the space,” she says. “To keep the cases that needed to be seen actually in-clinic.”
Remote consultations became an impetus for Bond’s plan to prioritize patient health in a way that’s sustainable for its staff. Adjusting to quarantine, Bond stuck to a clear delineation of work hours to combat always-on fatigue. Its first step was to foster its staff’s strengths rather than feed on them.
Provide the tools to do top work, then the challenge to do so
Prioritizing the team’s enthusiasm for animal wellbeing (Satchu is at her most exuberant discussing all the ways to improve health for pets), the board designed their clinic to keep empathy, warmth, and approachability at its forefront. Guided by these values, they would work to reduce stress. They asked themselves at every step what would solve the most common complaints on all sides.
Satchu’s entire career has been research for this question. She began her veterinary career at 15, shoveling patient dung at a clinic on a volunteer basis, driven entirely by her love of animals. If anyone understands the discrepancy between the attraction and the demands of this job, she does. Division of caseload was a major pain point, while better dialogue was necessary to delineate it.
“Communication is really underrated,” she says, explaining that Bond balances its assignments with “very, very frequent check-ins with each veterinary team member.” That habit has been integral to balancing work loads across staff and clinics. Satchu inspires her team with adaptability, but that requires her to push them into discomfort to find their best work.
She asks herself how to elevate each team member to the point where they can not only manage themselves, but lead and manage others. It’s a good attitude for a coach to have, and Satchu pointedly describes her crew of professionals as a team, not a family. Everyone has a role, knows their functions and responsibilities, and is accountable to deliver them.
Honor the working arrangement and respect the time
“By nature, clinic environments are busy spaces,” says Satchu. “They fluctuate in emotional ups and downs, they fluctuate in physical ups and downs. ER environments, for example: there are cases that are coming in at odd hours of the night so you have a team that's nocturnal and working round-the-clock sometimes: sheer exhaustion.”
That’s why Bond delineates and enforces downtime. “People—when they're off they should be off, and I don’t think that’s respected as much in the veterinary world. We know from our human counterparts that if you allow for as much off time as on time, you end up with a better, more functional team.”
Satchu and her peers weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel with Bond, just steer it around the potholes and speed bumps they saw. And just maybe patch the flat that’s costing so many “passionate human beings who love what they can do” the support they need in return. Bond has addressed many of these problems, but it’s a recurring question even when things are normal.
“There's no one simple solution,” she sighs. “If I had the recipe, then I would share that with the world and we would be able to get on with it.”
Stress-test the model for tomorrow’s changes
“Pets are booming,” she observes like a captain staring at a storm on the horizon. “It’s going to be hard to keep up with client expectations.”
She’s already kicking around ideas that would unify her community with clear communication. She cops to having “15-20 pages’ worth of projects to incorporate from tech to operations,” but recognizes it’s better to walk before running.
Carving out a space in the field that clients don’t know they need until it exists seems like the best (and biggest) answer to her, but there’s a dialectic between a one-stop shop for general purpose and the hyperspecialization that Satchu sees growing to pets’ benefit. Both are essential, but how to synchronize them is a question vet medicine will be answering as care continues to change through innovators like Bond, fellow NYC comfy-care clinic Small Door, and LA’s Modern Animal.
Still, if Bond’s first year proves anything, it’s that even the most carefully considered present can flip to the future fast.
“It’s on us to make a more centralized approach over the next five to ten years,” says Satchu, since “the next two decades will be the biggest change in forever.” She foresees genetic tests extending pet longevity, speeding up recovery, and improving pain management—all of which evoke the affection for animals that lead so many to choose vet care as a career despite its demands.
With the economy in recession and startups more vulnerable than most, transformation is imperative. But companies should be conscious that they are still following the values that gave them their foundation, even as they ask employees to approach them by a different route.