Paula Gerstenblatt

A Day In The Life: A Case Study Of A Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital

A Talk by Paula Gerstenblatt PhD (Associate Professor of Social Work, University of Southern Maine)

About this Talk

The unique relationship between people and pets is referred to as the human animal bond (HAB), with people identifying pets as members of the family (Risley-Curtiss, 2010; Maharaj, Kazanjian, Borgen, 2018; Maharaj, Kazanjian & Haney, 2016). Although evidence for a causal association between human well-being and companion animals is not exhaustive or conclusive, there is evidence that matches the folk wisdom that pets are good for people (Wells, 2009). Exploration of the HAB is the foundation of this descriptive case study of a busy multi-disciplinary veterinary practice from a social work perspective. This study elucidates understanding of HAB through participant experiences of loss and grief, love of animals, professional and personal dedication, and compassion fatigue within both professions.

Compassion fatigue is the result of secondary trauma and burnout (Thieleman & Cacciatore, 2014). Veterinarians provide ongoing care for pets, often the entirety of a pet’s life, which gives them the opportunity to form bonds with the pets and their families (Hanrahan, Sabo, & Robb, 2018). The job challenges of veterinarians have contributed to a disproportionately high suicide rate (CDC, 2019). Contributing factors include student debt, daily responsibilities of euthanizing pets, supporting pet owners, and being vilified for not meeting sometimes unrealistic expectations. While advances in medical care for pets improve and extend life, cost is high and many people are not able to pay, putting providers in hart wrenching situations. Recognition of compassion fatigue and support for veterinary providers has increased; however, it still falls short in proportion to the need.

Veterinary social workers relieve staff of moral distress and support clients and staff (Carrozza, 2018). Despite social workers in veterinary work environments since the early 1980s (Brackenridge & McPherson, 2016), exploration of the HAB in social work research and education has been slower going. In recent years notable gains have been made in veterinary social work courses, certificate programs, and research.

Researchers in this study interviewed fourteen staff members representing every clinic role and two clients. They observed the setting and reviewed documentation. Data analysis sorted information on how people began working with or living with animals, educational and work background, the routine of the workday, rewarding and challenging situations, and reflections on the profession. The sorted data was used to build the case narrative--a composite description/story of a day in the life of the practice. This process allowed for immersion in participant experiences. The veterinary practice provided a rich context with the co-location of emergency and specialty veterinary care, which include accidents, sudden or critical need, oncology, ophthalmology, acupuncture, and other specialty animal care. Researchers will present the case study and how the HAB can inform social work practice in and outside of veterinary settings.

Learning Objectives

1) Gain a deeper understanding of the significance of pets to human well-being;

2) Gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between social work and veterinary care; and

3) Identify roles social workers can play in and outside of veterinary settings.

October 08, 2020, 09:30 PM

09:30 PM - 10:30 PM

About The Speakers

Paula Gerstenblatt

Paula Gerstenblatt PhD

Associate Professor of Social Work, University of Southern Maine