Battling Compassion Fatigue: How One Vet Gives Back to Those in Need

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compassion fatigue

Compassion. Altruism. Balance. These are three terms that Dr. Liz Grey, DVM, uses when describing the nature of her work. As the owner of Carmel Mountain Ranch Veterinary Hospital in San Diego, California, Dr. Grey has seen it all. For her, working as a veterinarian is a way to make a difference, to do something that matters. 

And in an industry fraught with mental health issues — and more than a fair amount of compassion fatigue — it’s important to find this balance. For Dr. Grey, the balance that many struggle to find comes from a deep sense of fulfillment and purpose in both life and profession.

Which is why she has been involved with nonprofit organization Shelter to Soldier since its founding in 2012. This routine of giving back is something that Dr. Grey feels is a part of who she is — and she encourages other vets to do the same.

Shelter to Soldier is a 501(c)(3) organization founded by Graham and Kyrie Bloem. Shelter to Soldier adopts suitably tempered dogs from rescue organizations. The dogs are then put in a comprehensive and kind training program so that they may become psychiatric service dogs trained to assist veterans suffering from common issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Thanks to the assistance of experienced dog trainers, Shelter to Soldier has been able to match veterans with service dogs who have been given a new lease on life. 

Finding a Cure for Compassion Fatigue

Dr. Grey, whose fiancé is a Navy veteran, feels close ties to the military, which helped nudge her toward involvement with an organization focused on helping veterans struggling with mental health issues.

“My family is very altruistic,” Dr. Grey explains. “Coming from a Jewish culture, the idea is very much ‘give what you want,’ or if you want love, you put it out into the world.” This background, she says, has made giving back a natural part of her personality.

When she first became involved with Shelter to Soldier, she proposed offering a “tab” of funds that could be used for veterinary care for the dogs going through the program. “I didn’t have the cash to actually sponsor the care, training, and board for a dog for the year,” she recalls. “So what I did instead [was] I basically put the credit onto the account for Shelter to Soldier, which is money that the organization otherwise would have to spend at another vet clinic, at full cost.”

Is it a lot to balance, running a busy practice in an affluent suburb of San Diego and contributing care for and sitting on the board of Shelter to Soldier? Dr. Grey shrugs and smiles. 

“I’ve always believed in the human-to-animal bond,” she says. “And there is always someone in more need than yourself. It’s always been a part of the culture and the thought process, to be able to give back in some way.”

In the veterinarian’s world, mental health is a sensitive topic. Veterinarians suffer from heightened suicide rates and a feeling of helplessness — but Dr. Grey says she feels fulfilled and that she has struck a balance in her work. Having a way to make a difference for Shelter to Soldier only serves to bolster this belief.

“There is a lot of compassion fatigue in this industry,” she says. “I think it can be hard to step away from it. I try to focus on my little microcosm … and who I can help here. If I have a sleepless night, it’s not from lack of trying or feeling like I didn’t do everything I could.”

Of course, it can be difficult to balance a roster of clients on top of any nonprofit work or volunteering. This, Dr. Grey says, just comes down to a willingness to help. 

“It’s possible for anyone,” she says. “And it makes a difference. It just makes sense to be involved.”

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