As an overnight veterinarian, you’re a hero.

Whether you work in a 24-hour veterinary hospital, on call, or in an overnight ER, you serve a critical role in protecting pets when most emergencies happen—after hours. However, there’s no denying that night shifts can present challenges to a veterinarian’s health and personal life. Healthy overnight work habits include making a sleep plan, focusing on work-life balance, triaging effectively, making financial discussions easier, and choosing the best resources.

To perform at your best, create and follow a sleep plan.

Long-term overnight work can lead to “shift worker syndrome.” This term refers to physical and mental conditions that may result from a disruption to the circadian rhythm. Shift worker syndrome has been associated with an increased risk of obesity, metabolic problems, depression, GI issues, and even cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

To maintain the best circadian rhythm possible, prioritize your sleep plan…

  • Maintain as regular of a sleep schedule as you can. Many experts recommend sleeping right when you get home.
  • Wear dark sunglasses when you leave the clinic and use blackout curtains so daytime light doesn’t interfere with your sleep quality.
  • Tape a note over your doorbell explaining you work nights and asking people not to ring the bell.
  • Take naps during any breaks on your shift to combat fatigue and catch up on sleep.

Focus on work-life balance to live a happy, healthy life.

Night shifts may make it feel like you’re missing out on social plans that daytime workers can easily attend. To stay connected, healthy, and happy, talk to friends and family about your schedule and take care of your physical health as best you can

To stay connected, healthy, and happy, try these tips:

  • Inform family and friends of your schedule so they can include you in plans without disrupting your sleep hours.
  • Eat well and exercise to feel like your best self.
  • Talk to your doctor about your work schedule, and see if they have additional recommendations such as vitamin D testing and supplementation.
  • Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling in terms of your schedule.

Use effective triage to manage multiple patients’ needs.

As you know, it can be eerily quiet one moment… Then the next moment (usually right after someone says, “Hey, it’s been slow tonight…”), multiple ill or injured patients come through the door all at once. Every patient needs care—but some have more urgent needs than others. Triaging involves making a preliminary assessment of each patient’s condition, including TPR, pain level, and how urgently the patient needs medical treatment. It helps to train your technicians or nurses to triage. That way, if you’re in the middle of a procedure, someone you trust can tell you whether or not the patient that just walked in can wait.

Plan for financial discussions, to avoid drama and give patients better access to care.

Overnight visits are rarely planned—they usually happen due to an emergency or urgent medical need. As you know, money concerns (combined with worry about a beloved pet) can lead to client stress and emotional outbursts. Clients may feel better if they have options. This means accepting as many forms of payment as possible, and having a dedicated staff member to guide clients through difficult financial decisions. For example, maybe clients aren’t aware of Care Credit, and you have a staff member who can help them apply. Or maybe payment plans can be offered through third party financing. Having a dedicated staff member (or even a financial advisor, if appropriate for your clinic) to talk about finances can help take the burden of that conversation off of you, while offering clients a sympathetic listener who has solutions.

Choose and utilize excellent resources to improve your workflow, accuracy, and treatment plans.

Even if you’re used to working overnight, there may be some nights when no amount of coffee can ward away the tiredness or mental fog. That’s why, for many industries, mistakes and accidents are more common on night shifts.

Excellent resources can help make the night shift easier and smoother, including…

  • Colleagues to talk to at work or over the phone.
  • Online and community-based resources like VIN.
  • Calculators (for CRIs, chocolate toxicity, etc.), charts, and other quick references.
  • Specialists such as teleradiologists who can provide an expert second opinion, for peace of mind regarding the accuracy of your diagnosis. 

STAT 1-hour teleradiology consultations are available 24/7 and are important for patients with urgent needs or surgical conditions.

Vincent Van Gogh said, “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” As an overnight veterinarian, you certainly experience excitement and meaningful work by saving lives. Just be sure to take care of yourself, too. The conclusion is that sleep, overall wellbeing, effective triage, money communication, and excellent resources can all contribute to health, happiness, connection, and smoother night shifts.

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