Are You a Work Martyr? Avoiding Burnout and Resentment Starts with Self-Awareness

If you work in the veterinary field, you probably know a work martyr. It might be the head of your department, a fellow practicing veterinarian, the owner of your practice—it might even be you. So what exactly is a work martyr, why are they so common in veterinary medicine, and why should you avoid being one?

What Is a Work Martyr?

A work martyr is an individual who sacrifices their own needs for those of their organization, and wears that sacrifice as a badge of honor. They arrive early, leave late, and show up on their days off. They avoid delegating and invariably volunteer to handle the most complicated, time-consuming tasks. They rarely, if ever, take a vacation, and they tend to judge others harshly for putting personal well-being over the needs of the workplace. They suffer from their constant sacrifice, but they do not suffer alone, often venting their frustrations to anyone who will listen, including co-workers, friends, and family. They are a victim of their circumstances, and they want everyone to know.

How a Work Martyr is Created

No one sets out with the intention of becoming a martyr (so don't beat yourself up if you recognize yourself in the above description). But why do we see this behavior so often in the veterinary field?

Ask any recent veterinary school graduate what they fear most, and "failure" is likely at the top of that list. In a recent study by PubMed, a staggering 68% of veterinarians suffer from imposter syndrome (IS), or the tendency to doubt one's abilities and to fear being exposed as an imposter despite a level of competency that proves otherwise. And it has been shown that Imposter syndrome, when left unchecked, can have a detrimental impact on an individual's well-being, work-life balance, and relationship with others. An individual with IS will go above and beyond to prove their worth. Over time they become hardened by the years of overcompensation, bitterness taking hold where there was once a seemingly endless supply of empathy and an eagerness to please, and subsequently: the work martyr is born.

How to Build Better Work-Life Balance

This way of life can be exhausting, and when you've dug yourself in the trenches, it may feel like there is no way out. But the good news is that there are ways to combat martyrdom and live a healthier, more well-balanced life.

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  1. Recognize your self-worth. The first step in overcoming martyrdom is to understand that your self-worth is not tied to the hours you work, the number of unpleasant tasks you sign up for, or the amount of personal sacrifice you make for your job. You are not an imposter, and you deserve to be here as much as anyone else.
  2. Take time for self-care. It is possible to be good at your job and also maintain a healthy work/life balance. Utilizing vacation time or allowing for time away from work to decompress and relax does not make you a failure, it makes you well-adjusted and healthy.
  3. Improve communication. Resorting to victim mentality may only make a situation worse by fostering resentment within the workplace. A better approach is to bring up concerns in a direct manner and encourage open communication with your co-workers when issues arise.
  4. Set boundaries. It's important to learn how to say "no" to tasks that are outside of your job description or beyond your scheduled hours.
  5. Consider talking with a therapist. Big life changes aren't easy to make, and enlisting the help of a trained professional can help to provide unique perspective and helpful feedback while navigating your way out of martyrdom and toward a healthier future.

Life as a work martyr is not sustainable, and the long hours, constant stress, and lack of a healthy outlet can lead to burn-out. In order to achieve a good balance between work and personal life and succeed in this field, it's important to recognize work martyrdom for what it is, understand its origins, and change your way before it causes any more damage.

Teresa Schumacher

Dr. Schumacher is a writer, photographer, and small-animal emergency veterinarian. She graduated from University of California, Davis, in 2015, then completed a rotating internship in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before moving back to her home state of Ohio in 2016. She has been practicing emergency medicine ever since, and her main professional interests include trauma care, toxicology, and veterinary mental health and wellness. Dr. Schumacher has a passion for storytelling and enjoys traveling frequently in search of new compelling stories to share. See more at

The views and opinions in this piece are the authors own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of either The Vetiverse or IDEXX.

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