Burnout, stress plague veterinary industry amidst pandemic

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Staff shortages, changing protocols, and long hours all contributed to increased veterinary stress and burnout amidst the pandemic.

This is according to a comprehensive study examining the mental health and well-being of US veterinarians and support staff, conducted jointly by Merck Animal Health and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Distributed in the fall of 2021 to nearly 2,500 veterinarians, registered veterinary technicians (RVTs), and practice managers, the Veterinary Wellbeing Study aims to raise awareness of the challenges impacting the veterinary profession, particularly amidst the pandemic.

“Veterinary medicine is a profession that comes with the great satisfaction of caring for animals, but it also includes risk for mental and physical burnout, as well as compassion fatigue,” says Merck Animal Health’s executive director of US companion animal and equine professional services, Joseph Hahn, DVM.

The findings revealed the percentage of veterinarians with serious psychological distress (as measured by the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale) hit 9.7 percent in 2021 (compared to 6.4 percent in 2019), while prevalence among support staff was nearly twice as high (18.1 percent) as compared to two years ago. Additionally, half of staff respondents (49.6 percent) and approximately one-third (30.5 percent) of veterinarians reported high levels of burnout.

More than 90 percent of respondents said the shortage of qualified veterinary staff has been one of the most significant concerns throughout the pandemic, while 68 percent cited the unique challenges of providing veterinary services under ever-changing regional and industry protocols.

Both support staff and DVMs also emphasized heightened anxieties surrounding the risk of increased exposure to COVID (63 percent and 61 percent, respectively) and longer work hours (51 percent and 46 percent, respectively).

Overall, the survey saw 92 percent of respondents rank increased levels of stress among their top mental health challenges, with 88 percent of DVM respondents citing student debt and concerns about the risk of suicide as leading stressors.

“The past two years have been extremely challenging for veterinarians and their dedicated staff, and we are very grateful to everyone who contributed to this important study, which gives us a deeper look into what our colleagues are experiencing,” says AVMA president, Jose Arce , DVM.

To help identify the issues impacting veterinary well-being and provide solutions to support industry professionals, Merck Animal Health has pledged $100,000 to help continue to fund AVMA’s Workplace Wellbeing program, as well as its “Train-the-Trainer” workshop, which empowers veterinary professionals to become educators and share valuable strategies to promote workplace well-being.

“With this new information and our $100,000 grant to develop necessary resources to promote mental health across the veterinary profession, Merck Animal Health and the entire veterinary community is optimistic about our ability to actively provide healthy opportunities in the most impactful way, while enhancing well- being within veterinary teams,” Dr. Hahn says.

To access the study, click here.