When I started thinking about a career in veterinary medicine, I wanted to be sure that I fully understood the profession. Obviously, being a vet is more than playing with animals. What I wasn’t expecting was the link between veterinary medicine and suicide.
At the beginning of March our profession lost at least three veterinarians and one technician. Your social media accounts may have recently reflected an increase in mentions of veterinary suicide and the resources available to professionals.
One such resource is “Not One More Vet” or NOMV. NOMV was founded in 2014 by Dr. Nicole McArthur founded as an online support group to discuss the good and challenging aspects of life as a veterinarian. Today the private Facebook group has over 26,000 members and has been expanded to include separate groups for veterinary students and support staff.
Another pair of resources are VETS4VETS from the VIN Foundation for veterinarians and veterinary students and SUPPORT4SUPPORT for support staff. VIN Foundation’s resources are backed by veterinarians and mental health professionals, and provide mentor matching, private support groups, and additional support for people recovering, battling cancer, or having mental / physical issues that affect their ability to work.
Both NOMV and VIN Foundation offer veterinarians the opportunity to be heard. If the practice battles feel too overwhelming, both groups are there to connect these individuals with mental health resources.
I have tried hard to find the words to express my feelings in the face of recent losses. Veterinarians are injured. It is statistically likely that the vet treating your pet is having problems. A 2018 CDC study found that “female veterinarians are 3.5 times more likely to die of suicide and male veterinarians 2.1 times more likely to die of suicide than the general population”. 75 percent of the vets who died as a result of suicide worked in the small animal practice.
It is natural to ask, “Why is this happening?” The truth is there are many reasons, all on top of each other. According to AVMA, the average student loan debt of a new veterinarian is around $ 180,000. Due to interest rate and salary factors, it will take many people more than 20 years to repay this debt while saving for a huge “forgiveness tax”. Hours are long, vacations are few. Many clinics are understaffed and busier than ever.
In addition, veterinary medicine has become that strange mix of practicing medicine and customer service. It can be difficult to adequately manage cases when everyone has Google on hand. We often hear how we as veterinarians are supported by large companies and are in their pockets. I can assure you that it is not. In a world where almost everything is instantaneous, we want our pet’s medical care to follow the same schedule.
In addition, we are not friendly to ourselves. Not only are most vets generally tough on ourselves, but in our profession we are sometimes too tough on each other. Only recently have we suffered loss after loss after loss after loss. We felt this strain and worked to raise awareness. Then, a few days later, I read messages from veterinarians arguing among themselves and blaming the fair salary for a new graduate veterinarian who was just entering the practice.
If we cannot be kind to ourselves and to one another in our job, can we expect those outside of our job to be kind? Maybe in a perfect world, but I won’t hold my breath.
I’d say give your vet a hug, but 1) this is weird and 2) we’re still in a pandemic. So instead, I encourage anyone reading this … be kind. Be kind to yourself and others in your job. Be kind to your vet and each and every one of their staff. I’m by no means a perfect person, but my daily goal is to be a reasonably decent person. Come with me on this journey. Let’s be reasonably decent and a little kinder together.
Dr. Rebecca Mears is an equine veterinarian practicing at Brenford Animal Hospital in Delaware. She is also a veterinary attorney with a focus on improving financial literacy and promoting the wellbeing of her fellow veterinarian.
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