Peeling back curtain on veterinary mental health

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CLEVELAND – Dr. Elizabeth Wierczorek loves to be a veterinarian.

She works almost every day. She sees patients physically and virtually and checks in via email. Despite the long working hours, she loves what she does.

“I’ve always loved animals since I was little. The typical ‘Oh, it always nourished my soul’ ”, said Wierczorek. “It’s also the customer’s reaction: ‘Oh my God, thank you, thank you, thank you.'”

What you need to know

Unfortunately, not every customer is so grateful. This is one reason veterinary medicine is consistently ranked as one of the worst jobs for your mental health.

Veterinarians can also carry heavy student loan debt, sometimes being forced to euthanize a patient with a treatable injury or illness because their caretaker cannot afford the cure.

Then there is the technological aspect, where people just think they know more than the doctor.

“Over time, technology has played against us,” said Wierczorek. “Like Facebook posts and other social media aspects. That was the hardest thing to fight because I can’t fight the internet trolls. “

This can lead to burnout or compassion fatigue, which, according to Wieczorek, are two different things.

“Burnout, I call it a work hangover,” said Wierczorek. “It’s like working four days in a row, hard shifts, hard cases. I am only physically exhausted. It’s still bothering me. I just thought, ‘OK, I’m here, I just need some more coffee, but I’m here. I can usually work my way out of there. Compassion fatigue is where you’ve given so much of yourself that you can’t replenish that. You don’t know how to replenish that. “

The situations they see and experience every day take their toll.

“You know, I could do two or three euthanasia today. It’s difficult, ”said Wierczorek. “Then you have a new puppy and then you have an ear infection. Just jumping back and forth. “

Together with the psychologically tough workload and the number of patients, especially in the last year, it is sometimes a bit overwhelming.

“I physically see two patients every 30 minutes,” said Wierczorek. “But I could see up to six, depending on how I’m scheduled.”

The lack of trust in the job is by far the hardest fight, she said.

“We’re not here to take your money,” said Wierczorek. “We’re not here to fool around on you. Please just trust us. That’s why we go to school. We do this because we love it and do it especially for you. “

Her best advice is to remember that you don’t know what other people are going through and she will ask to keep things friendly.

“Just be nice,” said Wierczorek.