Many may be surprised to learn that veterinary medicine is one of the most stressful professions in the world.
And the suicide rate among veterinarians is alarmingly high.
According to industry group Love Your Pet Love Your Vet, veterinarians are up to four times more likely to kill themselves than the general population and twice as likely as other healthcare professionals.
Treating our beloved pets and precious stock takes an incredible toll on the mental health of veterinarians at clinics around the world, including here on Kangaroo Island.
Luckily, the vets at Kangaroo Island Veterinary Clinic have good in-house practices, many of which were set up by previous owners Greg and Deb Johnsson.
The current owners, Jodi Maher, Lauryn Stewart and Elisa Nishimoto, have adopted and devised these measures to reduce stress before it impacts the clinic’s staff.
But even so, stress, mental anguish and sometimes also fear simply come with the job and don’t get any easier in times of social media and constant contact.
Emotions range from the joy of new puppies to the despair of illness and accidents and everything in between, including an explanation of the costs involved in providing modern medicine.
Jodi Maher said that dealing with heightened emotions on a daily basis is a big contributor to stress.
“We bear the brunt of the emotions of people who are sometimes very upset and even angry about money and the cost of treatment,” she said.
They say clients may not realize how much work is being done behind the scenes, conducting research and getting quotes from specialists, customizing treatment plans to suit patients individually, within their owners’ capabilities.
Veterinarians also have an ethical obligation to treat any animal presented to them, with verification by the National Veterinary Authority always possible.
Being the only practice on the island also presented unique challenges as there was no alternative and the vets had to be available to everyone.
Similar to any hospital, the employees are on call every day of the year outside of the hospital’s opening hours.
The practice has safeguards like 30-minute consultations instead of the shorter 15 minutes that add pressure.
The vets also set up their own social media support networks, which have been increasingly helpful.
“We also talk to each other all the time and encourage each other to be open and discuss how you’re feeling and what you need,” Elisa said.
Vets were not called in on their days off as the strict on-call schedule gave them the time they needed.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t prevent Facebook messages and the supermarket from being paused, which often makes the job more full-time than it should be and contributes to compassion fatigue and burn-out.
Veterinarian Felicity Stoeckeler knows what it can be like for a pet owner and their families from experiencing complications while treating her own beloved dog, Caza.
“You are taking on a tremendous responsibility when you take care of someone’s animal and give them an anesthetic,” Felicity said.
“The customer has to trust us and we also have to be able to trust that the customer understands the process and the risks.
“People have an expectation that 100 percent of the time it’s going to be 100 percent okay, and unfortunately in medicine that’s not the case.”
The bushfire disaster two years ago had a huge impact on the island’s veterinarians, who along with farmers and zookeepers have faced the fright.
The pressure of the bushfire was immense and many of the staff had sought counseling services.
Both Felicity and Elisa worked at the KI Wildlife Park Wildlife Hospital for up to four months and this was particularly stressful for Felicity who worked there full time.
“The fires have affected everyone differently, but I think people are still processing very deeply what happened and for me it’s taken a while to feel happy again,” Felicity said.
The vets love their jobs and the community and say helping people and their animals can also be incredibly rewarding, which is why they became vets.
If you or someone you know needs assistance, contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.