Veterinarians face elevated threat of suicide amid pandemic: Stories

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Alex Stone reports for ABC News Radio’s “Perspective” podcast.

April 3, 2021, 2:05 p.m.

4 min read

The pandemic has been challenging for many people, but for one group of professionals they have been burdened by stress, fatigue, crippling debt, and moral dilemmas for far too long.

Veterinarians have silently fought their way through the pandemic while continuing to work through one of the most stressful and demanding of times.

Listen to the full interview and the rest of the highlights from the past week here:“Unfortunately, it seems very cyclical that we grieve all the time, weekly and monthly,” explains Dr. Mariana Pardo, a Long Island veterinarian. “We’re losing some type of veterinary staff, be it a vet, a veterinary technician, a receptionist, or someone who works in the veterinary field.”

Veterinarian Brian Bourquin, owner of the Boston Veterinary Clinic, is working on one of his patients in Boston on January 27, 2021. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, Bourquin has never been busy looking after people’s “pandemic pets”. However, he was disappointed to see that veterinarians didn’t have priority until Phase 3 of the governor’s vaccination schedule.

Studies in the industry, including one from the American Medical Veterinary Association, have shown that one in six veterinarians has thought about suicide at some point in their career. While this isn’t a new problem, the pandemic has made it worse, some experts have said. Female vets are 2.4 times more likely to die of suicide, while male vets are 1.6 times more likely to die.

Dr. Caroline Jurney leads a group Not One More Vet and explains the difficulties of becoming a vet during this time.

“The people who go into medical fields are amazing and give caregivers the right to help,” Jurney said. “Circumstances prevent you from doing the things you want to do, that you see right. For example, a pet owner cannot afford to be cared for. You cannot afford to have your dog operated on. I have exercised my entire life “I’ve devoted my whole life to helping animals, and this external circumstance prevents me from doing it. And I’m telling you, nobody goes into veterinary medicine to make money.”

Pardo, who lives in New York, said these issues are a daily conflict with customers and become a moral conundrum that is imposed on the vets trying to help.

“We get attacked a lot. If you can’t pay for medical care then we are the guilty ones, why did you go into this area? If you, if you love animals, why did you do it.” Why can’t you cut costs? You are all about money, “she explains.

Pardo speaks up after losing her roommate, Josh Smith, to suicide. As a calm but strong person, the pressure was still too great for him.

PHOTO: A Labrador Retriever is treated by a veterinarian in an undated picture.

A Labrador Retriever is treated by a veterinarian in an undated archive image.

A big problem for Josh at the time was the heavy debt that had accumulated after veterinary school.

“It is extremely expensive to go to veterinary school and we are not making amends with what we do as vets,” said Pardo.

Pardo and others seek to support the mental health of those who work in the field, providing peer counseling, online crisis support, and awareness raising.

If you or a loved one has thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 offers 24/7 confidential assistance.