The last year has been tough for everyone. In mid-March, the reality of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic set in around the world and much of the world closed. Of course, veterinary clinics didn’t have the luxury of closing their doors to protect themselves. In addition to your regular customers, much of the world seemed to respond to the stress of the pandemic with a puppy or kitten. Once the shelters were emptied and the reality of pet ownership set in, it appears that all of these new pets needed to be seen in your hospital. And you had to be there for patients and customers.
Make adjustments, come short
Katie Buchanan, VMD, Associate Veterinarian at Bayside Animal Medical Center in Severna Park, Maryland and a mother of 1 and 4 year olds, goes out of her way to meet her clients’ needs, and it still isn’t enough. “We are one of the few [practices] are picking up new customers in the area, but we’re overwhelmed, ”she says. “I have almost 30 callbacks in a day, but I don’t have time.”
Additionally, Buchanan spends much of her day on the phone as the practice takes place on the side of the road. “I really miss my customers and the loyalty we have. I hate that this is life now, ”she says. “But we can’t stay three feet away from our employees, and we can’t keep up with this pace and let people in again now, otherwise we’ll get a positive employee and have to close.”
As in Buchanan, your hospital is probably busier than ever, striving to meet the demands of a growing customer base as you rework the logistical flow of the entire practice to move from a regular veterinary clinic to a full-service roadside machine switch. You will implement new client communication technologies and learn how to use them when everyone involved has a very short backup. As you perform this magic, you may also be managing a revolving door of critical employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 and who need to isolate for weeks whether they are sick or not.
It is up to the individual hospitals to create their own protocols and then try to get the buy-in from the staff to carry out the plan. You may be at odds with your employees and customers about how to protect each other. You get in touch with trace, put in quarantine and take care of the safety of your customers, employees and families. Can you really protect yourself and your family?
Then there are the new owners’ customers who have adopted a pet without considering the cost, training, and dedication to experienced pet owners facing personal illness and economic uncertainty. A trip to the vet is usually stressful for pets and their owners. Now they have the added stress of the virus, financial problems, masks, and a new paradigm for veterinary care where they cannot escort their pet inside, communicate personally with the vet and staff, and feel out of control. In short, customers are stressed and a lot of them do it for us.
Add in motherhood
Life is hard for vets who are also mothers. The cost of veterinary school does not differentiate between the sexes and does not depend on the status of the parents. As of 2018, both men and women paid between $ 148,807 and $ 407,983 for 4 years of tuition, fees, and living expenses for veterinary schools.1 According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, our occupation in 2018 was 61.8% women, but only 29.3 % Practice owners were women.2 This is important because the average owner makes about $ 200,000 more than the average employee
Although data is not available on how many veterinarians are parents, a 2015 survey of onboard large animal surgeons (published in 2019) found that men (88%) were more likely than women (68%) to be married or in a domestic relationship and have children to have (77% versus 47%). However, women were more likely than men to need outside childcare services and reported that children had a negative impact on their professional lives.4 The same study found that women earned less than men and were less likely to own a veterinary practice or hold a prestigious academic title. Men and women felt differently about the effects of gender in the workplace.
Female veterinarians pay for the same training and learn the same skills as their male counterparts. Why do women earn less, have fewer prestigious degrees, and are much less likely to have a practice? Prejudice and discrimination in the workplace certainly play a role here, but we also need to consider the implications of our domestic life and responsibilities when considering career advancement. Here are some more statistics on gender differences in the U.S. workforce:
Married mothers spend almost twice as much time on housework and childcare as married fathers
Mothers now work much more often than in previous decades, but still spend more time looking after children than mothers in the 1960s
Success at work really means more work at home for women. The more economically dependent men are on their wives, the less housework they do. Even women with unemployed husbands spend significantly more time doing housework than their spouses
In addition to an already unsustainable situation, we are now in a global pandemic with many schools and daycare centers closed or functioning virtually. So what now?
Meghan Knox, DVM, mother of a 16-month-old relieved veterinarian in New Jersey, says what so many of us are feeling. “I deeply long for a level of relaxation that I simply cannot achieve given the state of the world,” she says. “My family needs a vacation, in a beautiful place like the Caribbean. My dentist recently discovered that I had clenched my teeth from stress. Now I am officially seeing physical manifestations of the stress of the past 8 months. “
Knox missed the normal practices of motherhood. “I still mourn the many losses this year – missed trips, missed first birthday parties we imagined for the baby, canceled weddings and showers, and the family who couldn’t travel to meet the baby. It’s sadness and tiredness and there is just no patience left for anything else in any area of my life. “
After reading it, are you surprised that female vets are more likely to have risk factors for suicide, including depression, thoughts of suicide, and attempted suicide? According to 2018 data, female veterinarians are 2.4 times more likely to commit suicide than the general US population, while male veterinarians are 1.6 times more likely to commit suicide than the general US population
An impossible task?
When you’re a veterinarian and a mom, you have two roles. Both require dealing with anything that comes your way with skill, speed and infinite patience when everyone who is dependent on you is in maximum need day and night. They are available around the clock. If they don’t sleep, you don’t sleep. You must anticipate and meet the needs of everyone in a world that moves every day. And in the face of all of this, you need to keep your composure and compassion and never go wrong.
Vet mothers, let me be the first to tell you that you are accomplishing the impossible and performing on a superhuman level. I’m not afraid to say that maintaining the status quo is unsustainable. Each of you makes the world turn around its own axis every day. Together you are a massive part of a job that is already under enormous stress. Together we need to redefine both roles and create an organizational structure that supports the veterinary mothers on whom our profession depends. The question is how?
Liz Bales, VMD, has a particular interest in cats’ unique behavioral and wellness needs. She is a writer, speaker and expert on cats around the world. Bales sits on the alumni board of the Dean of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and serves on the advisory board for dvm360®, AAFP Cat Friendly Practice, Vet Candy, and Fear Free.
1. How much does it cost to attend a veterinary school? VIN Foundation. Accessed January 25, 2021. https://iwanttobeaveterinarian.org/how-much-does-it-cost-to-attend-veterinary-school/
2. Burns K. Vets Census Finds Bottleneck Trends, Practice Ownership. American Veterinary Medical Association. June 26, 2019. Accessed January 25, 2021. https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2019-07-15/census-veterinarians-finds-trends-shortages-practice-ownership
3. Lee R. Is your veterinary office ready to add a member? Practice. March 17, 2015. Accessed January 25, 2021. https://www.praxisvet.com/veterinary-practice-transition-blog/is-your-veterinary-practice-ready-to-add-an-associate#:~ : text = Statistics% 20show% 20that% 20an% 20experienced, more% 20than% 20the% 20average% 20associate
4. Colopy SA, Buhr KA, Bruckner KB, Morello SL. The intersection of personal and professional life for male and female diplomats at the American College of Veterinary Surgeons in 2015. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2019; 255 (11): 1283-12 1290. doi: 10.2460 / javma.255.11.1283 https://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?queryid=54757
5. Bianchi SM, Sayer LC, Milkie MA, Robinson JP. Housework: Who has, has or will do it and how important is it? Soc Forces. 2012; 91 (1): 55-63. doi: 10.1093 / sf / sos120
6. Rao AH. Even breadwinners are not treated as equals at home. The Atlantic. May 12, 2019. Accessed January 25, 2021. https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2019/05/breadwinning-wives-gender-inequality/589237/
7. New study shows higher than expected number of suicide deaths among US veterinarians. Press release. December 20, 2018. Accessed January 25, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p1220-veterinarians-suicide.html