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Josh Smith, 36, described as “brilliant”, “clever”, “quirky”
March 10, 2021, 9:31 p.m.
Posted: Mar 10, 2021 at 9:31 pm
Updated: March 10, 2021, 10:17 p.m.
MADISON, Wis. – Those close to Josh Smith describe him as passionate. Maybe it is about weight lifting, Brazilian jiu jitsu, or Persian cats, but especially when it comes to taking care of others.
“He was a brilliant guy,” said Kai Shiu. “He was confident. He was smart. “
Shiu, a veterinary oncology specialist, helped bring Smith, who grew up on a farm in Canada about five years ago, to the Madison area to work with him at the VCA Veterinary Emergency Service & Veterinary Specialty Center.
“Not only was it brilliant, but it was fun,” said Shiu.
Smith specialized in caring for the sickest patients and sometimes took them home.
“He was one who adopted dogs and cats that might have been abandoned in a clinic or had incurable conditions,” Shiu said.
Smith was also very caring for people, surprising Shiu and his wife with a homemade toy box for the couple’s firstborn on the first Christmas he was invited to a celebration.
“We were amazed,” he said. “His staff knew it was something he had been working on for months.”
Vets can easily put others in front of them, Shiu said.
“Maybe that was his downfall, he never said no to things,” Shiu said. “He has always helped, whether family, friends, patients, co-workers.”
“Nobody ever thought they would do that.”
Smith died of suicide last week.
“It’s something that can affect all of us, and Josh even talked about it,” Shiu said. He said, ‘Oh, it’s totally selfish. Never do that. ‘”
The veterinary world is small. Shiu knows another veterinarian in the US and one in Belgium, both of whom also died of suicide last week. He spoke to News 3 Now about high rates of suicide among veterinarians in the past month.
A CDC report shows that male veterinarians are twice as likely to die from suicide as the general population – female veterinarians three and a half times as likely to die.
“These are hard-to-digest statistics,” said Sam Morello, associate professor of large animal surgery at the University of Wisconsin’s Veterinary School of Medicine. “Burnout has been very high in the veterinary industry for some time.”
Smith had just become an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. Morello calls his death a great loss to faculty, students, and our entire community.
She said while her community generally does a good job enrolling each other, this is another reminder to keep going. She also stressed the importance of recognizing the reasons for the stress veterinarians experience, whether in the workplace or outside of the workplace, and working to reduce or eliminate it.
“At the end of the day, you can’t fix anything. You have to get there earlier, ”said Morello. “Josh was an incredibly brilliant vet. It’s just the kind of thing he would do. He would find a better way to solve a difficult problem, and that is the best way to remember him. “
Debt, stressful working conditions put a strain on mental health
“Veterinarians are often burdened with one major risk factor for suicide after graduation: 6-digit debt,” Shiu said. “They owe as much debt as any human doctor, and their incomes vary widely. We as a profession need to address this and help prepare our future veterinarians for better financial education. “
In a job where empathy fatigue is high, the working atmosphere also makes a difference. Shiu said his own employer provided mental health resources like mindfulness training.
He added that it is important to remember that this can happen to anyone.
“It’s not just about being a big tough guy. Josh was a big tough guy and we get asked: what if? “Said Shiu. “It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to take your time. You should in order to be a better veterinarian, doctor, teacher, and if we can’t take care of ourselves then how can we take care of other people? “
“Just one less, none more”: sharing Smith’s story
Shiu carries the memory of Smith with her not only as a co-worker and friend, but also as a family member.
“I went on a date with my sister-in-law and they hit it off and they were engaged to get married,” he said, adding that their wedding had been postponed by COVID but should take place in May. Smith would have become a stepfather too.
Shiu helped set up a GoFundMe page to support Smith’s fiancée Laura. He said it was important for his family not only to let the world know about the type of person Smith was, but also to spread awareness that suicide can hit anyone, especially during the troubled times that come with the pandemic .
“If there was one person who might just argue with someone or think about it, ask for help, or maybe take care of themselves a little bit better, maybe something good would come in the form of just one less, not one more” said Shiu.
The Not One More Vet movement provides an online support network for veterinarians struggling with mental health. It also helps fund resources such as therapy for veterinarians who do not have access to affordable medical care. More information can be found here.
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