Veterinarians and veterinary staff care. We go into the profession because we love animals and people who love animals. We work long hours often for one-tenth the pay of similar positions in human medicine. Human medicine is divided into primary care physicians, ER doctors, urgent care doctors, dentists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists, oncologists, neurologists, surgeons, nutritionists, psychologists, internal medicine specialists, cardiologists, and hospice caregivers. While there are veterinary specialists, veterinarians and their staff are often called upon to fulfill all of these positions. We go from a routine wellness visit into an end of life quality of life discussion (human doctors cannot even discuss euthanasia), to a routine spay (which is actually an invasive major surgery), to a routine dental cleaning that has three surprise extractions (the pet parent chews out the doctor for 20 minutes about the cost which is one third of a human dentist), to a DOA heat stroke dog, to a recheck visit, and a behavior visit that the pet parent expects to be fixed within 2 weeks when company is coming to visit and the behavior has been going on for two years. This sounds like a lot in a typical day but a typical day might also have a few work-ins for vaccinations or ear infections or bladder infection and a few admits for wellness physical examinations or itchy skin.
Veterinarians and their staff love animals and people who love animals so much that they just cannot say no even when overloaded and overwhelmed and insignificant overtime. Staying one to two hours past when scheduled to leave is commonplace. Working 50 to 60 hours a week is common. With all this, we literally have to make life and death decisions as pet parents trust our opinion when they are contemplating euthanasia of their beloved fur baby.
Cats commonly live 15 years and can live to 20 or 25. Dogs often live 11 years and commonly to 14 or 16. Pets are with us providing unconditional love through many hard times. It is no surprise that pets become family members. No one understands that more than veterinary staff and veterinarians. We treat these pets from the first visit until the last visit, often taking their life with our own hands.
Looking at everything people in the veterinary field do and what they sacrifice to help fur babies and pet parents, It is no surprise that the veterinary profession has one of the highest suicide rates of any profession. Veterinary medicine is not a career but a lifestyle. We care a lot, sometimes too much, at the expense of everything else in our life. We sacrifice our own happiness, physical and mental health, and our own two-legged and four-legged families. As a profession, we need to begin to take care of ourselves and each other and our physical and, especially, mental health. The first way to help each other is to admit that we are human and as such we have anxiety and depression. We worry about each other and our patients and clients too much. Sometimes we need to talk to a professional, take time off, cry, and take medications. As veterinary professionals, pet parents, clients, and animal lovers, we need to step up and admit that all people have problems with mental health at one point in their life. It is ok to admit we have anxiety and depression and we will be ok.
Written by: Dr. Jennifer Goetz, owner, and veterinarian of Animal Hospital at Brier Creek. I have anxiety, that is ok and I will be ok.
In Memory of Sophia Yin, creator of Fear Free Veterinary Medicine and Stress-Free Handling who we lost tragically to suicide in 2014 at the age of 48.