Understanding Veterinary Professionals’ Mental Health Struggles

Each time you visit the veterinarian, you and your pet are greeted by a smiling customer service representative, a friendly technician, and a knowledgeable doctor—working together to provide your furry pal with the best possible care. You may not perceive that these team members are facing a profession-wide mental health crisis, which the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded. Veterinary professionals love their jobs, but they are battling unprecedented pressures. Become more aware of your veterinary professionals’ mental health challenges by reading our Animal Hospital of Parkland team’s responses to your questions about this crisis, and how you can help ease your veterinarian’s and their team’s burden.

What is the veterinary professional mental health crisis?

Many people believe that veterinary team members interact with cute puppies and kittens all day, and while that is true some days, the reality veterinary teams face is varied and emotional. Each day, a veterinary professional deals with multiple stressors that may increase their burnout, mental illness, and suicide risk. However, most team members trudge on because they love what they do and because pets need their help. Eventually many veterinary professionals reach a breaking point, and they leave the profession. Sadly, some take their own lives. 

Large studies and surveys conducted over several years before the pandemic show that veterinary professionals had burnout and mental illness rates similar to other professions, but with a higher suicide risk. The most recent data on veterinary team members’ mental health reveal a different picture, with vastly worsening situations and alarming statistics, including:

  • Veterinarians are up to 3.5 times more likely, and technicians are up to 5 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. 
  • A total of 1 in 6 veterinarians have considered suicide.
  • Up to 8% of veterinarians face serious psychological distress.
  • A total of 1 in 5 veterinarians have been cyberbullied.
  • Half of veterinarians would not recommend the profession to others
  • More veterinary technicians are experience burnout than veterinarians, and both are burned out more than medical professionals who care for humans, even in the wake of COVID-19

What is causing the veterinary mental health crisis?

The factors driving the veterinary mental health crisis are complex and multifactorial, with some relating to ongoing, low-level issues, and others being more complex. The factors causing the most pressure include:

  • Increasing caseloads — Many households adopted pets during the pandemic pause, increasing appointment demand while veterinary hospitals struggled to maintain adequate staffing. In general, the veterinary care need is increasing much more quickly than the veterinary school graduation rate, especially in rural and underserved areas. Patients need care, and our Animal Hospital of Parkland team bends over backward to provide that care—often skipping lunch, coming in early, and working late. A recent study reported that burnout rates directly correlate to caseload, and burnt-out staff members often quit—resulting in even fewer caregivers.
  • Moral and other stressors — Humane euthanasia is an emotional experience, and veterinary staff find coping difficult. When an owner requests their pet’s euthanasia for convenience, or because they cannot afford care, the veterinary team faces a moral dilemma. Other situations that cause a veterinary team stress include care refusal, accusations of veterinary staff negligence, and other abusive client behavior.
  • Financial burdens — Most veterinary team staff members and veterinarians live paycheck to paycheck because of high student debt loads and low overall income. Federal and state governments, and insurance companies do not support veterinary medicine the same way as they do human medicine. Therefore, veterinary fees are set to cover a practice’s costs, and provide only modest staff salaries.
  • Work-life balance struggles — One study’s interesting findings pointed out that women in veterinary medicine are more greatly impacted by mental health issues than men in the profession, likely because women often face increased family pressures, leaving them struggling to maintain a reasonable work-life balance. In addition, veterinary team members’ patient responsibilities seemingly continue around-the-clock. They often worry about their patients after hours, and their own family members and friends frequently consult veterinary professionals about their own pets. 

What is the solution to the veterinary mental health crisis?

The pre-pandemic surveys and studies pointed to a few areas where employers and large organizations can help improve veterinary professionals’ mental health, including offering easy access to free or low-cost mental health services, allowing flexible scheduling, providing assistance with goal setting and career development, improving pay and benefits, and focusing on staff hiring and retention, which—in turn—allows team members to take vacations and full lunch breaks without impacting day-to-day operations. To alleviate veterinarian shortages, veterinary schools have begun investigating ways to increase the number of new graduates, and several not-for-profit organizations have stepped up to provide support to struggling veterinary professionals—including Not One More Vet and the Veterinary Mental Health Initiative.

In addition to veterinary schools and not-for-profit organizations helping alleviate the veterinary professional mental health crisis, you can also pitch in. As a client, you can support your veterinary team by doing the following:

  • Being kind, patient, and understanding when scheduling an appointment and visiting the veterinary practice
  • Learning about veterinary outreach programs, and volunteering your time
  • Writing positive reviews about your veterinarian and team members to combat cyberbullying
  • Writing thank-you notes or verbally thanking your veterinary team 
  • Calling as far in advance as possible to schedule appointments or request prescription refills

Mental health and suicide prevention are more important than ever, not only for veterinary professionals, but for anyone struggling with these issues. To help the professionals who help your pet, visit Not One More Vet for information, to donate, or to volunteer your time. Animal Hospital of Parkland supports our team member’s mental health, so we can focus on your pet when they need care. Contact us to schedule your pet’s appointment, and always remember a simple greeting such as, “How are you today?” and a heartfelt thank you go a long way in helping brighten your veterinary team members’ mental health outlook.

By |2024-02-14T23:50:54+00:00March 19th, 2023|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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