The dedicated people who work in veterinary medicine care deeply about animals and work tirelessly to make a difference every day. However, a veterinary career can be extremely rewarding—and extremely stressful. Veterinary professionals are at high risk for burnout, mental illness, and suicide. Our Wellness Animal Hospital team appreciates our caring clients, and many of you have told us you would like to learn more about the veterinary mental health crisis. We explain what is contributing to this problem and how you can support the people who care for your pet.
The veterinary professional mental health crisis
COVID-19 alone did not cause the mental health crisis, but did exacerbate the problem. Veterinary healthcare providers continued to work long hours to care for pets throughout the pandemic, in less-than-ideal working conditions, and anxious about virus exposure.
While the media brought attention to the mental health crisis in veterinary medicine for the first time during the pandemic, veterinary professionals had actually been struggling long before. Veterinary professionals are devoted to caring for animals, but they face many challenges that human medical professionals (e.g., physicians, dentists) do not face, such as euthanasias, especially financial euthanasias, and high student debt versus earning possibilities. During the pandemic, they also dealt with record-high caseloads, severe staff shortages from veterinarians, to veterinary technicians, to customer service representatives, to kennel attendants—still today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fully staffed veterinary practice—and the almost impossible struggle to maintain a work-life balance.
The veterinary industry is working to improve professional mental health, but many challenges remain. Contributing challenges include:
- Compassion fatigue — Individuals attracted to the veterinary medical field are almost always highly compassionate, empathetic, and driven to care for pets. However, the trauma of repeated exposure to animal abuse, chronically sick pets, extremely painful pets, and euthanasia often leads to compassion fatigue, which the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) defines as “a state of exhaustion and biologic, physiologic, and emotional dysfunction resulting from prolonged exposure to compassion stress.”
- Burnout —Most veterinary clinics are short-staffed, so veterinary professionals are required to work long hours to ensure their patients get the necessary care, which is not sustainable. Eventually, the workers experience burnout, a condition defined as the result of the inability to manage chronic workplace stress, leading to feeling negatively about the job, reduced efficiency, lack of sleep and coping abilities, and exhaustion.
- Student debt — Veterinary education debt has long been growing more quickly than new veterinary graduates’ income. The high debt-to-income ratio haunts many veterinary professionals.
- Pet euthanasias — Euthanizing pets is one of a veterinary professional’s most difficult responsibilities. Despite knowing that a humane euthanasia prevents a pet’s suffering, ending a pet’s life is always difficult, and can lead to guilt and depression. Euthanizing a pet because of owner finances can be extra traumatic
- Client anger — Emotions run high when a pet isn’t well, but anxious clients who blame the veterinary team do not help the situation.
How you can help improve veterinary professional mental health
You can support your pet’s veterinary team in many small ways, such as:
- Arrive on time — Try your best to arrive on time for your pet’s appointment. Being short-staffed limits the number of pets we can see each day, although we pack our schedule as tight as possible without affecting our high level of care. In addition, if your schedule changes, please cancel your appointment, so we can contact clients on our waiting list.
- Practice patience — When you schedule your pet’s appointment, know that we always want to see them as soon as possible, and lack of patience with our team members will not mean an earlier visit.
- Say “Thank you” — A simple acknowledgement of your veterinarian’s efforts to provide the best care for your pet, and a sincere “Thank you” are small gestures that are hugely appreciated.
- Give an outstanding review — Successful practices rely on high client satisfaction, so singing your veterinarian’s praises, either in an online review or by word of mouth, will attract potential new clients who are deciding on veterinary care for their pet, and will help the practice grow.
Our Wellness Animal Hospital team is extremely grateful for our client support and understanding. We are committed to providing your pets with the best possible care, so never hesitate to contact our team if you have concerns or questions, or to schedule your pet’s wellness exam. We will sincerely thank you for choosing our hospital.