Tuesdays with Tony
Not One More Vet
Not One More Vet: You may have seen this saying, or NOMV floating around on social media recently. Forewarning for all my readers, this week’s blog is a little more intense than usual and does contain topics including suicide, depression and mental health.
In the month of March there have been 4 suicides in the veterinary field. 3 veterinarians and 1 veterinary technician. Second only to police officers, veterinarians have the highest suicide rate of any industry. My hope, and the hope of all those on social media, is to bring an understanding to the public of what veterinarians go through on a daily basis and how you can be a part of the change and reduce the number of suicides per year.
The veterinary community is a small one. Whether small animal, large animal, zoo animal or lab animal, veterinarians are all a part of one big family, and when a veterinarian or veterinary staff member takes his or her life, it is like losing a member of their family. Research, and you all know how much I love my research, has shown that veterinarians are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. There is a real mental health crisis in the veterinary field. Why is this, and why does the number of suicides continue to increase?
I have known my whole life what I want to be when I grow up, and thus far I must say, I am doing a darn good job at it. Most veterinarians dream of being a vet from the time they are very young. This means that after high school, it’s straight to College/University and then Vet School, assuming all the stars align. At the very least, it takes 8 years of higher education to become a veterinarian.
Along with schooling comes tuition. Veterinary school alone can cost upwards of $250,000-$300,000. That’s a lot of cat treats. That also leaves veterinarians with one of the largest debt-to-income-ratios out there. A common misconception is that veterinarians make a lot of money or that they are only in it for the money. Take if from this old cat, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Did you know that the interest rates on student loans range from 6-8% and that the average salary of an equine veterinarian is $60,000-$70,000 a year? That’s some pretty complicated math but even I can see how it would be nearly impossible to catch up and pay off student loans. Student loan payments can be as much as a mortgage and can make buying a house next to impossible.
Cost of Care
While in vet school, students are taught the gold standard of veterinary medicine. The gold standard comes with a price however, a price that the general population often can’t afford. This leaves veterinarians playing a balancing act between what’s best for the animal and what the owner can afford. Vets want to help every animal that they see. However, when an owner responds with, “if you really cared about my animal you would do this for free”, a little part of the vet dies.
Take it from me, my docs care about each and every one of your horses just like their own. They love them, their hearts break with you and they rejoice with you. That being said, remember that vets have student loans to pay, animals and families of their own to care for, and deserve to make a fair living just like everyone else. Guilt-shaming veterinarians into providing services for free has got to stop.
Emotional Burnout and Compassion Fatigue
Unlike typical 9-5 jobs, veterinarians work 24/7/365. Even if they do not have a patient in front of them, they’re working. Whether it is working on clinical records, making phone calls, replying to texts, or researching different ways to treat your horse, veterinarians are working constantly. Based on the number of times I’ve heard stories about my docs dreaming about your horses and how they can treat them, I’m thankful I don’t have to dream about anything other than napping.
Beyond the life of constant work, vets go into their career knowing that almost all of their patients will die before they do, with a large portion of those patients leaving this world with the aid of their veterinarian. It’s a blessing to end the suffering of an animal, but I’m also sure that it can’t be easy to have to say goodbye over and over again to a patient they have come to know and love. The empathy they share with you when your pet crosses the rainbow bridge is genuine, and the compassion they feel is real. So when they have euthanized 5 pets in 5 days, it’s exhausting and absolutely leads to burnout and compassion fatigue.
So the next time your vet is running late, or has an emergency come up where they may have to reschedule your appointment, remember it could be you they are spending those extra few moments with while you say goodbye to your beloved family member. It could be you they are rushing to help with an emergency while rescheduling someone else. It’s always better to be the one being rescheduled and not the one with the emergency!
My docs here at Springhill Equine have it really good. They work 4 days a week and split the on-call schedule 3 ways. That’s a very rare scenario for the majority of equine veterinarians. I can only speak for equine vets in this matter, as I’ve only ever been the manager of this equine practice. But from what I have heard, not all veterinarians have it as good as my docs do. Some work 6 days a week or are on call for weeks at a time. And do you know how many text messages, Facebook messages and phone calls my docs get after hours, and on their days off from people who do not have an emergency?
If you have an emergency, definitely call them. The docs are always there for you when you have an emergency. But if you text your vet after hours with a question that isn’t urgent, don’t get mad at them if they don’t answer until normal business hours. Work-life-balance is essential for your veterinarian’s mental health and well-being.
On top of their profession, veterinarians have a life. Well, they try to, anyway. Many veterinarians have significant others, families, and pets of their own. Just like you, they have things happen in their lives, both good and bad. Sometimes those things are the breaking point, and sometimes they are the icing on the cake. Either way, life adds stress to your vet every day, just like it does for you. They give you and your pet their undivided attention despite what is going on in their life because of the love they have for the animals. I’m just asking you to remember that they’re humans, not cats, so they have feelings.
This is just a small insight into the life of a veterinarian. They are some of the most compassionate, loving and caring people in the world. They are also faced with some incredible emotional challenges as part of their job, although you would probably never know it. So give them a break once in a while. Heck, give everyone a break once in a while! It’ll make the world a better place. And give your cat a treat, that’s important too.
Until next week,
P.S. – If you would like more information about Not One More Vet, please click here to be taken to their website.
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!