Please, Be Kind to Your Veterinarian

Not One More Vet & Mental Health Awareness Month

veterinarian and german shepherd
Carrie Jurney, DVM, – NOMV President, DACVIM (neuro). Image courtesy of Not One More Vet.

Mental health awareness is talked about more now than ever before, but one profession has come to light as an unprotected and suffering community: our veterinarians.

Veterinarians in the U.S. are plagued by disproportionately high suicide rates. According to Not One More Vet (NOMV), an organization dedicated to addressing wellbeing in veterinary medicine, 1 in 6 veterinarians consider suicide at some point in their career. This is so high that many consider it an epidemic in the veterinary profession.

There are many stressors unique to veterinary medicine that contribute to mental burnout. Many vets carry significant student loans upon completing the required four years in undergraduate school plus four years in graduate school.

Some vets have said they feel pressure to perform services for free and are harassed or cyberbullied if they cannot. They are regularly vilified by unhappy pet owners and accused of being greedy when treatments are expensive.

The pandemic has only made things worse. Carrie Jurney, president of NOMV, told us that an informal poll showed “67% of veterinarians and 49% of support staff reported worse mental health compared to pre-pandemic.” A full research study with more data is currently being analyzed by statisticians and is due to come out later this year.

Compassion Fatigue & Veterinary Mental Health

And then there is the worst part of the job: euthanasia. It is not uncommon for veterinarians to have to euthanize a patient with a treatable injury or illness because its owner can’t afford treatment.

Veterinarians in shelter medicine find themselves euthanizing for even more heartbreaking reasons, like shelter overpopulation and animal abuse. This type of emotional trauma is referred to as “compassion fatigue.”

Compassion fatigue is described by the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project as:

… a broadly defined concept that can include emotional, physical, and spiritual distress in those providing care to another. It is associated with caregiving where people or animals are experiencing significant emotional or physical pain and suffering.

So, how can we support our vets?

Dr. Poon and Dr. Chua

The Not One More Vet organization is creating dialogue around just that. Their mission is to transform the status of mental wellness among veterinary professionals through education, resources, and support.

Not One More Vet started in 2014 as a support group for veterinary professionals, creating a space for them to lean on each other and remember they are not alone. Since then, it has grown to host workshops and fund grants and new research in the field of veterinary mental health.

Despite the known hazards of the job, veterinarians continue to work hard for the animals. This May, let your vet know you appreciate them and check out the Not One More Vet organization to learn how you can support the cause.

Outward Hound thanks all veterinarians for their hard work and dedication to the animals. A special thank you to Dr. Poon and Dr. Chua with the Denver Animal Shelter for their dedication to our community’s homeless pets. And to Not One More Vet for providing resources to Outward Hound for this article.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the national suicide hotline at (800) 273-8255.