How’s Your Vet’s Mental Health? (Part One)

Veterinary medicine is a rewarding career. I have the privilege of caring for and helping pets every day. It is fun. It also is stressful....


Veterinary medicine is a rewarding career. I have the privilege of caring for and helping pets every day. It is fun.

It also is stressful.

The profession sometimes is idealized in the public’s mind as a dream job in which one is paid to play with (and heal) dogs and cats. But there are aspects of veterinary medicine that aren’t a dream come true. Some pets don’t realize that the veterinary team is trying to help them. These animals may bite or scratch out of fear. Others are sick and can’t control their bowels or bladder. My clothing has been soiled by urine and feces countless times.

No reasonable person can blame an animal for being scared at the vet’s office, or for being too sick to control its bowels or bladder. But there are other forms of stress. Sometimes financial constraints make it impossible for vets to provide the best level of care. In other cases, we are able to run all of the necessary tests and perform all of the necessary treatments, yet our patients don’t get better.

Clients may be rude, surly, or even intoxicated. They sometimes threaten to sue if their animal does not make a complete recovery, but then forbid the attending veterinarian to treat the animal appropriately.

Hours generally are long. Remuneration is poor when compared with doctors who are trained to treat only one species.

Don’t get me wrong. Being a veterinarian is a great job. Becoming a vet is worth the effort. But veterinary medicine is a lot of work, and it can be stressful.

According to an article published recently in DVM Newsmagazine, some veterinarians handle the stress in an unhealthy way.

Job stress puts veterinarians at risk of binge drinking, drug use, study says

Hamburg, Germany — Veterinarians experience a high degree of psychosocial stress and demoralization linked to factors such as long hours with little free time, tough clients and difficulty balancing their private and professional lives, according to a team of researchers in Germany.
The group’s findings, based on a questionnaire answered by 1,060 practicing veterinarians in northern Germany in 2006, were published in BioMed Central’s latest Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, a peer-reviewed, open-access online journal.

Psychosocial stress among the respondents increased in proportion to work-related problems and lack of personal and family time, with many showing classic signs of demoralization, such as lack of optimism, dissatisfaction and little confidence or pride in themselves, said the researchers, led by Melanie Harling, from the Institution for Statutory Accident Insurance and Prevention in Hamburg.

The study also found complex links between the work stress and drug use, binge drinking and tobacco use. Practicing veterinarians were more frequently affected by work-related stress and were at greater risk of alcohol or drug consumption than those in non-clinical settings, such as industry or the public sector, the authors found.

Does this mean that your vet is an alcoholic or a drug addict? Of course not. I’m not convinced that vets have higher rates of substance abuse than members of other stressful professions (the article mentions nothing about lawyers, dentists, or “real” doctors, but I’ll bet that the rates are similar). I have known a few vets who had problems, but they have been few and far between.

Nonetheless, it is food for thought.

Photo credit: Ken30684. Photo license: CC.

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