Veterinary medicine, the happiest field on earth, land of puppy butts and kitty snuggles and Pet Doctor Barbies in hotpants, or so they told me when I was 10.
Or perhaps it is the land of crushing student debt, clients frustrated that they are priced out of affordable care, and the unending mental strain of not being able to make every client happy and whole at the price they want you to provide it for.
Maybe it’s somewhere in between, but to be honest it seems to me like it’s leaning a little more towards the latter than the former. It wasn’t always this way, and yes, there are plenty of vets who still tell you they couldn’t imagine doing anything else, but for many, they can. And do. I was shocked to see how many of my colleagues- good, smart, compassionate veterinarians- have left the field. It happens a LOT.
Burnout rates are high, depression is rampant, and though the world was shocked to learn veterinarians have the highest suicide rates of medical professionals, no actual vets seemed too shocked by the news. The truth is, this is a tough, tough field, and the toll it takes is financial, physical, and mental, each and every day. We are expected by society and each other to buck up and put your own needs on the backburner, day after day after day, and it. wears. you. down.Justine Lee has a great article on the topic: one in four vets have considered suicide.
Last week, a colleague followed through, and our field is all the less for her loss.
It might surprise you to know that while our field tiptoes around the concept of compassion fatigue, it’s not regularly acknowledged as an almost inevitable part of what we do. Those who feel the strain are often left to feel guilty and disappointed in themselves for feeling that way. When the timing is wrong, when the wrong case hits at the same time as a broken water main or someone delivering a court summons, it can be very easy to forget that there is a way through that mess.
Animal lovers are deeply sensitive by nature, and I think both animal care providers and clients may be prone to those intensities of emotion that can veer into unhealthy places. I’ve dedicated my work the last year or so to acknowledging we need to do a better job supporting the emotional needs of our clients, but the truth is we need to so the same for our own.
I sincerely hope our field is able to provide better support for our own in terms of learning to cope with the unique stressors of this career, that those support groups that exist within the veterinary community are not kind of shoved in the corner to be sought out in desperation but held up as a standard for healthy venting and encouraging each other to live well and live outside the clinic.
I bring this up for several reasons, namely because I was very saddened by Dr. Koshi’s death and the circumstances surrounding it. I want my colleagues, especially those of you who are young and still learning how to do this vet thing and do it well, to understand that we all know how hard it can be. The internet has not made this easier. We need to be able to rely on each other and on the profession as a whole.
If any of you are struggling, please reach out, to your friends, to a hotline, to me, I don’t care who you reach out to but just stick your hand out and wave and we will take it. I am happy to hear multiple veterinarians including Dr. Lee, Dr. Myers, and others at NAVC met up to discuss what we can do to be more organized in our support of each other and stop being ashamed of admitting sometimes, this field is HARD.
And for you non-vets, because I know many of you are amazing clients, I want to thank you for being the kind of people who make going to work worthwhile. You are the reason we continue to pull our lab coats on every day.
RIP Dr. Koshi, and know that we will acknowledge and remember the wonderful work you did in this world.