Being a veterinarian can come with a high degree of job satisfaction, but also with many daily struggles.
Many of these may not be apparent at first glance and sometimes can take us by surprise. It’s crucial for anyone in our profession or for those thinking about becoming a veterinarian to be aware of the issues that veterinarians face.
Do you know the difference between burnout and compassion fatigue?
How many aspiring veterinarians are aware of the high rate of mental illness and suicide in the veterinary profession?
Can we really say we have a good work-life balance? Are we taking any steps to improve it?
In order to bring some of these issues to light, we’ve compiled some summaries that we think could be helpful to you and encourage further reading:
You probably have heard about it a few times, but do you know what it is and how to recognize it? We published a detailed post on this subject last month, so make sure to check it out! It contains important information and a ton of links to resources at the end. Read about it here.
The American Institute of Stress offers the following description regarding compassion fatigue:
“Also called “vicarious traumatization” or secondary traumatization (Figley, 1995). The emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. It differs from burn-out, but can co-exist. Compassion Fatigue can occur due to exposure on one case or can be due to a “cumulative” level of trauma.”
The AVMA describes it as:
A state of exhaustion and biologic, physiologic and emotional dysfunction resulting from prolonged exposure to compassion stress. Individuals that experience compassion fatigue feel overwhelmed from bearing the suffering of others, but typically continue to engage in self-sacrifice in the interest of their patients and clients.
Factors that place individuals more at risk for experiencing compassion fatigue are high empathy, a history of traumatic experiences, and the existence of unresolved trauma. The severity of compassion fatigue is determined by the the duration of the experience, the potential for recurrence, exposure to death and dying, and the presence of a moral conflict.
Although similar, burnout and compassion fatigue are not the same. The previously mentioned post on compassion fatigue also contains valuable information on burnout, including the following descriptions:
A cumulative process marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with increased workload and institutional stress, NOT trauma-related.
By The American Institute of Stress
A psychological syndrome that involves prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. Burnout is typified by emotional exhaustion, cynicism, personal inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the work environment.
By the AVMA
You probably have heard about veterinarians committing suicide in the news. Unfortunately, many of our colleagues and friends, veterinary students and established veterinarians, have all been affected.
How about in comparison with the general population? It is four times higher! FOUR!
How about in the United States?
A study in 2015 found that out of 11627 veterinarians, 9% have current serious psychological distress and 19% are currently receiving treatment for a mental health condition.
Since vet school,
– 31% have had depressive episodes
– 17% have thought of suicide
– 1% attempted suicide
These are frightening numbers that everyone should be well aware of.
This paper out of the Canadian Vet Journal is a must read – Suicide in veterinary medicine: Let’s talk about it
Should you or a colleague need help, please consider the
1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-442-HOPE (4673)
Depression and other mental health problems
There is simply no way around it – mental health stigma exists in our society and is probably more common than any of us ever thought.
Social stigma is the discriminating behavior and prejudicial attitudes towards people with mental health problems.
On the other hand, perceived or self-stigma is the perception of discrimination by the person with problems. This can lead to feelings of shame or embarrassment and to worse treatment outcomes.
As mentioned above, in this study of 11627 veterinarians, 9% have current serious psychological distress and 19% are currently receiving treatment for a mental health condition. Plus, almost one third of that population have had depressive episodes.
According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, there is also more and more evidence that veterinary students are experiencing increased stress, anxiety, and depression. This prompted them to start hosting an annual Health and Wellness Summit.
Mental health disorders are common, not only in our profession but also amongst the general public. They have also been interconnected to the suicide rates mentioned in multiple studies. Check out this great initiative addressing mental health in the UK – Time to Change.
No, this doesn’t end here. There are other topics that we all must be aware of.
Keep an eye out for Part 2 – in the meantime don’t miss out on these amazing resources!
Dr. Marie Holowaychuk’s blog – a board certified criticalist with a vested interest on the health and wellness on the veterinary profession.
VetGirl, created by two board certified criticalists, also has posts on wellness, among may other resources and CE
Our own post on Compassion Fatigue
VetLife, a great resource for help if you’re in the UK, but with great links to even more information on the above subjects