Playing with puppies and kittens most of the day and selflessly saving any and all helpless animals in between are the common perception of being a veterinarian that many people pictured as a child. James Herriot painted a beloved picture of adventure and fun that many fell in love with. I’d be remiss to admit that occasionally this does describe the job but unfortunately, the more common reality faced by veterinarians is a lot less rosy.
Dr. Judson Vasconcelos is the head of the Veterinary and Consumer Affairs Team at Merck Animal Health. Merck has committed to performing a study in US veterinarians every few years “to monitor wellbeing and mental health of US veterinarians.” Having practiced as a veterinarian for years in Brazil, Dr. Vasconcelos can not only share the most recent study that illustrates the struggle many veterinarians are facing but also relates to them through his own experiences.
“We want to have a good idea of what’s going on with veterinarians based on the trends that we’ve seen in the past. We want to have a good understanding of wellbeing and where they are from a mental health standpoint. We want to benchmark some of (that) data with some of the findings from other scientists...” - Dr. Judson Vasconcelos
Through a partnership with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), they were able to analyze 3000 answers from a survey sent out to practicing veterinarians in the United States. This comprehensive survey illustrated many different concerns, however, the team was able to identify three main concerns affecting the veterinary profession today and have labeled them the “Three S’s.”
These three main issues all contribute to a multifactorial result of reduced quality of life and low job satisfaction for veterinary professionals. Factors like a poor work-life balance and high expectations of customers magnify the gravity and significance of the Three S’s. Surprisingly to most, “52% of the veterinarians do not recommend the profession.” Reasons such as debt, low salary, stress, and difficult clients are all cited as causes for this finding. Veterinarians are 2.7 times more likely to attempt suicide, a number which is significantly higher than their human medicine counterparts. However, identifying these concerns is only useful if something is done to ease the burden they present.