My name is Tricia Montgomery; CEO for Paws Humane Society.
We need your help.
There is a mental health crisis among veterinarians, and the rate at which our veterinary colleagues, peers, classmates, and friends are being taken by suicide is staggering. The profession lost 3 to suicide last week.
Research has continued to show that veterinarians are more than 3.5 times as likely to commit suicide than the general population. Veterinarians are consistently sitting at the top of the list of professions in the entire United States for most suicides per year. This number is not slowing down, but continues to roll and gain speed like a boulder down an insurmountable mountain of unattainable expectations from owners, the community, and ourselves, an unclimbable hill of patient morbidity and mortality, an unimaginable weight of debt, an unlivable work-“life” balance, and unrealistic professional demands that far surpass any human’s emotional limits, resulting in one of the highest rates of compassion fatigue.
Every Veterinarian knows why they lead these statistics. However, until you, our clients, and the public, realizes this crisis, and understands the contributing factors, we will continue to lose our brothers and sisters.
We must change from both the inside and the outside of the veterinary community.
So, why do veterinarians commit suicide?
Educational Debt: Veterinarians have the worst debt-to-future-income ratio of any profession in the entire United States, meaning that after 8 years of extremely taxing education, most Veterinarians spend 15-30 years paying off school loans. And more often than not, owners and the general population frequently and incessantly maintain they “make too much money”. This In comparison to those in the human medicine. Salaries for Veterinarians are anything but high. Especially at a Not-for-Profit animal shelter, such as Paws.
Cost of Care: Veterinarians walk a fine line between the medical gold standard and the financial limits of owners. Despite our team bending every possible invoice, as much as we can, to meet the needs of owners and pets, more often than not, we are told our prices are too high. Our prices are a small fraction of the price for the same medical care provided to humans. The exact same treatment that costs $100 at Paws would easily cost $2,500 in human medicine. For surgeries, consider adding tens of thousands to the bill. In addition, in order for clinics to remain open to care for your pet and help more animals, we have to pay for the building, the utilities, the supplies, the medications, and the bloodwork machine and so it goes. We also pay people to work at Paws.
No Veterinarian has ever gone into this profession for money. They become Veterinarians because it is their passion; it is their calling and their love animals.
Emotional Burnout & Compassion Fatigue: Veterinarians work with dying, painful, suffering patients every day, and many times cannot help them for a variety of reasons that are often not present in human medicine. This could be anything from owner financial constraints, the logistics of owners being able to provide care for a pet at home, the inability of our patients (your pets) to speak to about their illness, concerns about quality of life, and, a general mistrust in Veterinarians. Veterinarians choose this career knowing that all of their patients will die before they do. The emotional toll is leading to one of the highest burnout and compassion fatigue rates of any profession.
Owner Expectations & Work-Life Balance: The unrealistic and unattainable expectations of owners, and their inability to respect the outside lives and personal boundaries of veterinarians, is damaging in more ways than one. As pet owners, many expect Veterinarians to drop everything (at any time, in any place, in any situation, within a second’s notice) to attend to owners and their needs, regardless of the ramifications on the Veterinarian’s life, their family, and their mental health – and if for ANY reason they do not, they are “heartless people who don’t love animals, otherwise you would sacrifice everything to help me and my pet”.
Veterinary medicine is, at its core, the single best profession in the world.
So why am I telling you this.
Please be kind to your Veterinary team, whether it be at Paws or any other Veterinary Clinic. Please be understanding. Please be patient. Your words can make or break someones day, please choose them carefully.
Our Veterinarians, YOUR Veterinarians, like Dr. White, Dr. Mathews and Dr. Seifert and the entire team at Paws, only want the best for you and your pet.
Tricia Montgomery, CEO
Paws Humane Society