It’s still a taboo subject but one we, as a human collective and the veterinary profession, need to be more open about.
One in six veterinarians have contemplated suicide. Veterinarians are almost three times more likely to die by suicide than the general public.
We have a debt-to-income ratio of at least 2:1, if not 4:1 for those in rural practices. One in five of us will be or have been the victim of cyberbullying attacks.
A few years ago, one of my beloved mentors committed suicide.
Most veterinarians began their lifelong pursuit of the profession when they were young. Growing up, I spent every summer with my grandparents on our family farm in Ohio.
One summer evening we were walking along the bean field when we noticed a young fawn with her leg stuck in the fence. I ran back to the shed, got pliers, and helped to free the baby deer. I remember looking into her eyes and thinking, I bet that she knows that I am trying to help her. It was in that moment I knew I wanted to spend my life helping save animals.
The pathway to becoming a veterinarian is no easy feat. One must have impeccable grades in college, complete years of prerequisite courses, be involved with community service and extracurricular activities and have experience in a veterinary clinic before even being accepted in to vet school.
Once accepted in to vet school, students then experience another four years on top of their college education that help prepare them to become a veterinarian. Typically, our schooling after high school graduation is between seven and eight years.
Following graduation from vet school, we have the options to do internships, residencies to specialize, or go straight into general practice.
This week alone I have worked on goats, pigs, alpacas, cattle, horses, dogs and cats.
I have performed multiple types of surgeries on multiple species, treated allergic skin conditions, managed heart disease and congestive heart failure, diagnosed and formulated treatment plans for cancer and completed thorough internal medicine workups.
I have been with clients while they are having the worst day of their lives, helping them make difficult decisions and holding space for their grief. I also have been able to help clients adjust to life with new puppies or kittens and develop vaccine programs that fit their lifestyle needs.
I am always in a state of balancing my education, years in practice and reading the latest research to practice better medicine for my patients.
I always focus on patient welfare, being an advocate for their needs and respecting my veterinarian-client-patient relationships.
There are many reasons veterinarians have a higher suicide rate than any other profession. I personally believe it goes much deeper than the fact that we go into hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt for the love of our profession.
The profession is designed to attract people who are empathetic, compassionate, highly intelligent, driven and perfectionists.
We feel a call to serve and be the best that we can be, always. The application process alone weeds out anyone who does not fit this mold. I am a deeply empathetic, compassionate person who feels deeply with my clients and patients. I try hard to not have an ego in a way that prohibits me from asking for help. If I can’t figure out what’s wrong — I will do the research and contact the specialists who can help me better help my patients and clients.
I know most of my profession is like me.
But then add in the other factors that compromise our quality of life.
When cases go wrong, or, sometimes everything goes right and nature still takes over and you can’t save the pet.
When your family and loved ones are angry with you because you’re on call yet again during another holiday, weekend, or game and can’t be there for the ones who love you most.
When you get a divorce because, to the world, you just can’t leave your work at work.
When you’ve done too many euthanasias in a week.
When there have been too many online bullies who are trying to ruin your reputation.
When the reason you got into the profession becomes the reason you need to leave this world.
Sometimes cases don’t go well despite our best intentions.
Sometimes, no, always patients will die. They were born in to this world and they also have to leave it.
Sometimes our drive for perfectionism means we are so invested in our work that it literally bleeds everywhere. Into our homes, into our friendships and to our loved ones.
Sometimes we get so terribly bullied and harassed but because of professionalism, liability, and not breaking our code of ethics we can’t even defend ourselves.
Instead, we sit back and hope people who are reading what bullies are saying will realize that hurt people hurt other people and what they are saying is not true. Or, if it is true, that they understand we are human too.
And sometimes we practice such kindness in helping our furry friends pass that we then extend that kindness to ourselves.
September is suicide awareness month. If you need help please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.