Job Challenges Leading to High Rates of Suicide for American Veterinarians

04 Dec, 2023 Chriss Swaney

                               

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) -- The job challenges that more than 70,000 veterinarians in the U.S. face daily have led to disproportionately high suicide rates, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Nearly 400 veterinarians died by suicide between 1979 and 2015, according to the CDC study that analyzed more than 11,000 veterinarian death records during that time frame.

The CDC study also found that female veterinarians are up to 3.5 times more likely to kill themselves than members of the general population.  And the epidemic is not subsiding.

“Veterinarians are very hard on themselves. We often try to help animals when the owners can not afford to take their pet to a specialist due to the cost or distance,’’ said Larry Gerson, who founded the Pittsburgh-based Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic as a family veterinary practice, primarily for cats and dogs.  “When cases go badly, we get upset. Even routine cases can have bad results,’’ said Gerson, who is past president of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association.  

Gerson also pointed out that clients can be very difficult in a number of ways. “They demand immediate care and expect all cases to have successful outcomes,’’ he added.  “Social media affects us on a very intense way. Even the best veterinarians get unfair posts that become very disturbing,” Gerson said. 

There are also financial struggles, particularly for young people entering the field. Veterinary students in the U.S. graduated in the U.S. in 2018 with an average of $150,000 to $347,000 in debt, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).  Yet data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows veterinarians made less than $100,000. And for some veterinarians, the salary might not be enough to manage debt repayment. But salaries are starting to increase due to many corporations purchasing veterinary clinics.

The business side of the profession can also lead to stress. The study cited veterinarians struggling with work-life balance,  having long work hours, including weekends and evenings.

Veterinarians witness a range of emotions from pet parents. The loss of an animal companion can bring profound grief. And veterinarians see the tearful  last minutes between a person and their pet,  followed by an outpouring of sadness after the animal has passed. In addition to suicide, many veterinarians suffer burnout or mental health challenges.  

Public health researchers are trying to better understand how trauma within the profession can lead to suicidal depression, hoping for prevention through programs that target the problem.  An ever increasing  cache of programs are now available to veterinarians in crisis.  A new source guide joins AVMA’s growing library of wellbeing and suicide prevention resources that are available to everyone in the veterinary profession.  Found at avma.org/Wellbeing,

these include suicide response guides for veterinary workplaces and colleges, and free suicide prevention training for all veterinary professionals.

Complicating the suicide issue for veterinarians is the sobering reality that the U.S. pet care industry faces a shortage of veterinarians and veterinary technicians. In fact by 2030, the country will need 40,000 vets and 133,000 vet techs to meet the needs of the nation’s companion animals, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. 

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    About The Author

    • Chriss Swaney

      Chriss Swaney is a freelance reporter who has written for Antique Trader Magazine, Reuters, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, the Burlington Free Press, UPI, The Tribune-Review and the Daily Record.

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