Are We Too Hard On Our Vets?

The rate of suicide across the veterinarian profession is four times higher than the public

By Patrick Cullen

There’s a suicide problem in the vet community, one that is only recently receiving the attention that it deserves.

Perhaps overshadowed by the suicide problem that is also a concern of military vets, their white coat wearing counterparts need the support of the public, too. Shockingly, the rate of suicide across individuals in the veterinarian profession is four times higher than that of the non-vet public. As further points of comparison, this is double the rate of both dentists and medical professionals, which are both professions where notoriously, suicide is an increased concern.  While I wasn’t aware of this problem until last week, thankfully, not everyone else is as clueless. The issue has been gaining momentum recently through a variety of channels. Major news outlets, including the Boston Globe, and even the National Institute of Health (US) published informative, eye-opening articles in much needed attempts to bring attention to the problem.

While this kind of media coverage is important to broaden public awareness, we came across the intensifying movement and the passion of its spokespeople through a viral post that has been circulating Facebook among veterinarians and pet lovers alike. Tamara Vetro Widenhouse, DVM’s social media post, a piece of poetic writing entitled “Every Time,” does a great job chronicling the negative experiences of a vet day in and day out as they perform a job so necessary to the wellbeing of the beloved animals that we’ve brought into our lives. And as we all know so well, when are pets are healthy and happy, we are happy. In this social media post, although not a writer, Widenhouse is moving, influential, and reminds us of this integral role that vets play not only in our pets lives but in our lives. Instead of the scalpel, she’s opted for words and turned her attention from pets to their owners.

“Every Time” addresses us. It is written for the pet owners that have a choice every time they bring their animal to the vet’s office. In doing so, it brings us in, giving us a role in this dilemma, empowering us to make a great difference through actions that require very little. Widenhouse does this by bringing the faults of pet owners to our attention. While it isn’t all of us, she calls out the disrespectful ones. The unappreciative and the entitled and the ignorant. The parents of pets that needed vet care who didn’t stop to think about the feelings of the vet who works tireless, heartfelt hours to keep our favorite animals healthy. Maybe you’ve always praised your vet for their role in your life. Or maybe you had a bad day and said some things you didn’t mean or didn’t show the gratitude your vet was deserving of. Whichever the person you are, whether you were sympathetic to Widenhouse’s posting or targeted by it, it applies to all of us.

Vets are people, just like us. They are feeling, caring people who are in their professional because they love animals, just like we do.  You don’t go to school for the better part of a decade unless you have an ardent passion for helping the animals who, knowingly or perhaps unknowingly, have such a huge role in our lives. We need vets and we need to show them the appreciation they deserve. While you might not be a part of the problem, you can be a part of making the problem better. There shouldn’t be a suicide problem within the vet community but unfortunately there is. Given that fact, we need to change the way that pet owners treat their vets. There should be nothing but respect, praise, and empathy. While we might not be able to help our pets medically, we are able to help those who can. Next time you are at the vet’s office, make sure you do.

Read the full text of “Every Time” below.

“Every Time”

Every time you say vets are money grubbing, or ‘too expensive’ or just in it for the money.

Every time you decline all diagnostics yet demand to know ‘what’s wrong with my pet’

Every time at a social function or other completely inappropriate place you find out that someone is a vet you ask them for free advice about your animal.

Every time you feel justified posting a shitty practice or vet review when everything was done according to the standard of care but your pet died anyway.

Every time YOUR lack of preventative care resulted in your pets early death yet you blame the veterinarian.

Every time she gets in early and stays late and works an 80 hour week because your pet that had been ill for days suddenly becomes an emergency at 5pm on a Friday and you demand to be seen – claiming these heartless vets won’t treat your baby.

Every time someone says ‘why didn’t you become a real doctor?’

Every time someone complains about the cost of veterinary care… comparing human medicine and insurance subsidies to pet ownership (totally voluntary btw).

Every time that someone doesn’t pay their bill and thinks that they are entitled not to because pet ownership is their ‘right’.

Every time someone walks in to a clinic and threatens to ‘sue your ass if you make one mistake with my baby’.

Every time a graduate vet looks at the hundreds of thousands of dollars in crippling debt and listens to clients driving Mercedes and bmws complain about the cost of a spay using good anesthetic care and adequate pain management.

Every time… You are part of the problem.

The problem is suicide in veterinarians. Most of us went to veterinary school because we care. We have a calling to care…. but there is a dark and expensive cost to compassion.

Think before you act or speak.

Author:Tamara Vetro Widenhouse DVM