By Teresa Traverse
As a pet owner, you rely on your vet to take care of your pet. But many vets are struggling to take care of themselves. The suicide rate among veterinarians is high: More than one in six veterinarians might have contemplated suicide since graduation, according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study also showed that vets are more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders like depression than the general population. Itâ€™s a problem that the veterinary community is sadly aware of.
â€śWe have all lost at least one colleague to suicide,â€ť says Heather Loenser, DVM, the veterinary advisor of professional and public affairs for the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).
But if this is news to you, thatâ€™s not really much of a surprise to Ron Del Moro, Ph.D., a licensed clinical counselor at University of Florida's Veterinary Hospitals. â€śEveryoneâ€™s aware of it, but no one really talks about,â€ť says Del Moro.
Well, weâ€™re here to talk about it. Here are some of the issues that veterinarians routinely face and ways you can show appreciation to your vet all year round.
1. Many Vets are Perfectionists
â€śI donâ€™t know any non-perfectionist veterinarians. Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™re out there. I just donâ€™t know them,â€ť says Loenser.
Veterinary medicine is competitive. With only 30 schools of veterinary medicine in the United States, getting admitted is tough. And those intelligent, competitive traits that get vets into school stick with them after graduation.?
â€śYou have these really highly intelligent people, driven people who are perfectionists who want to solve problems and heal everybody. Itâ€™s a tough job,â€ť says Del Moro. â€śSo many times our minds are the biggest problems that get in the way.â€ť Facing the reality that financial and other concerns often prevent them from saving pets who could be saved is terribly difficult for many veterinarians.
2. Vets are Human, Too
As pet owners, it can be tough not to see your vet as some sort of superhero. After all, he or she cures diseases and heals your pets when theyâ€™re sick. But itâ€™s important to remember that vets are people too. And like any human, vets make mistakes and have setbacks. ?
â€śFailureâ€™s not necessarily something we were trained to be comfortable with,â€ť says Loenser. â€śWhen things go wrong in a caseâ€”thereâ€™s an outcome that we werenâ€™t anticipating or we were hoping didnâ€™t happen, but it does. Thatâ€™s really hard on us all the way down to the core of our beings.â€ť
3. They Handle Euthanasia Procedures
Having to end a petâ€™s life can be a heartbreaking taskâ€”but veterinarians do it on a regular basis. And some handle the task better than others, Loenser says.
â€śSome people look at that as a viable alternative to having an animal suffer with a chronic disease. In that case, youâ€™re truly alleviating suffering,â€ť she says. â€śOther veterinarians donâ€™t look at it that way. They take it very personally when an animal has to be put to sleep.â€ť
4. They Deal With Small Business Stress
Many vets run their own businesses and have to deal with all the stresses that go along with that, including managing staff, paying a lease, and dealing with taxes.
â€śVeterinary schools are getting better at teaching basic business administration in schools. And then there are veterinarians that get MBAs,â€ť says Loenser. â€śBut thatâ€™s not still not the norm, and thereâ€™s still room for veterinary schools to better teach us how to run our businesses.â€ť
5. Vets Interact With Unreasonable Clients
Both Loenser and Del Moro confirmed that one of the most stressful parts of any vetâ€™s life is interacting with unreasonable pet owners.
â€śYouâ€™ve got these doctors who are doing the best they can with the information they have and sometimes you canâ€™t satisfy the clients enough, ever,â€ť says Del Moro. He acknowledges that the bonds pet owners have with their animals are strong, which can make interactions between vets and their clients emotionally charged.
â€śFirst and foremost, try to empathize with the doctorâ€™s situation and how difficult it is. Whatever news youâ€™re getting,â€ť says Del Moro. â€śPeople forget that [vets] have feelings too. They too are impacted. They too got into this profession because they love animals. And no one wants to see the animal suffer.â€ť
6. Vets Have High Student Loan Debt
Many vets have high student loan debts. The average veterinarian graduates from school owing $153,191 in student loans, according to a study conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). It can take vets a long time to dig themselves out of this debt.
7. Vets are Paid Relatively Low Salaries
In addition to a mountain of veterinary school debt, vets often have to deal with relatively low starting salaries. The average starting salary for a small animal veterinary practitioner is roughly $70,000 according to the AVMA https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Statistics/Pages/Market-research-statâ€¦. While that might not sound like a bad starting salary, it can be tough to pay off debt and achieve other goals like buying a home at that level.
â€śEven though veterinarians donâ€™t go into this for the money, for my peers itâ€™s frustrating when we see other professionals who have gone to school for a similar length that have a lot more stuff and freedom,â€ť says Loenser.
Ways You Can Help
Veterinarians do a lot for you and your pet, so itâ€™s important to show your vet how much you value his or her work. Here are a few easyâ€”but impactfulâ€”ways you can show your vet you care.
Donâ€™t think you have to go all out to show appreciation. Saying â€śthanksâ€ť will do.
â€śThanking face to face is always lovely,â€ť says Loenser. â€śSome people might think we donâ€™t need that, but thatâ€™s nice to hear.â€ť
Cards, food, and flowers also make nice gifts.
Donate to a Charity in Your Vetâ€™s Name
Many veterinary hospitals support charities or have memorial funds for animals and staff members who have passed, Loenser tell us. Research those organization and consider donating money to them in your vetâ€™s name. Many vet schools also have funds set up to help animals in need. A client of Loenserâ€™s did this once.
â€śThey gave a donation to my vet school in my name for taking care of their animal. That was huge to me,â€ť says Loenser.
Be Straightforward About Finances
â€śWe really try to give accurate estimates. Feel free to go over them with us,â€ť says Loenser. â€śWhen it comes to the point when youâ€™re checking out of the hospital [make sure] youâ€™re not surprised and then angry.â€ť Veterinarians are willing to talk about the pros and cons of treatment options at different price points, but they donâ€™t know what your constraints are unless you bring them up.
Pay Your Bills on Time
Many veterinary practices are small business and can struggle to pay their expenses (including the salaries of all those wonderful technicians who have helped your pet) if you donâ€™t pay on time. If youâ€™re on a payment plan, making on-time payments can go a long way in fostering goodwill with your veterinarian.
Post a Positive Review on Social Media ?
If you think your vet is giving stellar service, say so on Yelp, Google, or Facebook.
â€śPosting a great review really means the world to us,â€ť says Loenser. â€śWe love to see positive reviews.â€ť And pointing other pet owners towards a great vet is a win-win for everyone.
Be Open To Suggestions
Loenser explains that really motivated pet owners will usually research a condition prior to coming in for a visit. But what youâ€™ve read is not always the best solution and can lead to problems if pet parents arenâ€™t open minded and responsive to a veterinarianâ€™s advice. She says she enjoys talking to pet owners who have done their research as it can save her time. But if youâ€™ve been treating a condition with a treatment you found on the Internet and arenâ€™t having success with it, be prepared to listen to what your vet has to say.
When a vet gives you a treatment plan, follow it.
â€śWe feel heard. Weâ€™re saying this because we care about your animals. We believe in what weâ€™re recommending,â€ť says Loenser.
If you donâ€™t feel comfortable following the plan or canâ€™t afford it, let your vet know so he or she can recommend a different treatment plan that meets your needs.
Arrive on Time
â€śIt doesnâ€™t take much for us to get behind if people start coming in late,â€ť says Loenser. Even if you get there on time, keep in mind that other patients might not have been as punctual. Realize that the vet may have just seen a pet that required more of his or her time. Critically ill pets take precedence over animals with broken toenails or other minor conditions.
Respecting your veterinarianâ€™s time and schedule and being understanding if he or she gets pulled away to deal with an emergency will go a long way in demonstrating your gratitude.