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Serving: KS

Practice kindness around our veterinarians

LittleCityLifestylePhotography/Getty images Veterinarian and stethoscope
VETERINARY STRESS: Mental stress, crippling student loan debt and the rise of cyberbullying have resulted in nearly one-third of veterinarians reporting burnout and a disturbing rise in veterinarian suicides.
Veterinarian wellbeing is at a critical point. We need to show our veterinarians we care.

Outside of the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, there’s a bronze statue of a veterinarian helping a young boy listen to his dog’s heart with a stethoscope. It speaks of the heart and soul of the veterinary profession — caring for animals and the people who care for them.

I’m pretty partial to that statue. You see its dedicated to a cousin of mine — who, for more than 40 years as a veterinarian, truly lived up to his last name.

Let me tell you about Dr. Bob Kind.

Bob was my dad’s first cousin on his father’s side. He grew up in Herington, Kan., with the dream of becoming a veterinarian. So, he studied hard, saved and graduated from K-State with his vet degree in 1957. He then served as a veterinarian in the U.S. Air Force. And then he and his wife, Mary Lee, settled in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where he founded a vet clinic.

It wasn’t just any old vet clinic, though. He got to treat lions, tigers, camels, elephants and a range of exotic critters from zoos and sanctuaries. It was a long way from preg-checking cows in Kansas, for sure.

Bob really was a kind veterinarian, with a big heart for animals and their people. I have memories of this tall, lanky man with kind eyes bending down to my level and listening to my childish chattering about the barn kitties and our border collie cowdog Pippy Longstocking’s puppies.

Maybe that’s why I love that statue at K-State Vet Med.

A lot of heart

Bob was the first veterinarian I knew, but he wouldn’t be the last, of course.

There were the vets who would come to our farm to care for our cattle, or to write our health papers before the county 4-H cattle show. Several of my roommates and best friends in college got their degrees in veterinary medicine and went on to own their own practices, or to work for the USDA, or work in animal pharmaceuticals. And, as a dog owner, I’ve been fortunate to have a team of local veterinarians helping me keep my four-legged friends healthy.

Every one of them, from the gruff old school cow vets to the younger multispecies vets, and each in between, has one thing in common. They care about animals, and the humans tasked with caring for those animals.

They have chosen a career path that is part science, part gut instinct and a whole lot of heart. They spent years and upward of $140,000 in crippling debt to learn how to care for patients who can’t tell them where it hurts. And they handle human owners with professionalism when I’m sure, at times, they’d rather not.

The job itself has always been a mix of highs and lows. From the joy of delivering a healthy calf to the low of helping a beloved pet cross the rainbow bridge, a veterinarian can experience all the emotions in one day. But today’s veterinarians now must also navigate online bullying from clients who take their disputes over animal healthcare to their online platforms — and start mass harassment campaigns.

So, is it any wonder that veterinarians have mental health troubles?

Stress

In January, Merck Animal Health and the American Veterinary Medical Association released their Veterinary Wellbeing Study, which includes responses from veterinary technicians and support staff, as well as vets themselves.

Some highlights:

  • Increased stress. Ninety-two percent of respondents say increased stress is one of their top mental health challenges.
  • Student debt, concern about risk of suicide. Eighty-eight percent say student debt and concerns about the risk of suicide are leading stressors for veterinarians.
  • COVID-19, labor shortages serious stressors. The COVID-19 pandemic and the labor shortages and stress surrounding it, were cited as a main cause for the rise in veterinarians with serious psychological distress, with 49.6% of staff and 30.5% of veterinarians reporting high levels of burnout.

According to the group Not One More Vet, male veterinarians are 2.1 times more likely to die by suicide, and female veterinarians are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. A 2015 study found that 1 in 6 veterinarians have considered suicide.

These are our neighbors, our family and friends. And 1 in 6 has contemplated suicide.

Be kind

We can and we must do something to help our veterinarians.

A good start would be to be a little more like my cousin Bob, and be kind.

We can work to ease their financial burdens. We can stop the cyberbullying when we see it. And we can show our veterinarians that we care about them and their wellbeing.

If you or someone you care about is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at  800-273-8255. The AVMA also has resources for veterinarians to address their wellbeing at avma.org/resources-tools/wellbeing.

 

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