Normally, I like to keep it science-y here. As any long-time readers know, I'm very passionate about evidence-based medicine and accessible science communications. This one is personal. Feel free to turn back now.
In less than a year, I'll be a veterinarian, but I am already very much a part of this profession. I have been there in the flurry of CPR on a dog whose name I don't even know-- because he arrived already coding. I have spent day after day with long term ICU patients providing nursing support to get them back with their family. I have worked through strings of 14-16 hour days. I have cried alongside people I barely know in the collective grief of providing a suffering animal permanent relief, a safe and peaceful passage to the rainbow bridge. And I have suffered.
But I've also played with puppies. I've assisted in the wonders of helping new lives come into this world. I've cuddled kittens. I've danced in the play yard with the boarding dogs. I've laughed. I 've worked alongside so many amazing people. I've loved my patients. I love interacting with pet owners. And I love this field.
I love this field so much, I'm currently staring down more than $200,000 in student loans-- and that's with scholarship aid! I love this field so much, the mounting debt and the bad days and the sights of suffering and the long hours and the sleepless nights and the grueling curriculum rarely haunt me. I love this field so much, I am at total peace with the awful debt to income ratio that awaits me, burdened with the knowledge that I and my colleagues will be almost certainly overworked and underpaid.
But today I had an experience that shook me. One that was not the first, and will not be the last, and is not unique to me, but that represents a really dark side to being in this profession:
Some of the people whose pets we treat see us as monsters.
This exchange occurred in the comments of a public Facebook post about dog food. The post nor the individual will be named, because that isn't the point. This happens every day to veterinary professionals all over the world.
With the intellectual problems out of the way, think about the implied accusations here:
- A veterinarian will purposefully cause harm to an animal to profit off of the suffering.
- Again, she is saying: Vets make pets sick for job security
- A veterinarian has no regard for their medical oath
- A veterinarian goes into the profession with one goal in mind: $$$$
These stats have gone viral in recent years. They don't need to be belabored. Since I have been in vet school (2018) I have seen multiple posts cross my timeline of peers, colleagues, coworkers, or friends from veterinary conferences mourning the loss of a veterinarian or veterinary support staff member to suicide. Data shows that veterinarians, like many healthcare professionals, are at a greatly elevated risk of suicide when compared to the general population. There is no end of proposed reasons for this: the debt, the long hours, aggressive client interaction, online defamation, the burnout, imposter syndrome, guilt associated with negative patient outcomes, access to means, fearlessness of death from desensitization during euthanasia procedures.... one could go on.
We are in a staffing crisis.