Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: July 9, 2023 by Crystal Uys
When you take your cat to your vet and see his or her smiling face (even if it’s just on a screen or behind a mask right now,) as he or she cares for your cat, the last thing you probably think about is that this kind and compassionate person is at a higher than normal risk of suicide. The sad reality is that suicide in the veterinary profession has been a growing concern for quite some time.
A crisis that few people know of or understand
In 2019, the CDC released the first study to ever examine mortality rates among veterinarians in America. The study analyzed more than 11,000 veterinarian deaths that took place between 1979 and 2015. The results painted a grim picture. Nearly 400 veterinarians died by suicide during the time period. The study also found that female vets are up to 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than members of the general population. Additional research found that 1 in 6 veterinarians have considered suicide.
The profession attracts intelligent, driven people who, above all else, want to help and treat animals. Nobody becomes a veterinarian to get rich. The average veterinary student graduates with $140,000 or more in debt, about 1 in 5 leave school with more than $200,000 in debt. Veterinary salaries start at about $65,000 a year and are not keeping pace with rising tuition rates.
A veterinary clinic is a high stress work environment. Most clients who bring their sick pets to the clinic are stressed, and sometimes, the clinic staff ends up being the target of pent up frustration. There are few opportunities to take breaks when you deal with life or death every day. Most veterinarians have trouble finding work life balance. They tend to be passionate individuals who put the well being of their patients ahead of their own. Compassion fatigue is a common problem in the profession.
Add to that that on any given day, veterinarians are faced with death. This is a significant difference compared to physicians. Unless a physician is working in an ER setting or a specialty like oncology, patient death tends to not be an almost daily occurrence. Unlike physicians, veterinarians often find themselves having to euthanize an animal with a treatable injury or illness because the caregiver either can’t afford or doesn’t want to pursue treatment. Add to that the routine access to euthanasia drugs combined with the knowledge of how to administer a quick and painless death, and it becomes clear how suicide can seem like a viable solution to burnout.
Not One More Vet
Not One More Vet is a non-profit organization that started out as a private facebook group created by CEO Dr. Nicole McArthur after world-renowned veterinarian Dr. Sophia Yin took her own life. Her 2014 death shook the veterinary community and brought the longstanding problem out of the shadows.
Not One More Vet’s mission is to provide support to every single veterinary professional so that the world doesn’t lose one more. They provide online peer support as well as education.
The site offers a comprehensive set of resources, including suicide hotlines, and most importantly, an online community for veterinarians and support staff.
You can support the organization by making a donation here. For more information, please visit NotOneMoreVet.org.
Featured Image Credit: Hananeko, Shutterstock
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.