Why The Veterinary Profession Has A High Burnout Rate
Here’s a summary of why the vet profession has such a high burnout and suicide rate.
The veterinary profession selects people who are deeply empathetic. We become veterinarians because we are following our heart. If we were logical, we would go to medical school where we could make double the salary and focus on one species. Instead, we follow our hearts.
In order to get into vet school, we have to get excellent grades, do tons of extracurriculars, volunteer in animal hospitals, and generally fill every moment of our schedule to prove that we can time manage and that we REALLY want this. We are taught that in order to succeed you can’t rest. Despite working our butts off we will probably tell you we were “lucky” to get in and feel like somehow the admissions committee made a mistake. We see every perceived mistake and dismiss our achievements.
Once we get into vet school, we sit in a lecture hall the entire day. By this point, we are pros at learning and studying and yet the amount of information thrown at us from Day 1 is more than we thought was possible. We learn the anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, etc. for multiple species. We learn that cats are NOT small dogs, horses and rabbits have similar GI tracts despite looking nothing alike, and they all metabolize things differently so that a medication that helps one animal may be toxic to the other. We learn a whole new veterinary language so that we can talk to each other so that we can then translate that back into what normal people understand in the real world.
My lecture hall didn’t have any windows. We had 10 precious minutes in between lectures to go to the bathroom or not think for one blissful moment, but some professors would go over because our basic necessities were less important than the extra information they wanted to throw at us. We spent weeknights trying to pack everything we learned into our brain so we could take on another day of information overload without falling behind. Weekends were spent studying for most of the day.
How should veterinarians be expected to stick up for their boundaries, prioritize basic necessities, and manage stress when they are taught to do the opposite in order to survive in veterinary school?
Once we enter the real world, it’s more of the same because that’s what we’ve been taught. We are a profession of people pleasers who feel guilty saying no and who think we are doing the right thing by sacrificing lunch breaks and time at home with family in order to take one more patient despite knowing our team is already stretched too thin.
We sacrificed everything to save animals and yet we are slapped in the face with reality when our hands are tied because owners don’t have the money for the basic care their pet needs and they accuse us of not caring. They don’t realize that it’s tearing us up inside that we don’t have a magic wand, x-ray vision, and unlimited funds to help and that in the middle of the night, we’ll be thinking about that patient we couldn’t help.
The excuse that there is too much to learn, and it just has to be this way is unacceptable. In order for change to happen, things actually need to change in a big way - not one pathetic lecture on stress management. Well-being cannot be an afterthought; it is a vital foundation. If the profession wants to hold onto that limiting belief and excuse, then vet school needs to start coming with a black box warning label.
Veterinarians are extremely intelligent, resourceful, problem-solvers. We solve puzzles every day. If we want a thriving veterinary profession, veterinary schools need to be honest about how they are nurturing the root of the problem. We need to be working smarter not harder.
We learn what every species needs to survive and yet we ignore the basic necessities our brains and bodies need to function. Every single veterinary school and hospital needs to start asking, “How can we create an environment that supports the energy and well-being of the veterinary community so that they can do the job they worked so hard for in a sustainable way and to the best of their ability?”
Knowing how to truly brush off a client who is accusing you of only being in it for the money while you have massive student loans is much more important than remembering that the scientific name for whip worms is Trichuris vulpis which you can easily look up and will not once need to say to a client.
Knowing how to prioritize what your body, mind, and heart need and how to process your emotions on “those days” when you’re short staffed and every single wellness appointment turns into a train wreck is more important than being able to regurgitate the Krebs cycle.
We give all of ourselves to the profession because our heart, determination, and willingness to self-sacrifice led us there and we have been rewarded for it. That is why the burnout and suicide rate is high. That must change.
It’s not complicated. When you support and honor the basic necessities of you and your team, everyone - including patient care and client experiences - thrive. We are a brilliant group of professionals. Why are we being stupid? In an effort to save every other species, we have forgotten how to save ourselves. The good news is that can start to change today.
As a recovered burnt out vet and integrative health and life coach, I am here to make sure change happens in this profession.
I’m hosting a free series to vets and vet students, “Beat The Burnout: What We Should Have Learned In Veterinary School”. The first talk is Thursday, May 18th at 12:30 EST: “The Most Relaxing Lunch Break Ever: Anti-Anxiety Tools That Actually Work”. And since change needs to start today, as soon as you sign up, I’ll send you my favorite 1 minute anti-anxiety tool. If you haven't already, you can sign up here.
Let’s get started now! Hit reply and share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas for solutions, and please share this to start a ripple effect of positive change. ❤️