It is probably no secret that the demands of the medical profession are high. The hours are long and we regularly have to deal with intense emotional situations involving human factors and animal factors. Most of the time, these factors we have to deal with are necessarily medical in nature. Things like family emotions and finances regularly come into play. For many, it is not a natural instinct to be able to deal with these factors. Learning to deal with and navigate these waters is not a normal part of veterinary education. It is becoming an important part of education, but it is happening slowly.
These issues are becoming more common, and there was even a recent article about a study from the CDC about veterinarians being at a higher risk for suicide than other professionals. The study found alarming numbers, mainly that male veterinarians were 2.1x more likely to die from suicide when compared to the general population and female veterinarians were a whopping 3.5x more likely to die from suicide than the general population. If we ever needed a set of numbers to open our eyes to an issue that needs addressing, here they are.
Another issue that is becoming more prevalent is increasing debt to income ratio for new veterinary graduates. Graduates regularly have debt loads of $200,000 or more, with many of us having debt loads well above that. I recently spoke to a potential boss that said the reason he pays his employees well is because if he was going to have surgery, he would want the surgeon to be happy and well paid so they can function at full capacity. Applying that to our profession, we have a serious problem on our hands. Many veterinarians will be paying off their loans for the majority of their lives. Imagine their mental state on a day-to-day basis. The feeling of hopelessness in the face of this enormous debt tidal wave can easily get overwhelming.
Now that I am wrapping up my veterinary education, I know that one of the most important skills to develop during the 8 years of school is the ability to take care of and know yourself. It is important to know that euthanizing a patient does not mean that you failed. It is vital to understand that the work will never end, and you leaving the clinic to go home and eat dinner does not mean you are lazy. Similarly, taking time during lunch to go for a walk instead of doing work during your whole break like some co-workers does not make you weak. It may surprise some of you, but taking a fair amount of time for yourself makes you more productive on a long-term basis and drastically reduces burnout. Perhaps the true skill that we need to teach is confidence in one’s ability to know themselves and execute the work-life balance that is most healthy for them and that makes them most effective in both the clinic and their personal lives.