Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard
Snow Leopard cub (7 mos old) - Cape May County Zoo

Monday, August 15, 2011

The "Down" Side to Being a Vet

On this very dreary, rainy day (after a very dreary, rainy weekend), I suppose it's natural I gravitated to this topic, inspired by an article I just read.

Veterinary students more depressed than the rest

Veterinary medicine students are more likely to struggle with depression than human medicine students, undergraduate students and the general population, according to several recent collaborative studies from Kansas State University researchers.
Mac Hafen, therapist and clinical instructor in K-State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and researchers from K-State, the University of Nebraska and East Carolina University decided to take a closer look at depression and anxiety among veterinary medical students. Although the mental health of human medicine students has been extensively studied, the same extent of study has not been performed with veterinary medicine students. Additionally, most veterinary research related to depression involves pet owners, not veterinarians or students.
“We are hoping to predict what contributes to depressionlevels so that we can intervene and make things run a little bit more smoothly for students themselves,” said Hafen, who has spent five years researching the well-being and mental health of veterinary students.
Once a semester, the researchers anonymously surveyed veterinary medicine students in various stages of academic study. The survey helped uncover a rate of depressionoccurrence and understand how it related to the amount of stress veterinary students experience during their four years of study.
During the first year of veterinary school, 32 percent of the veterinary medicine students surveyed showed symptoms of depression, compared to 23 percent of human medicine students who showed symptoms above the clinical cutoff, as evidenced by other studies.

I don't know how accurate/true across the  board this is but I do remember in veterinary school, during my first year, one of the topics in an orientation type class was about the very high rate of drug and alcohol abuse among veterinarians. 

Of course having access to some controlled drugs does play a role but I think "compassion burnout" is a huge factor. Dealing with very sick or dying patients and the families that come with them can wear you down, no matter how much of a wall you put up. I am pretty good with it most of the time - of course, I feel compassion/empathy for these people - but there are cases or days where it hits me really hard. 

There are others though. These are just some of the others in MY opinion:

1. Huge student loans coupled with low pay for the hours, knowledge base, etc - realizing it may takes years to decades to achieve certain material things and other goals because of this - exactly WHY students need to know what they are getting into before going to vet school

2. Working for other people who, unfortunately, often take advantage of new grads or just hard workers 

3. Working for unethical vets (yes, they exist) - makes you realize "hey we aren't all in this for the right reasons"

4. Long hours - and unpredictable ones too

5. Clients with plenty of attitude and no money - sometimes they are in one package but not always - many vets who have been in this profession for years have remarked about how people, in general, have gotten nastier

6. The need to be a psychologist. No, really. Many people come in to talk about all sorts of stuff NOT pet related during the pet's appointment. I have definitely come across some very lonely, sad people. I let them have their time. I figure they just need an ear. 

On a personal note, I can tell you I reached this point twice. Once was due to working for a few very unethical people back to back, the other was because I was overworked, dealing with double standards and couldn't take proper care and time with my patients! Thankfully, in both cases, I knew enough to move on (though loyalty kept me attached and ever hopeful in one case).  

Yes, I was burnt out -not to where I was doing drugs or becoming suicidal (now my martini and wine intake MAY have increased a bit during those times) but where I seriously thought about NOT being a veterinarian anymore. Of course, the reality of the student debt I still have and the years I put into achieving this goal kept me from taking any kind of huge leap. A number of great, supportive clients and friends also helped too.  I did seriously consider doing other things within  veterinary medicine but no opportunities in those areas were available at that time. 

It's all good now though - positive things on the horizon! 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Christine,
    So many analogies to our professions, but we both stay focused on our "client".
    I will try to locate another picture for you, send it privately.