I’m going to tell you the truth – it’s really not easy being a veterinarian. I love it, which is why I keep doing it, but like many health professions, it takes a personal toll. As with doctors and dentists, some days are easy, some days are hard. Some days I am so exhausted when I get home that I barely make it out of my scrubs before hitting my bed.
Of course, many health professions are just as difficult, and some are emotionally draining, like people working with palliative care or pediatric oncology. For people in these professions, every day is a challenge.
And veterinarians do experience some special moments. The licks I get, the wagging tails, the rub from a cat’s cheek, make it all worth it. And if I can help ease the suffering my patients in their final moments, I think of this as a gift I can give that soul and their human family.
On the other hand, statistics tell us that veterinarians have one of the highest rates of depression and suicide among all the health professions. This may seem surprising, but ask yourself this: what other profession do you know of where you will see the first months and final minutes of close to 75% of your patients?
We all go into vet school wanting to help our beloved creatures. We want to do everything we can so that they may have healthy, happy and pain-free lives. What we realize when we begin practicing, however, is that we are not in control of this. It is rather the owners and caregivers of these animals who are in full control. They are the ones who need to give permission to run tests, do procedures, etc. They are the ones who have to pay for these services. And in many instances they cannot afford it or sometimes they choose not to spend their hard earned money on their pet. It is yet another reason that the profession is emotionally draining. Imagine if you were a pediatrician and you had a one year old presenting with a fractured leg. You have to ask the parents if they can afford to treat this injury, which requires a cast or a surgery, something completely fixable, something that this child will recover from 100%. Imagine if they said: “I’m sorry, I can’t afford it”.
We struggle at times. We are asked difficult questions about why things cost what they do. We have to justify every test or procedure we recommend. Discount clinics pop up and offer reduced prices for certain procedures, but we know that these prices come with a cost in care and service. But it pulls at my heartstrings, and I would like to give it all for free if I could. But I also believe in providing the care my patients deserve. I want to give them warmth on recovery from surgery with someone holding them, I want to give them the best pain medications, I want to give them the monitoring, the fluid therapy, the in-house blood tests, the ultrasounds. I want to give them a comfortable and calm room where they can spend the last moments of their life.
So how do I keep sane? How do I keep up the pace, keep from falling into the emotional sinkhole that can be our profession? I keep doing what I believe in. It’s that simple. I hope to instill this work ethic and compassion in my children. As much as they may see how hard it is for their mom every day, how sometimes I cannot keep back the tears and frustrations, it is a profession that means the world to me and one I will fight for every inch of the way – for your animals, for your four legged family members.