The strong compassion we all feel for pets can make emotions run high during a stressful situation, and those who work in the veterinary profession potentially feel lofty highs upon meeting a new puppy and rock-bottom lows when diagnosing a patient’s incurable cancer. The veterinary profession’s mental, physical, and emotional demands take their toll on every veterinary team member, and can cause anxiety, stress, and depression. To help you better understand veterinary professionals’ challenges—especially their mental health—and how you can help, our Parker Center Animal Hospital team presents this imaginary open letter from a fictitious veterinarian.
Dear Pet Owner,
Nothing is more special than the bond you share with your pet. Whether they have two feet, four paws, four hooves, or a fin, your pet is likely your best friend. Veterinary professionals know just how much pets mean to their owners, and we feel incredibly privileged to be able to provide your beloved companion the care and treatment they deserve. However, all too often, we are the bearers of bad news—cancer, chronic disease, declining quality of life, and pricey treatment estimates—and must initiate difficult conversations. We understand the stress, worry, and heartbreak your pet’s poor diagnosis can cause you, but we must remain professional and stoic. Over time, helping pet owners bear emotional burdens—and our own feelings—can become overwhelming. These distressing emotions, which can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout, are one challenge plaguing veterinary professionals.
You may be aware of many veterinary professionals’ declining mental health, and you may wonder why this is occurring when having the privilege of caring for animals must feel incredible. While we love our jobs, the veterinary profession is up against several major challenges. In addition to the overwhelming emotions with which we must cope, veterinary professionals face:
- Tremendous student loan debt
- Long working hours
- Poor work-life balance
- Staffing shortages
- Overbooked schedules
- Inadequate salaries and benefits
- Insufficient mental health resources
As many as one in six veterinarians consider suicide, which is three times the national average. With no end in sight to the veterinary staffing shortage, and the emotional investment we have in each patient, the industry needs to learn how to support professionals in all their workplace challenges. Some practices and corporations are doing their best to set a much higher standard of care to help our veterinary team members, but much work still remains.
The next time you bring your pet for a wellness visit, take comfort knowing your pet is not in need of your veterinarian’s lifesaving care when a team member informs you that your veterinarian is running behind because of an emergency. In addition, keep in mind that, if we didn’t need to pay for housing, food, and all life’s essentials—just as you do—we would love to treat every pet for free. Know that veterinary medicine supplies are costly to our practice, and we do our best to keep our fees reasonable. To mitigate your pet’s health care costs, consider purchasing a pet insurance policy, which can help alleviate the emotional responsibility your veterinary professional feels regarding a pet owner’s struggle with their finances. These common situations cause all veterinary professionals anxiety, but by respectfully working with your pet’s veterinary team, you help ensure your beloved companion receives the care they deserve, and that the veterinary profession can decrease the many issues we face.
Your Devoted Veterinarian
Simple ways to show your veterinary team appreciation
While this letter is a work of fiction, the sentiment rings true throughout the veterinary profession. Although a lick or a tail wag are thanks enough when we help a pet, our team still appreciates knowing that pet owners recognize the incredible work we do every day. When a veterinary professional provides your pet with compassionate care, show your gratitude by demonstrating these simple gestures:
- Arrive on time — Try your best to arrive on time for your pet’s appointment. With limited staff, we can only see so many pets per day, so our schedule is often packed tight. Being a few minutes late for your pet’s appointment can create a cascade effect, delaying subsequent clients later and later. In addition, if you know you are not going to be able to get to our office, please cancel your appointment, so we can contact clients on our waiting list.
- Be upfront — If you have a strict financial budget, or your Labrador puppy swallowed a personal item, put aside all embarrassment, and tell us upfront. By providing us with the full story, we can give your pet the care they need. In addition, by being upfront with our team, you spend your dollars wisely, and we all spend our time efficiently and effectively.
- Say thank you — We love to know when we’ve done a great job. Although we don’t look for gratitude when we save a pet’s life, we are always touched to know that our dedication is recognized. A simple heartfelt thank you is always appreciated, and treats, such as fruit or cookies, are also extremely wonderful when we are too busy to take a lunch break. In addition—to lift our spirits when we’ve had an emotionally wrenching day—know that we often reread our clients’ thank-you cards, which we proudly display in our break room.
Although the veterinary profession has its fair share of challenges, our Parker Center Animal Clinic team loves caring for your pet. If you observe our staff having a difficult day, remember that a kind word of gratitude goes a long way. In addition, always keep in mind that our priority is your pet’s health and happiness. When your pet is due for their annual wellness visit, or they seem under the weather, give us a call.