Healthy Animals Require Healthy Advocates
World Veterinary Day falls on April 30th this year and comes with a simple theme:
“Strengthening veterinary resilience.”
This is a timely consideration, as the rigors of practicing veterinary medicine can indeed take a
toll on the body and on the mind. It’s not uncommon for vets to experience symptoms of burnout,
along with even more serious mental health concerns. As a recent Time Magazine article makes
clear, suicide is a big worry within this profession.
The question is, what are some practical steps we can take to strengthen veterinary resilience?
A good starting point is to be honest about the demands of caring for animals; and, to
destigmatize the need for vets to pursue mental health care whenever needed.
The Rigors of Veterinary Medicine
It’s not hard to understand why veterinarians might be particularly prone to anxiety,
depression, burnout, and other serious mental health concerns.
For starters, there is the emotionally demanding nature of the job. Presumably, most vets
choose their profession because they love animals, yet a significant aspect of the job is
recognizing when animals can no longer be helped and must instead be euthanized. Putting an
animal down can be hard on any pet owner, but for vets, it’s something that may happen
multiple times in the span of a single day.
Of course, it’s not just animals that veterinarians must deal with. There are also the humans
that come attached to them. No doubt a majority of pet owners are lovely people, but when
they feel as though their animal is not getting the ideal outcome, it’s all too easy for them to
blame or even vilify their vet.
These concerns are complicated by some of the other demands of running a veterinary
practice, including managing the practice’s marketing, sales, or financial goals. On top of that,
vets may have more personal issues competing for their mental bandwidth, including struggles
to pay off their own student loan debts.
Combined, these issues place a real strain on practitioners of veterinary medicine. And yet, for
vets to be effective advocates for healthy pets, it’s vital that they prioritize their own health and
So, what specifically can veterinarians do to prevent the onset of mental distress? Consider a
few basic suggestions:
- Seek mental healthcare. To cope with the emotional demands of running a veterinary
practice, regular sessions with a therapist can be invaluable. And if appropriate, the
therapist can recommend further intervention in the form of medications.
- Set boundaries. Being “on” 24/7 can be draining on anyone, and vets are not exempt.
While it’s often necessary to work emergency or after-hours shifts, vets should also be
protective of their own time whenever possible.
- Develop a self-care plan. Self-care can look different from one person to the next; what
really matters is intentionality. Something as simple as daily gym time or a regular
creative outlet can go a long way.
- Take time off. In the American workforce in general, there is a real problem with
employees being reluctant to use their PTO hours. Veterinarians should absolutely get
out of the office for semi-regular vacations or just the occasional “mental health day.”
Find support. Just being able to vent or share struggles with other veterinarians can
be really therapeutic. Even online forums and support groups may provide some
- Get practical support. Vets may also be able to ease some of their stress by finding the
right support services, including financial consulting and loan assistance to ensure the
practice is on sound footing.
For the Rest of Us…
Even if you don’t happen to practice veterinary medicine, there’s still much you can do to
destigmatize mental healthcare. Be willing to speak up about your own struggles with stress or
depression, or to be upfront about your own experiences in therapy or counseling. Openness
about these subjects may make it that much easier for overworked vets to seek the care they
Mental health can be a precarious thing, particularly for those who work in high-pressure roles.
Our vets and our pets deserve the highest standards of care; for additional insight, we invite
you to subscribe to our newsletter or keep an eye on our blog.