Last week got off to a rocky start. Not only was I running behind in my preparations for a Spring Break trip with my son at week's end (all that writing to attend to in advance), but I was having a crazy busy time of it at my hospital job. Add to that laborious mix two at-home euthanasias and it's no wonder it took me more than 48 hours to ease into my five-day vacation.
I know I talk a lot about euthanasia here on Fully Vetted, but can you blame me? It's one issue that's both (a) very specific to veterinary medicine; and (b) fraught with all sorts of stressful emotional details that are hard to describe to those who don’t deal with it on a regular basis.
Not that you have to be a veterinarian to understand the emotional toll euthanasia can take. I know that because so many of you cite euthanasia duty as the one thing that keeps you from pursuing a career in veterinary medicine, which totally makes sense. In fact, if I were to do it all over again, I do believe I'd seek out my niche in a less death-intensive spot in vet med. It's just too damn stressful, all that empathy. Dermatology, pathology, or radiology, anyone?
Yes, being a family-style veterinary general practitioner on euth detail is like being at the center of an emotional tornado that can last an hour or more … longer when we're talking about an at-home service where multiple family members' individual needs must be addressed.
Sure, one can be reserved about it, choosing to remain emotionally aloof, but here's the trouble with that: it's almost impossible for us to do given the average veterinarian's personality. Our "pleaser" approach to our profession (which includes pleasing both patients and their people) is perhaps what makes us so susceptible to stress-based diseases, mid-stream career changes, suicide, and just plain burnout.
Which is what got me to thinking: What is the true cost of pet euthanasia? Because if you add in the emotional toll it inevitably takes, money can't possibly adequately compensate. Not in real-world terms, anyway. People may be willing to pay more … but it'd seem wrong to ask for it.
Hence, why I believe that veterinarians like me are grossly underpaid for our euthanasia services. While I try to make the best of it, rationalizing my euthanasia work in terms of my skill level and the overall good I do, I can't deny it's the one thing that threatens to shorten my clinical career. It simply costs too much.
Dr. Patty Khuly