This is a tough time to be a vet.

 

In September 2014, Dr. Sophia Yin, a vibrant, compassionate, world-renowned veterinarian and veterinary behaviorist, committed suicide at the age of 48. Her death shocked the veterinary community. A remarkable outpouring from within the veterinary profession soon followed to raise awareness of depression, compassion fatigue, and suicide prevention.

 

In March 2015, two veterinary students (one at U.C. Davis and one at Michigan State University) died suddenly within the same week. The loss of these bright and talented individuals far too early in their career paths was the next significant loss experienced among our peers.

 

In early April 2015, we dealt with the backlash of criticism surrounding a veterinarian in Texas who bragged on social media about successfully killing a cat by shooting it with a bow and arrow. Fortunately, most people recognized that the thoughtless, selfish, and reprehensible actions of a single doctor do not reflect the spirit of an entire profession. Not everyone felt this way, unfortunately, and many saw it as an opportunity to express their contempt for the veterinary profession.

 

Soon after, an article was published in the Washington Post entitled “Vets are too expensive, and it’s putting pets at risk.” The writer suggested that doctors take advantage of the emotional aspect of pet care by “jacking up prices” and not offering payment plans, ending with the snarky sentence, “veterinarians shouldn’t take advantage of our devotion to enhance their bottom lines.”

 

A few days ago, I received a copy of DVM360 magazine, a source of current events, news, and product information related to veterinary medicine. A quick glance at the table of contents revealed negative titles such as:

 

            The burden of care: Know the risks to your mental health

            The current state of veterinary job satisfaction

            Burnout, compassion fatigue, depression - What’s the difference?

            Tips and tools to be a happier veterinarian

            3 reasons to start your exit plan today

            Internships: A new tax on veterinarians?

 

And on the morning of writing this article, I happened to randomly respond to a thread on my community’s Facebook page regarding a dog owner inquiring about suggested solutions for dry skin. I read reply after reply of various home remedies, ranging from swearing by switching to a grain-free, gluten-free diet to bathing the dog in Dawn dishwashing soap. I felt compelled to offer a professional opinion.

I simply suggested that the original poster contact their veterinarian, or better yet, consider speaking with a veterinary dermatologist, as they would better be able to discern the cause of the itchy skin, rather than treat just the symptom. My response was rapidly overshadowed by a suggestion to use coconut oil as a cure-all. Granted, I didn’t post my answer as a veterinarian, but I truly don’t think it would have made any difference in how quickly my reply was dismissed.

 

In the midst of all these negative posts, articles, and news snippets, I came across a blog entry written by a veterinarian entitled, “Does anyone out there love their vet?” 

 

The author described each of the same stories I’ve written about above, and how they impacted her specifically with regard to her professional morale. I immediately connected with her message. She ended the piece by asking for a very humble task from those who believe in veterinarians and veterinary medicine.

 

She simply asked her readers to tell her that they loved their vet.

 

Her goal was simple: to eradicate disapproval and hate by having people show an outpouring of support and love and appreciation for those veterinarians they are happy with. The responses to her request were overwhelmingly positive.

 

In the end, my job isn’t about arguing about prices and it’s not about focusing on the sadness. It’s about the moments where I know I’ve made a difference in my patients' lives.

It’s about knowing I’ve helped so many pets live longer and happier lives because of my capabilities.

 

During this tough time in our profession, I hope my colleagues will find the time to think of the owners who are truly appreciative of their work and try to lessen their focus on those who don’t.

 

I want them to think of their successes, and I want to remind them to remember that despite our most valiant efforts, we simply cannot help every patient we see.

 

And I want to emphasize that sometimes it’s okay to turn off the media channels when they are telling you that you’re doing anything less than your best.

 

Our jobs are tough enough as it is. We don’t need to make it tougher by being anything less than gentle on ourselves.

 

 

Dr. Joanne Intile

 

 

Image: Ivonne Wierink / Shutterstock