Veterinarian Study Identifies Wellbeing Concerns
It’s long been known the veterinarian profession is one that is hard on the mental health of its practitioners. This large study, aimed at monitoring the wellbeing and mental health of U.S. veterinarians, was carried out by a team of researchers brought together by Merck Animal Health, and served as a follow-up to a similar study conducted in 2017. The goal of these surveys was to benchmark how U.S. vets feel compared to physicians and the general public. The research would also make way to examining several important issues such as burnout and suicidal ideation up close, and propose potential solutions. 20,000 randomly selected members of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) were reached out to. More than 2,800 complete responses were gathered, requiring, on average, just above 20 minutes each to complete.
The data suggest that veterinarian wellbeing is, on average, unchanged since 2017 — although there has been a rise in serious psychological distress among women veterinarians, and veterinarians in general exhibit higher levels of burnout than physicians, despite shorter working hours. The results also reveal that veterinarians are much more likely to think about suicide, and more than twice more likely to attempt suicide than members of the general public. Measured wellbeing was lowest among younger (18-34 years old) veterinarians. Besides age, low levels of wellbeing were also predicted by personalities scoring higher in neuroticism (see the Big Five Personality Test) and having higher student debt.
On the flip side, among the different veterinarians, farmed animal specialists seem to have it the best: besides higher average wellbeing levels, they were characterized with lower instances of serious psychological distresses. This subgroup of people expressed the highest level of satisfaction with the amount of leisure time they had, were more likely to be married, and recommended their friends and/or family to become veterinarians, too – more willingly so than the rest of their peers, 52% of whom were not inclined to recommend such a career path, a figure that hasn’t changed since 2017. Despite earning less than an average veterinarian, they also had the lowest student debts.
When asked to rate different aspects of their work, the respondents were most keen on taking pride in doing a good job and contributing to people’s lives. Besides that, the researchers outline the following predictors of high wellbeing among veterinarians:
- Enjoying one’s work
- Good work-life balance
- Spending time with friends and family
- An invigorating work environment
- Satisfaction with pay
Finally, psychological distress was least prevalent among respondents with a partner, stressing the value of close social relationships.
The researchers were glad to find a significant improvement in the perceived attitude towards people with mental illness, perhaps indicating less stigma among veterinarians. On the other hand, among those distressed, half did not receive any treatment. This has urged the researchers to look into potential solutions and present some: the authors encourage individuals to take out insurance covering mental health, take advantage of Employee Assistance Programs, utilize remotely available behavioral mental health solutions, try to attain a healthy work-life balance, and maintain good social relationships. The latter are consistently shown to be the strongest predictor of a happy life. Social media isn’t socializing, though, the researchers warn. Meanwhile, veterinarians, especially the younger professionals, should also consider consulting a Financial Planner.
Animal advocates will likely not be surprised to learn of the continuing challenges to the mental wellbeing of veterinarians, people who have the necessary knowledge and skills to practically help the animals we fight for. However, such data give insight into how they could be aided, and what kind of support they need the most.