Veterinarians have long been considered the guardians of animal welfare and health…
However, their role has increasingly become more diverse, which is reported to increase pressure on this occupation.
Additionally, the hardships of working within the veterinary profession can place stress on the veterinarian’s family as a result of working long hours and dealing with distressed clients. These in turn have been related to feelings of loneliness, depression, relationship issues, and suicide risk.
Challenges in the profession….
There are a number of major challenges reported within the veterinary profession, such as dealing with owners of pets who are upset or difficult, professional issues such as long work hours, and in particular, the emotional issues surrounding euthanasia of animals.
Veterinarians may also experience conflict between their longing to preserve the life of animals and subsequently being unable to successfully treat an animal, which is perhaps another factor attributing to their attitudes to the preservation of life, and seeing euthanasia as a positive conclusion.
Additionally, veterinarians have knowledge of, and ready access to, medicines for self-poisoning, and are also under less supervision than doctors with their use of medicines, which is also a potential contributor to their high risk of suicide. However, despite the issues reported, there have been few psychological well-being studies conducted within the veterinary profession.
Euthanasia – the major contributing factor?
Initially, it was believed performing euthanasia was the major contributing factor relating to veterinarian wellbeing, however, from my own doctoral research project with veterinarians, it was evident there were additional factors affecting wellbeing – and not just performing euthanasia.
Other factors affecting wellbeing
These factors were broken down into the following categories, and included the following:
- Costs and financial issues, including low wages, cost of treatment, client affordability, and financial costs of running a practice;
- Dealing with difficult owners/clients, including financial restrictions, communication issues, unrealistic expectations of self and from others, gender biases, blame, compliance and non-compliance, client denial, and compassion fatigue;
- Performing euthanasia, and in particular dealing with owners, frequency of euthanasia, reasons why euthanasia is necessary, severing of the human-animal bond, species-specific issues with euthanasia;
- General issues such as work demands, lack of personal support, lack of knowledge, work/life balance, location of practice and area of specialisation, loneliness, family and relationship issues, and lack of effective coping strategies.
Coping skills to improve veterinarian’s wellbeing….
In light of the above, part of my research project was to provide veterinarians with psychological and other coping skills which are believed to have a positive impact on their individual levels of wellbeing – including the ability to cope with the demands of their day-to-day working lives. As mentioned previously, little appears to have been done to actively address this issue by way of the provision of a psychologically-based, and effective, intervention program.
But there may be a solution…
Based on my qualifications as a registered psychologist, I developed a psycho-educational intervention program that includes strategies such as evidence-based coping strategies using the concepts of acceptance and commitment therapy and positive psychology.
Furthermore, the psycho-educational intervention program allowed for the provision of other strategies such as:
- Time management,
- Stress management,
- Communication skills,
- Assertiveness skills,
- Goal setting, and
- Relaxation skills.
These strategies were incorporated in an endeavour to acknowledge the growing number of literature strongly calling for suitable intervention strategies such as coping and stress management skills, as well as attempting to provide a holistic intervention program that addresses both the positive and negative aspects of wellbeing.
As my thesis is still under examination, I am unable to elaborate in too much detail about the specific results, except to say that they were very promising indeed for reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and negative affect!