You’ve probably read that veterinary medicine is one of the professions at most risk for suffering from depression and burnout and yes, suicide.
Dr. Patty Khuly wrote about this in an article back in 2010 for USA Today. That article and her findings are still relevant to our profession today. The reasons vary from internal reasons to external influences.
Veterinarians tend to be high achievers who put a lot of pressure and high expectations on ourselves, we sometimes care more about our patients than their owners, we have to make more life and death decisions than the average joe public, and then there is ever increasing animosity towards our profession, both in real life, and on social media platforms.
It’s no wonder we are a depressed bunch- having to defend our profession, trying to help clients and patients, only to be told that we are “greedy bastards” that only “care about money”.
Where does that public opinion of veterinarians come from?
If you are like me (old) , and graduated before the internet was around, you probably know- it comes from two places. Online via pharmacies, e-commerce platforms like eBay or Amazon; or rescue organizations. The general public is very quick to regard the prices they find online as the “true value” of a particular product, and if a veterinary clinic happens to charge more, then they must be “greedy and heartless” . Many rescue organizations blame veterinarians for the pet overpopulation problem. Because all pets would be spayed and neutered if the service was free, right? Right? *insert sarcasm here*
If you identify with this and find yourself in a negative state of mind- we all have from time to time . . . you are paying attention to the wrong things and being influenced in a negative way.
Back in February 2016, I posted a video of a good samaritan case that went viral. I inadvertently became the poster child for compassionate veterinary care. Clients couldn’t get through on my one clinic phone line. My email inbox was flooded as was my messages folder on Facebook. My Facebook followers increased 100 fold. That’s ten times more than the actual population of my small town.
Here’s what I learned and why I say you might be paying attention to the wrong things.
It turns out that there are lots of people out there who appreciate veterinarians and veterinary care professionals. They appreciate what we do for their pets, even when the outcome isn’t always what we hope for. They appreciate what we do for pets of our community. Many of them grew up and considered a career in veterinary medicine, but didn’t for one reason or another.
The overarching comment in those messages was, “We need more vets like you.” Messages of gratitude and appreciation.
Which left me scratching my head and wondering about so many things. Why did this particular video affect them in such a way? Why now? Why do they think I’m different than other veterinarians?
Honestly, I am no different than any other veterinarian out there. Some days, I’m trying to save “All The Things”, and other days, I’m trying to pay the bills and cover people’s salary. Those two are usually polar opposites of each other. I didn’t go to veterinary school to get rich. Neither did any veterinarian I know. To constantly be called greedy gets old after awhile.
This particular video of Graycie struck such an emotional chord with people that they couldn’t help but notice and pay attention. What is fairly routine and normal to any veterinary care professional- the taking care of a patient- seemed unusual to the general public. So unusual, that they had to write or call. This group was previously silent and lost amongst the noise of social media.
About those online critics, I like what Elizabeth Gilbert the author says and thinks. When asked at a book signing event, how does she feel, and/or do about online book reviews? This is what she replied. She doesn’t. She doesn’t read them. No one mentions them. Her close friends may pass along a really favorable one from time to time, but she intentionally avoids them. The reason? It’s not that she isn’t grateful that people buy and read her books, it’s because she doesn’t want her future writing to be influenced by reviews- either good or bad. The book is finished and published, she can’t change it, so no reason to spend any energy worrying about how it is received.
Her value and self-worth as a person and an author aren’t influenced by the opinions of others. I think there is a valuable lesson for veterinarians there too. Do what you can in service of those who appreciate what you do.
As If you are one of our profession who is dealing with issues of depression and burnout, please reach out to someone, perhaps a colleague you know, for help. Also remember, that people appreciate what you do for their pet and the pets of your community, even when you don’t hear from them directly. If you want to see more of these ideal people as clients, though, make an effort to reflect your “why and purpose” into their office visits, your website, social media pages, and outreach programs.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Andy Mathis is a small animal veterinarian in Elberton, Ga. He is also a signature member of the Georgia Watercolor Society. So he can spay your cat and paint its portrait, two very MacGyver like skills to have. Find him on Facebook – @GraniteHillsVet and Instagram – @andymathisdvm.