It’s Not All Puppies & Kittens

by: Jennifer Oldfield

Upset nurse sitting on the floor

*Image taken from the resource link below

Approximately 1 week ago another veterinarian took her own life.  Suicide rates among veterinarians is approximately double that of dentists and doctors and is up to 6 times higher than the general population.  This is a scary statistic.

People often don’t realize the stress involved with being not only a vet, but anyone working within the veterinary profession.  Let’s start right from the front:

Our Client Service Reps are the front line of our clinic.  They field phone call after phone call, are the first greeting for our clients when they come in, they weigh patients, take them to the exam rooms, deal with bill payments, and then they are the final face when our clients leave.  This may not seem too tough – after all, they get to love up all the sweet animals that come in!  Although that is true, they also deal with clients who are stressed because their pet isn’t well, they field calls for the doctors, they help clients determine if the situation they are experiencing is an emergency… they have the tough job of having to turn clients away in the event that we aren’t able to provide them with the emergent care they are needing.   Our CSR’s deal with our clients not only in the most stressful times, but in the most heartbreaking as well – they have to ask what choices you want for the end of your pet’s life, they have to manage a delicate balance to get your consent, go over your options and accept your payment, all while trying to be quick and efficient, so as to not get in the way of your grieving.

For those of us who have been here a long time many of these patients we have known since they were just wee, when they first came into your life, they came into ours.  We all grieve with you, try hard not to show it too much – we need to continue on with the next client, the next patient… but our heart breaks too.

Next are our licensed veterinary technologists -these dedicated people are the right hand to the doctors.  They assist in patient care, they monitor your pet during surgery, they assist in every aspect of your pet’s care where more than the doctor’s hands are needed.  All the while in doing this, they are often working to soothe a pet that is distraught about what is happening, they work to find the best holds to ease the patients stress while also protecting themselves and the doctors, if needed.  They are highly trained to know the subtle signs when a patient isn’t dealing with anesthetic well, aren’t recovering well, require more pain medications.   They draw up medications, dispense them for patients, educate clients, they have a wealth of knowledge to share.   They too field calls, help to educate a client when a doctor isn’t available.   The techs’ love and compassion for animals and their well-being is their driving force.  As with everyone else in the clinic, they hurt and have heartbreak when all doesn’t go well and are frustrated too when a patient isn’t improving.

Finally we have the veterinarians -they have the hardest job of all -their patient’s can’t tell them what is wrong.  The patient can’t tell them what they ate, where it hurts, what they did.  Veterinarians rely on what information the owner can provide, they rely on their education, their experience, the physical exam, the use of diagnostics to determine what is happening.   We are fortunate that in our hospital our doctors work as a team so they can rely on each other to review cases, find a new perspective, do their absolute best for the patient.   Sometimes it is the ruling out of things that helps to determine what is actually going on, which can be frustrating to an owner, but know that they ALWAYS have the best interest of the patient in mind and at heart.  They don’t want to see your pet suffer any more than you do and they have the super tough job of working to get them back to health when they aren’t well.    The doctors also work with the client on top of caring for the patient, trying to help ease the owner’s stress and concern while determing the best course of action to take.  One of the hardest parts can be giving options available without influencing a decision, educating the client without putting their own personal take on what they would do.  Then there are those horrible moments when the harsh reality of an older pet or a really sick pet is that it is time…time to let them go, nothing more can be done.  This is awful news to have to deliver, it breaks our doctor’s hearts as much as it breaks yours.  And, when the final time does come, they are with you, with their patient, right to the end.  Feeling your grief, while trying to not show theirs.

Everyone in the clinic also has the added stress when a client has a sick pet and limited img_3664funds.  It breaks our hearts to know that we will be limited in what we can do for that patient.  As much as we would like to help everyone at no cost, the reality is, we don’t get government funding, if the clinic doesn’t get paid, noone that works here would get paid.  The doctors always do what they can, looking at all the options for what can be done with the funding the client has available.  We offer finance options to help aid the client so they can get the care their pet needs now.  Plus there are those stressful times when a client declines testing or declines treatment.   It pains all of us to know that the outcome likely will not be good, that the patient will suffer because of an untreated condition or the pain they are feeling, but in the end it is the owner’s decision to make, our doctors can only provide their findings and give their recommendations and gently encourage clients.

This profession, this field, can be stressful, it can be harsh, it can feel unrewarding.  When we are having a tough personal day, or have had a tough run in with a difficult cleint, or have a patient where it wasn’t a positive outcome for that appointment, we have to push that aside for the next client, the next patient, we aren’t allowed to have an “off” day.  We need to be our best for everyone and we always strive to make that true.  Your pet is just as important to us as the last patient and as the next patient will be.

On the flip side, there are most definitely very rewarding days, appointments, moments.  They are definitely snuggly puppies and kittens, loveable adult pets, interesting and exotic pets, enduring senior pets.   They are successful emergency surgeries, there is satisfaction in seeing a pet improve and become well again, there are clients who let us know our hard work does not go unnoticed.

There are good days and bad days in this field and remember that we too are people, that we care about your pet just as you do, and everything we all do is with the best interest of each patient in our minds and hearts.


Further informational resource:

Why Is The Suicide Rate for Veterinarians So High?