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High Suicide Rate Among Veterinarians

Krista Schultz highlighted a little known and surprising fact in her article in the May 2008 issue of DVM News Magazine, that veterinarians have a four times greater suicide rate proportionally than the general population, and two times greater than that of any other health profession. According to the article, the basis for this information came from studies conducted in the UK.

The reasons for this disproportionally higher rate of suicide among veterinarians is not clear, but the article hints at certain factors that may contribute, such as job stress, euthanasia acceptance, and lethal drug access. Regarding job stress or job dissatisfaction, Kristin Schultz’s article indicates that depression is a factor predisposing to suicide because “those choosing to join the veterinary profession may have predisposed personalities that ultimately lead to depression….” Regret may also be a factor, according to the article, in that only 53% of practicing veterinarians would become a veterinarian all over again now knowing the reality of the profession – that is almost half that do not feel that the profession has lived up to their expectations.

With regard to euthanasia acceptance, veterinarians “may experience uncomfortable tension between their desire to preserve life, and their inability to treat a case effectively, which may be ameliorated by adapting their attitudes to preserving life to perceive euthanasia as a positive outcome.” The article insinuates that this adjusted attitude toward death may subsequently facilitate self justification and lower inhibition toward suicide as a rational solution to their own problems.

While Ms. Schultz’s article does not arrive at any concrete conclusions, I will conclude this post by offering my own take as a veterinarian why suicide rate may be disproportionally high in veterinary medicine. In my case, prior to joining my first private practice as a newly graduated vet, I had idealized the profession, not only as a noble pursuit of the highest order (which I still feel is the case), but also that the public perception of the veterinarian would reflect that. On my very first case, I found out how mistaken I was, when I was accused of price gouging by a client furious that I had ordered urinalysis and urine cultures for a patient exhibiting signs of lower urinary tract disease. What’s more, rather than decline the tests which she was well within their right to do while still at the office, she accepted, got her medication, then later called to yell at me over the telephone.

My first case was but one of many times that people have accused me price gouging and much worse since then, all the while myself practicing with utmost integrity and honesty, only trying to do my very best for my patients. That has and will continue to be my biggest frustration with veterinary medicine.

While this will not lead me to suicide, I can clearly see why a person prone to depression could be led down that dark path over time. No matter how much one tries to realize that the real problem lies with the people that use vets as scape goats for their own financial troubles, consequently hurling unwarranted, hurtful accusations and judgements, it never ceases to hurt when one pours one’s heart and soul into helping an animal, yet is considered by an owner to be nothing more than a scamming used car salesman.

But, I have enough wonderful clients that truly appreciate the dedication we put into helping their animals and gain more every day, that make what we do worth the effort. For that reason and the fact the its about helping the furry ones with no voice after all, after seven years of practice, I remain one of the 53% that would be a vet all over again, as, aside from pitching for the NY Yankees, there is nothing else I can see myself ever wanting to do. For the 47% that do not agree with me, however, I truly understand.

10 thoughts on “High Suicide Rate Among Veterinarians

  1. Daniel Jacoby DVM says:

    I would never choose this profession again and I am very vocal warning others as I wish someone would have been honest with me – low pay and very little respect – heck, we are not even ‘real doctors’ … and the AVMA does nothing to help with their millions of dollars they have stashed away…

    • Jennifer S says:

      I love animals and I absolutely consider a veterinarian to be a real doctor.

    • Elaine says:

      I completely agree. After 20 years of being a small animal associate veterinarian, I have considered suicide many times. I have gottten help, but I will never be happy until I can quit. Some days the only ones keeping me here are my pets.

  2. Veterinarians are caught between a rock and a hard place at the interface between the human and the non-human where the “human animal bond” ranges from sentimental anthropomorphization to detached objectification/Cartesian mechanomorphization; from treating animals as family members to exploiting them as commodities.
    Clearly this historical and cultural bioethical inconsistency in our relationships with other animals means that the practicing veterinarian must learn to apply a different set of ethical standards with regard to the clients’regard/valuation of their animals depending on the relationship, situation and available moneys for the best treatment for which veterinarians are educated to provide.
    Veterinarians are caught between a rock and a hard place at the interface between the human and the non-human where the “human animal bond” ranges from sentimental anthropomorphization to detached objectification/Cartesian mechanomorphization; from treating animals as family members to exploiting them as commodities.
    Clearly this historical and cultural bioethical inconsistency in our relationships with other animals means that the practicing veterinarian must learn to apply a different set of ethical standards with regard to the clients’regard/valuation of their animals depending on the relationship, situation and available moneys for the best treatment for which veterinarians are educated to provide.
    I have sought to help resolve these contradictions in ideals,reality, mission and duties of our profession in these difficult times especially for those with a deep empathy for the Earth and all creatures wild and tame (see essays on my website http://www.drfoxvet.net) and pray that the veterinary profession will not fall victim any further to the forces of mammon but become the voice for the voiceless since they are the best trained and qualified of all other professions and advocates of animal rights and welfare.

  3. Ryan L says:

    I believe it is clear which of the two views of the profession outlined above is more likely to bring respect, positive patient outcomes, and financial success.

  4. Charles Smith says:

    I have noted Dr. Jacoby’s response to a thread titled “High Suicide Rate Among Veterinarians.” I am concerned in case his practice has been so unrewarding and unprofitable for him, that he may be suffering clinical depression.

    • don jacobs says:

      You’re making assumptions, incorrectly. To bury you head in the sand and pretend all is rosy and fine, when all my colleague friends will not allow their children to enter vet school… that is a problem. The suicide rate is high for many reasons that needs to be addressed. But to lie to the future generation is unethical.

  5. The Real Dr. Jacoby says:

    Today’s age in internet chat leaves all of us exposed to misinterpretation. I am the real Dr. Jacoby and I did not write the previous post under my name.

  6. The Skeptic Vet says:

    I find issue with Charles Smith’ comment. He makes assumptions, almost in a bully-like fashion which shows his insecurity. Whomever wrote the comment, whether it is Jacoby of some hack, there is truth in the rant.

  7. The Skeptic Vet says:

    Ryan L is no better. Shame on you both.

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