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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Self-care for Veterinarians

By Lynette A. Hart, PhD, Professor, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California ; Mariko Yamamoto, PhD, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis

Notwithstanding the anguish pet owners experience, the process of animals dying, especially the act of performing euthanasia, poses an emotionally wearing duty for veterinarians as well. A recent USA survey found that a veterinarian typically euthanizes more than seven animals per month, sharply contrasting with a study of veterinarians in Japan, where the median number of euthanasias in the previous year was one, and 20% of Japanese veterinarians had not euthanized any pets that year. In one study, euthanizing animals resulted in perpetration-induced traumatic stress for 11% of the study sample of veterinarians, veterinary nurses/technicians, and research and animal shelter staff. Lower levels of stress were reported among those who were more satisfied with their social support and had worked longer with animals. Most veterinarians in another study reported having been clinically depressed. In one study, almost all veterinarians felt they were untrained in explaining euthanasia to clients. Almost half regretted a specific occasion of euthanasia, and most private practitioners reported feeling guilty after performing euthanasia. After euthanizing their own pets, a majority of veterinarians felt depressed, and 30% felt guilty. These figures were higher among female veterinarians, suggesting that its impact may have risen with the gender shift of the profession.

A major concern with regard to the mental welfare of veterinarians is the suicide rate, which is higher than that of the general population. The suicide rate of veterinarians in the UK is four times that of the general population; although precise figures are not available, similar problems are arising in the USA. Risk factors mentioned in the UK include the initial entry into a helping profession, routine involvement with euthanasia and knowing the means to perform it, and the contagion of emotional stress. This work became the lynchpin for VetLife: Looking After the Veterinary Profession (http://www.vetlife.org.uk/), a Web site to support the well-being of veterinarians and to address personal and professional issues.

Increasingly, veterinary students and practitioners realize the value of ongoing monitoring of their own self-care and make use of instruments such as a Self-Care Assessment Worksheet (www.ecu.edu/cs-dhs/rehb/upload/Wellness_Assessment.pdf). This brief inventory offers support to keep one's life in balance with a detailed inventory of physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and professional self-care.