A recently published study has found that veterinarians age 45 and younger are more likely to experience serious psychological distress. And just 27% of them would endorse the profession to a friend or family member.
The study conducted in collaboration with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and Merck Animal Health, was “designed to definitively quantify the prevalence of mental illness and stress in the veterinary profession and compare the findings to previous studies and the general U.S. population,” according to a news release from Merck.
"This survey is unique in that, for the first time, a nationally representative sample of veterinarians in the U.S. were asked about their wellbeing, which is a broader measure of happiness and life satisfaction than mental health alone," said study investigator Linda Lord, DVM, in the news release. She is academic and allied industry liaison lead for Merck Animal Health. "Based on the survey results, we are particularly concerned about younger veterinarians as they are the future of our profession. We must work together to promote a healthy lifestyle, including work/life balance, access to wellness resources and debt reduction."
The study showed that about 1 in 20 veterinarians are suffering from serious psychological distress, which is in line with the general population. However, the release said “when segmenting the data by age, younger veterinarians are more impacted by the financial and emotional stresses of professional veterinary life, compared to both older male veterinarians and individuals in the general population. Depression (94%), burnout (88%) and anxiety (83%) are the most frequently reported conditions.”
Overstressed and Undervalued
High student debt was the top concern voiced by veterinarians who participated in the study, with 67% rating it as a critically important issue.
“In 2017, the average veterinary student graduated with more than $138,000 in student debt, according to AVMA, which is nearly twice the average starting salary for a veterinarian, creating a significant strain on the future of the profession,” the news release stated.
The other most serious issues facing young professionals today are stress levels, reported by 53%, and suicides rates reported by 52%. Poor mental health is closely associated with the stresses of professional life, such as excessive work hours, poor work-life balance and student debt.
Another alarming finding from the study is that only about half of the veterinarians who indicated serious psychological distress are seeking help. This is compounded by the fact that few employers offer employee assistance programs. In addition, the release stated only 16% of those surveyed had ever accessed resources regarding wellbeing and mental health through national or state veterinary organizations.
"Veterinarians today cope with a physically and emotionally demanding occupation that is undergoing changes, from increased competition to the declining ability of clients to pay for veterinary care. Moreover, veterinarians often find themselves giving up the things that improve wellbeing and provide a healthy balance in life, such as family, friends and time for self-care," said Jen Brandt, LISW-S, Ph.D., director, wellbeing and diversity initiatives AVMA, in the news report. "As an organization that serves veterinarians, our mission is to protect the health and welfare of our members and the future of the profession. As part of these efforts we continuously work to identify accessible resources and assistance related to wellbeing and mental health. Studies such as the Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study provide helpful guidance on the types of resources and education that may be most beneficial."
Concern for the Future
According to the report, only 24% of veterinarians age 34 and younger would recommend a career in veterinary medicine, and just 41% of veterinarians overall would recommend the profession to a friend or family member. By contrast, 62% of the veterinarians age 65 and older who were surveyed would recommend the profession.
Scott Bormann, vice president of U.S. commercial operation for Merck Animal Health feels the survey findings are valuable, and appreciated the opportunity to partner with the AVMA.
"We…will continue to look for ways to positively impact the well-being of practicing veterinarians, and enrich the possibilities for the future of this profession," he said in the news release.
To view the entire study click here