World animal day is an opportunity for everyone across the globe to help raise awareness around the treatment and welfare of creatures big and small. Across rural and remote Australia, animals are a huge part of the lives of the people that live and work there. Alongside acknowledging and pledging the importance of improved treatment for animals, we also want to give a big thanks to the veterinarians who give them the medical care they need, often at the cost of their own health, time, and emotional wellbeing. The lengths we will go to save our little mates often has big repercussions for those caring for them. A nod to our vets on world animal day.
The mental stress and financial strain on our vets are far too great, sadly this profession holds a very high suicide rate. *Australian Veterinary Association shows that one vet will die by suicide every 12 weeks and statistics indicate that vets are approximately four times as likely to take their own life then the general Australian public. Those figures are alarming.
The narrative of a vet spending huge amounts of money on saving an animal to only have the owner refuse to pay the bill has detrimental effects, resulting in financial hardship and potential business closure. Throw in the distressing event of putting an animal to sleep and witnessing the heartache of owners, the isolation of practicing in remote areas of the country and you have a recipe for potential mental illness or ever prevalent burn out.
Will Nason is the co-owner of the Roma Veterinary Clinic, based in Southwest Queensland. The clinic operates for small pets, horses, and livestock, and also serves the small towns of Mitchell and Injune on designated days. He knows the emotional toll the job can take on his 8 vets that work at the clinic and on the road alongside him.
“I reckon there are a couple of things, one is the personality type, vets are people who love animals and want to do the best by them, they care. Then you have the owner who also wants the best possible outcome at the lowest possible cost. You really feel the pressure if things don’t go as they should, or you don’t get a good outcome. Some vets can take it personally when it isn’t their fault at all,” said Will.
“You try to be up front about the bill, but then if you are too frank about the money people get offended that you aren’t helping them to save their pet at a much lower cost. Unfortunately, they can project their distress onto the vet. Most people are really lovely and easy to deal with, but you do come across those scenarios that aren’t so great.”
“Mental health amongst vets is a big issue. It’s a very high stress, long hours, and high-pressure environment. I can’t speak for all practices but in the bush, you can be doing a 12 -14 hour day to then come back home and straight on call for the night, and then straight back into the next day on barely any sleep.”
“Another issue is that human medicine and veterinary medicine can be similar with stress, however human medicine gets the Medicare rebate. There’s no such thing in the vet world and a lot of people don’t have pet insurance.”
“We try really hard to support our guys as much as we can, we try to sit down for smoko every day as a group to completely stop talking about work stuff, to have a general yarn. We also try to get the staff out of the building for lunch. Burnout in the industry is very prevalent. They reckon that four years after graduation you usually lose half of those vets, it’s too much for them or it’s not what they expected.”
“The suicide rates are definitely out there. Personally, I have never gotten to the stage where I was thinking about that, but I do know of acquaintances who have died from suicide in the industry. Most people will know of someone, and often it’s those who you wouldn’t have thought would do it. I don’t think those who succumb to that decision even know how close to the edge they already were until they’ve arrived there. By the time they’ve made the decision they find it too hard to ask for help.”
Jenny Weston is a vet based in South Australia who previously sat on the board of Veterinary Surgeons and was an active member of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA). Jenny speaks of the valuable mentoring provided by AVA when faced with challenges in clinic, and the crucial role that vets play in dealing with our native animals.
“A veterinary degree can take you in many directions and the small animal vet can even venture out in the field following bush fires and provide a vital role in saving, treating or euthanising our injured native animals. Obviously this can be confronting but a role that many vets are trained and briefed on to make a positive difference,” said Jenny.
“When days don’t go to plan there is good mentoring support provided by the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), membership and participation is something I would highly recommend to all vets young and old. I have sat on the Veterinary Surgeons Board and been an active AVA member, including a very rewarding stint as president in the South Australian division. I can suggest the personal gains and connections to other colleagues formed on such committees are invaluable.”
If you know someone who is needing support and wanting someone to talk to, please reach out to the below.
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Lifeline 13 11 14
13YARN 13 92 76