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Ramblings of an Editor
From the desk of Shannon Schraufnagel

Veterinarians
A Hidden Pain

 

I think it’s fair to assume that most of our HTCAA Members have been around Veterinarians a few times, if not a few times a year. We’re all familiar with Veterinarians. We take our small animals to Vet Clinics and we have large animal Vets out to our stables and farms. If someone owns any animal, they know how important Vets are. And we’ve all known good ones and bad ones.

 

But, what I did not know was the tragic fact that many Veterinarians are dealing with a hidden pain – that has risen in the last few years…

 

When I attended the Facebook Community Summit in June of 2017 in Chicago I was introduced to a fellow attendee, who’s name tag read “Dr. David Bledsoe ‘N.O.M.V’”. I asked him what that was and he replied, “Not One More Vet”. On further explanation he said that Veterinarians have now reached the highest suicide rates in the medical profession (by percentage). And, according to many recent studies, Veterinarian suicide is 4 times the national average.

 

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of this before. And it led me to write this article. I would like to share the two discussions I had with Dr. Bledsoe, as well as my Small Animal Vet Dr. Randy Pribbernow, on this issue. My hope in sharing this is that, through awareness, we as clients, can bring a positive change to this hidden pain within the profession.

 

When I spoke with Dr. Bledsoe recently, I first asked him how NOMV got started on Facebook…

 

He shared with me that there was a very well-known Veterinarian and animal behaviorist, Sophia Yin, who had written renowned books, and held conferences around the country, based on the best practices for stress free handling of dogs and cats. She seemed to have it all together. She had a passion for her profession, and for animals. And a love for people and life.

 

So, it shook the Veterinarian and animal world when she committed Suicide in September of 2014.

 

A friend of Dr. Bledsoe’s, Dr. Nicole McArthur, felt the need to reach out to her fellow colleagues, knowing that suicide seemed to be on the rise. She envisioned a small group of Vets to be able to vent, in a private, confidential setting, about the stresses of their jobs.

 

“What Dr. McArthur could not imagine at the time, was that her small group would grow to 14,000+ Members of Veterinarians, primarily from the U.S. That comes out to roughly 10% of the Veterinarians in the country.” Dr. Bledsoe said. 

 

  NOMV is now becoming a voice for suicide prevention and awareness in the Veterinarian profession.

 

Dr. Bledsoe joined the NOMV Admin Team on Facebook in 2016, and currently serves on the board of directors. NOMV has recently become a 501c3 and they are working together to further educate on suicide awareness and prevention, and finding ways within the Veterinarian practice to help fellow Vets. One of the ways are Vets volunteering to help cover a clinic, while the attending Vet may need a break from the job. They also have a group that is helping Vet Students in understanding the stresses of the job, as well as dealing with the financial burdens of college. 

 

Dr. Bledsoe recently went to a High School and spoke with teen age kids who want to become Veterinarians, and to educate them on the what to expect as a student and as a Vet...

 

NOMV is having a positive influence on up-and-coming Vets.

 

In discussing this with Dr. Bledsoe and Dr. Pribbernow it led me to ask them, why is suicide so high in their line of work?

 

Of course, they did not have factual answers, as no one could truly say why anyone would choose to take their life. But this question did lead us down a path of many “issues” that Vets deal with, as well as easy access to certain drugs.

 

Both Vets shared with me that Veterinarians usually tend to be perfectionists, they usually become emotionally involved with their patients, and they almost always have packed schedules filled with happy and angry patients, as well as happy and angry clients. Not to mention the emergency calls.

 

When I brought this subject up to my Vet, Dr. Pribbernow (Dr. Randy), I happened to be in his office with my two Labrador Retrievers for a routine appointment. He had a high school student in the clinic that day, job shadowing. As we began to discuss this issue, he turned to the high school student and said, “The puppies we saw this morning for their Puppy Exams – before I retire there’s a good chance I will be seeing them on their last visit, and have to put them to sleep…”

 

At this moment, my very cool, calm and humorous Vet, got choked up and had tears in eyes... He apologized.

 

That hit me hard. I asked if he could call me later to discuss this more...

 

Over the phone he brought to light how Veterinarians must be very comfortable with euthanasia... They have to accept that every animal they help in living a healthy life will, at some point, also have to be helped in ending their life.

 

Dr. Randy, as most of his clients call him, used this scenario as an example... 

 

"A Vet has an emergency call with a patient they’ve known for many years, and it’s in incredible pain. The owner is crying and upset.  The Vet must inform the client that they can try an expensive, emergency surgery, but it’s risky. The owner makes the dreaded decision that they don’t want to, or can’t afford to, risk it. They agree to have their beloved animal put to sleep. Then, as soon as this is done, the Vet has to shelf their own emotions and step into the next appointment - fully attentive with a smile on their face for their next patient. They have to change faces within seconds, and have no time to deal with their own emotions. They have to move on. And, on top of this, many Vet’s feel under appreciated by their clients." 

 

They feel pressured by the ever-increasing cost to run a clinic and pay off college debt. Along with jam-packed appointments all day.

 

Then there is the factor of balancing Career and Family life. Dr. Bledsoe shared, “It often seems to be family matters that are a leading factor in the suicides. But is that from stress in the family? Or stress starting at the work place?”  This we do not know...

 

Both Dr. Bledsoe and Dr. Randy shared that many issues stem from Vet’s feeling like they need to “Keep it together”, “Man Up”,  "Don't show your emotion."

 

They may try to self-diagnose and medicate, avoiding any unwanted concern from the outside into their practice. Or just thinking they truly can handle it on their own. They have the access to the drugs. It’s there. And it’s easy.

 

But if it doesn’t help, they also have easy access to drugs that bring an end to it all... 

 

And they know how to do it the painless way - because they’ve done it so many times before with their patients.

 

This is one factor that no other medical profession can relate in. Is it the one factor that makes a difference?

 

There was so much we discussed on this matter I could probably write a book about it. But instead I am going to  leave you, the client of a Vet, this question:

 

How do you think we can help this epidemic?

 

The stats show that 1 in 6 Vets have had suicidal thoughts. And those are just the ones who are willing to admit it. And that doesn’t talk about the stress that the other 5 in 6 are dealing with. Do you think, we as clients, can help make a difference? I hope so.

 

In the meantime I would like to suggest that you send an email or a phone call to your Vet...  Let them know you appreciate them and their efforts (even those Vets who may not be the best). Let them know you appreciate the fact that all Veterinarians get into the practice because they love animals just as much as we do. And without them, we’d have a lot of sick, hurting and unhappy animals in our lives.

 

Let's choose to make a difference today in the lives of our Vets who take care of our many pets. 

 

I would like to hear your feedback on this article, feel free to EMAIL me any time. 

 

*This article was originally published in the November 2017 Issue of The Trail Journal but I felt it was needed to be read again...

*

David L. Bledsoe, DVM, is a native of Washington, DC, David is a 1991 graduate of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. Since 1994 he has been in the veterinary pharmaceutical industry in various capacities and presently is owner and Managing Director of Qualitas BioSciences, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in guiding its clients through the veterinary drug research and development process. Since 2016, David has been an Administrator for the Not One More Vet Facebook group. He also serves as a Board Member for Not One More Vet, Inc.  David lives in Arizona where he enjoys writing, hiking, boating, and camping.
www.nomv.org

*
Dr. Randy Pribbernow is a Practice Owner and Veterinarian at the Sparta Small Animal Clinic, in Sparta, WI. He is a 1997 graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in Veterinary Medicine.  He practiced large animal medicine in Bangor, Wisconsin from 1997 until 2005 before joining Sparta Small Animal Veterinary Clinic.  He is a member of the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association, Coulee Region Veterinary Medical Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, and has previously served as the president of the Coulee Region Veterinary Medical Association.  He enjoys internal medicine, soft tissue surgery, geriatric medicine, and teaching clients about preventative health care. Dr. Randy enjoys hunting, fishing, cooking, geo caching, and spending time outdoors.

*A Personal Note from Yukon (I’m the good-looking black Lab in the photo): "Dr. Randy is my bestest buddy, and even though he pokes and prods me, I still think he’s the bestest Vet that ever lived! Seriously! And he has the bestest staff too! I’m pretty sure I’m their favorite patient."

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