“When I grow up, I want to be a veterinarian!” 

Many children love animals and dream of a career working with and saving animals. That passion keeps students focused as they go through the rigorous training and education of veterinary school, but all too quickly dies when they enter the field as new veterinarians. Younger veterinarians appear to be finding less job satisfaction than the previous generation, and are struggling more with maintaining their mental health. Here are four reasons why veterinary professional mental health is suffering, and what pet owners can do to help.

#1: Hospitals are inadequately staffed with veterinary professionals

Although veterinary schools are adding thousands of veterinary professionals to the field each year, too few are staying. Veterinary professionals—particularly veterinary technicians—often leave after only a few years in search of better working conditions. Studies show that:

  • Nearly one-third of veterinary support staff expect to leave the field in the next 2 years. 
  • Fewer than 50% of veterinarians would recommend a career in veterinary medicine to friends or family
  • Almost one in five veterinarians regret their career choice.

With such staffing difficulties, veterinary hospitals are struggling to provide high-quality care to every pet. And, because veterinary professionals are devoted to eliminating patient suffering, many are working long hours, forgoing vacations, and burning themselves out to provide care for as many pets as possible.

Pet owner solution: While you cannot increase the veterinary workforce—unless you are looking for a new career—you can help ease the workload for understaffed veterinary hospitals by calling well in advance to schedule your pet’s wellness appointment. If your pet is ill, do not wait, hoping they will improve on their own. A minor illness is much easier—and less costly—to treat, and helps practices avoid overbooking their schedules and employees.

#2: Student loans bury veterinary professionals under mountains of debt

Veterinarians incur significant debt for their extensive schooling. The median debt at graduation ranges from $110,000 to $347,000, yet half of veterinarians make less than $100,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This disparity makes repaying student loans, purchasing a practice, or financially planning for the future almost impossible.

In addition to initial schooling costs, licensed veterinary professionals must undergo continuing education to maintain their license, yet conference, travel, and lodging costs quickly add up. Veterinarians also incur costs such as license renewals and professional insurance.

Pet owner solution: Understand that veterinary professionals do not enter the field to become rich. Our passion for helping animals live better, healthier lives is what drives us, not a paycheck. However, we still have bills to pay, inventory to purchase, and student loans to pay off—eventually—that require we present clients with invoices, however much we wish we could provide care for pets at no cost.

#3: Veterinary professionals struggle to maintain an appropriate work-life balance

With overstretched teams and too few employees to adequately shoulder the ever-growing workload, veterinary professionals struggle to step back and take a break. Our intense drive benefits the pets under our care, but is to our detriment, because we let our work-life balance suffer. When at home, we still think about our patients and wonder how they are doing, and often end up working on our rare days off, so we seldom completely disconnect from veterinary medicine to relax and recharge. 

Pet owner solution: We understand that your pet is a beloved family member and that you want to ensure they are happy and healthy. However, we ask that you please respect that we need time off by scheduling in advance, so your pet receives care when they need it, rather than as a last-second emergency.

#4: Veterinary professionals must regularly manage high emotions

It’s no secret that veterinary medicine is an emotion-filled field, with strong feelings coming from both sides of the exam table. The highs and lows experienced each day, from the joy of welcoming a new kitten, to euthanizing a pet with progressive kidney failure, take a substantial toll on our mental health. Maintaining a positive mental outlook is not easy when you also consider our many difficult situations, such as presenting a terminal diagnosis for a much-loved pet or a costly treatment plan.

Pet owner solution: We understand the depths of emotion you feel for your pet, and we love your four-legged friend as much. We can shoulder a great deal of grief and distress, and we ask that you please talk to us in person about your thoughts and feelings on our care. Upset clients today quickly turn to social media as an outlet for their frustration over their pet’s diagnosis or care costs, when these problems can be resolved without turning to the internet. 

At your cat’s next appointment with our Just Cats Clinic team, we ask that you try to understand the difficulties facing the veterinary profession today. As we treat you and your pet with respect, kindness, and compassion, we ask that you do the same. By understanding each other, we can work well together as a team to give your feline friend the best life possible.