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OTHER ISSUES IN THE VETERINARY PROFESSION
Death is a subject that our society generally does not want to talk about. There are numerous reasons for that reluctance and I believe that reticence also manifests when our favourite pet faces a terminal illness. Animals in that situation cannot talk and tell us what they want in those difficult, end of life scenarios. They can't tell us clearly when it is time to let them go and when they no longer want the endless blood work, needles or scans. They are dependent on us to make those fateful decisions to end their lives and most of us don't want to do it. It is easy for us to pretend that their life force is strong and that perhaps tomorrow they will be better. Choosing to euthanize them feels like betrayal. It's like we are playing God and none of us truly wants to end the life of the sentient being, with whom we may have shared the past 15 years of our life. Yet we have to think about what is the right thing to do for our friend and not for ourselves. If the quality of our pet's life has, by any reasonable standard, deteriorated to the point that they are suffering daily and the future holds no likelihood of relief, then in my opinion, it is time to say good bye. No one can say exactly when that time should be but an experienced veterinarian is, I feel, in the best position to advise an owner when that time has come. If they decide to defer that conversation, in my mind, they are not truly serving either the owner or the animal in question appropriately. I know the veterinarian faces the risk of owner backlash and of being considered insensitive, but if a veterinarian isn't going to raise the topic of euthanasia and the animal is obviously suffering, who should? The same discussion needs to occur when a diagnosis, that carries a terrible prognosis for a pet, is first made. In this scenario, while it may take time for an owner to come to terms with what is happening, it is important that they are not given false hopes and encouraged to pursue futile tests and procedures, when realistically all the medical evidence indicates what the outcome will be.
Suicide in the Veterinary Profession:
I do not claim to be a psychiatrist or a psychologist with any training in the field of suicide, but studies have shown that there are many contributing factors leading to the appallingly high suicide rate amongst veterinarians, compared to the general population. These high rates, which are four to six times that of the general population, extend back many decades and they are a worldwide problem in countries as far afield as Australia, Norway and the United States. Almost seventy five percent of those killing themselves work in the companion animal field and the majority are males. What are some of the factors thought to contribute to the increased rates? These are:
a) Demands of practice such as long work hours and work overload.
b) Practice management responsibilities.
c) Client expectations and complaints.
d) Knowledge of euthanasia procedures and training to view euthanasia as a normal and acceptable method to relieve suffering
e) Ever-increasing educational debt-to-income ratio.
f) Poor work-life balance
g) Access to controlled substances such as euthanasia solution and the pharmacological training to calculate a lethal dose.
Many of these factors involve coping with stress, something that veterinarians have plenty of in their daily lives. Anything therefore that lessens the stress in the work life of veterinarians and improves their mental health is to be supported.