When pets are sick, emotions run high… we need to remember that veterinary professionals are trying to do their best.
We invited Ashley Fischer to share her experience of what it’s like working in the veterinary industry.
I can honestly say without fail one comment I have gotten at minimum once a day since being in this industry is “How do you do it? I could never do your job”. And up until now, I have not really given too much thought into it. You give the basic responses of “I do it for the animals, or we love animals so that’s why we are here”. However what happens when the love of animals can’t help you overcome the day-to-day challenges of working in this industry?
I want to preface this by saying I in no way regret the choice I made to join the industry, and regardless of the hardships I would not change my profession for the world, to some extent I knew what I was signing up for, but the things that go on behind closed doors are what no one person or textbook could prepare me for emotionally.
That being said, on the other end of the spectrum I think there is a very clouded judgment that often gets passed on Veterinary staff in all degrees whether it’s reception all the way up to the doctors. I vividly remember days at my first emergency practice I was employed at, where after my shift I would take 5-10 minutes and sit in my vehicle and just cry because the day was so emotionally taxing. Whether we lost a plethora of patients after fighting tooth and nail to keep them alive or whether despite our hours/ time /and care to our patients their owners were verbally abusive to us… even sometimes physically.
I have had owners in my face screaming at me telling me that we were murdering their dog/cat because we would not treat them for free. We understand as an industry that to most our beloved pets are family, coupled with financial restraint it can make emotions rise quickly.
However what a lot of people fail to realize is just like any other service it costs money to perform diagnostics, dispense medications, pay staff and keep the hospitals up and running. Unfortunately, nothing is free even though we wish it could be!
I have held clients while they said goodbye to their most beloved family pet. I have sat in the bathroom and cried after losing a hospitalized patient after working tirelessly to help keep them alive. I have seen animals that have sustained unimaginable amounts of abuse at the hands of owners and strangers. I have seen people at their worst and at their best. Eventually, as a human, you can’t help but take on some of these emotions as if they were your own.
Unfortunately, we don’t get time to grieve and/or process a lot of our emotions because the flow of injured and sick animals never stops. Sometimes in a day, we have to go from euthanasia’s to wellness appointments to abuse cases to nail trims, all within the same hour. Being not only in the veterinary industry but customer service industry as well we have to be able to turn those emotions on and off and manage our moods based on the details of the case presented before us and not let the emotions we are feeling affect how we perform with the next appointment or emergency that comes through the door. We basically need to factory reset ourselves after every interaction to ensure everyone gets the gold-standard care they deserve!
The veterinary industry has one of the highest rates of employee suicide, once armed with the information of the on goings it isn’t hard to understand why. It is almost impossible to not take things personally when animosities and blame are thrown our way. It is usually brought up that everyone in the vet industry is “just in it for the money” and in most perspectives, this is definitely not the case.
Although I personally have only been in this industry for 3 years now, I have experienced my fair share of negative client interactions, pet loss, celebrations and everything in between. It almost felt normal when I started to lose my emotions – Wait let me explain. I still feel things, sorrow, happiness etc. but we deal with something called “Compassion fatigue” which is almost impossible to escape. What is that you ask? The Canadian Medical Association refers to Compassion fatigue as “the cost of caring for others or for their emotional pain, resulting from the desire to help relieve the suffering of others”. Throughout all the emotions, and financial aspects some folks forget that we are people too! We have emotions, we feel things just like you do. Regardless of our jobs, we are just like you, we put our pants on one leg at a time, we have good days and we have bad ones. We make mistakes and we definitely are NOT perfect. However, we are trying our very best to ensure your family pet is with you for a long and healthy life.
I have had the pleasure of not only working in reception but working in the treatment area as a technician assistant and I am even currently in school going for my RVT so I can be a registered nurse for animals. I have had family and friends tell me I am crazy for staying in an industry that can be so detrimental to my mental health, and my response to them is always the same, I tell them how passionate I am about the welfare of all animals and that I would sacrifice 100 of my good days outside of work to see our patients walk out of our clinic happy and healthy. I quite honestly would not change what I do for the world, I just wish the hardships we go through were more known and understood and people were able to show us the same compassion and empathy that we are expected to show them.
In the industry, you meet some of the most caring and compassionate people you will ever encounter. Some of my dearest friends have come to me through this industry. I have met coworkers who have turned into a family that shares my love for animals and helping them. We spend 90% of our time together, we laugh, we cry, we are in the thick of it every day together – I have also seen these same co-workers lose their battle with their mental health whether that be with unhealthy coping mechanisms, loss of love for the work they are doing or losing them in the industry altogether. Unfortunately, it takes a hard toll on all of us.
I find people are always so perplexed to learn how short-staffed the veterinary industry is as a whole from top to bottom… however the short answer to that is not enough people are joining the industry to make up for the amount of us we lose every year. It is true when they say it isn’t for everyone because truth be told it is not – and that is okay! That being said, staffing shortages affect how well hospitals can all manage their caseloads, how many pets can be seen, how low prices can be, and how effectively we can do our jobs.
I guess what I hope for anyone to take away from all this is that when emotions are high, please always remember your local Veterinary staff are all human, and when emotions start running high and you feel yourself losing your temper with us… patience and compassion go a long way. A very long way.