Merck Animal Health, a division of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., USA (NYSE:MRK), today announced the results of a comprehensive study of wellbeing and mental health among U.S. veterinarians, which are critical issues facing the veterinary profession. Conducted in collaboration with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the Merck Animal Health Veterinarian Wellbeing Study also examined job satisfaction, compensation, burnout, substance use disorder, cyberbullying and suicide among veterinarians while evaluating potential solutions.
In this study, veterinarians rated job satisfaction highly, saying “I’m invested in my work and take pride in doing a good job” and “My work makes a positive contribution to people’s lives.”
Conversely, the study found that veterinarians were very concerned about high stress levels (92%), high student debt (91%) and suicide (89%) in the profession. Despite new awareness around wellbeing and mental health in veterinary medicine, the study showed veterinarian wellbeing on average has not improved since a similar study was conducted in partnership with the AVMA and funded by Merck Animal Health in 2017.
“Our research shows that attitudes toward mental health in the veterinary field are improving, but we still have work to do as it relates to treatment,” said Judson Vasconcelos, PhD, DVM, director, Veterinary and Consumer Affairs for Merck Animal Health. “For example, this study found a significant and positive change in caring towards those with mental illness, but that there is still a large treatment gap, with half of those surveyed experiencing distress and declining to seek treatment.
“Through the years, we have partnered with the AVMA to develop tools and resources to improve wellbeing within the veterinary community and make veterinary medicine a stronger and healthier profession. As a result of this study and the 2018 study, we continue to work with the AVMA on programs to prioritize self-care, invest in personal wellbeing and manage stress in healthy ways,” said Vasconcelos.
Veterinarians are experiencing higher burnout rates
Using the Mayo Clinic Physician Burnout and Wellbeing Scale, the study found that veterinarians, despite working fewer hours, had higher rates of burnout than physicians, scoring 3.1 on the 7-point scale versus 2.24, a statistically significant difference. .
The Merck Animal Health Veterinarian Wellbeing Study defined wellbeing as the way an individual feels about his or her life and how it compares to their ideal life. The survey found that wellbeing on average was lower among younger veterinarians. “Not working enough hours” also had a greater negative impact than “working too many hours” among those surveyed.
Although the prevalence of serious psychological distress in veterinarians was consistent with the general population of employed US adults, it was much more common in younger veterinarians than in their older counterparts. While significant strides have been made in positive attitudes towards those with mental illness, half of those experiencing serious psychological distress in the last year did not seek treatment.
More than half of veterinarians would not recommend a career in their profession
The study found that 52% of veterinarians would not recommend a career in the veterinary profession. This was consistent with the 2017 study, citing high student debt, low pay and stress as the main reasons.
Suicide prevention is critical
The study confirmed similar research findings that veterinarians are much more likely to think about suicide than non-veterinarians and are more than 2.7 times more likely to attempt suicide. In addition, the study found that the percentage of veterinarians that considered suicide of fellow veterinarians a critical issue facing the profession increased 9% over the 2017 study, from 80% to 89%, respectively. Female veterinarians have higher rates of suicide ideation than their male counterparts though male veterinarians are more likely to attempt suicide. Also, female veterinarians experience higher levels of serious psychological distress than their male counterparts with a statistically significant increase from 6.3% in the 2017 study as compared to 8.1% in the 2019 study.
“This study affirms that more veterinarians are comfortable discussing mental health related topics and there has been a significant increase in the number of respondents who believe that veterinarians are caring toward those with mental illness. That’s an incredibly positive shift in the last few years and suggests that educational efforts to reduce stigma have had a measurable impact,” said Dr. John Howe, president, AVMA. “In addition, this study links the data to practical and realistic strategies that individuals and organizations can apply to enhance wellbeing. As an organization that serves veterinarians, our mission is to protect the health and welfare of our members and the future of the profession. The more clarity we have on contributing factors, the greater confidence we have in developing resources that create a substantive difference.”
Solutions should be implemented for improvements in mental health and wellbeing
The study provided techniques and potential solutions to improve veterinary mental health and wellbeing. Individuals are encouraged to create personal stress management plans, balance their work with healthy personal activities, work with a financial planner especially if carrying a burdensome level of student debt, and limit time on social media in favor of in-person interactions.
Veterinary practices should discuss stress and mental health frequently and encourage employees to seek help, if needed. Mental health insurance coverage should be made known and employers should consider creating Employee Assistance Programs if such programs are not currently in place.
Merck Animal Health Makes Financial Commitment to AVMA
In support of AVMA’s veterinary wellness efforts, Merck Animal Health is making a second $100,000 commitment following up on the 2017 commitment to support AVMA’s Workplace Wellbeing program and resources.
“Merck Animal Health is proud to partner once again with AVMA on this landmark study, which digs deeper into understanding the challenges facing the veterinary profession,” said Scott Bormann, Senior Vice President, North America, Merck Animal Health. “Our partnership with AVMA and the financial support we are providing is helping AVMA bring critical awareness and solutions to this very important matter and providing real solutions and resources to better meet our veterinarians’ needs.”
The online survey was conducted in September and October 2019 by Brakke Consulting, Inc., among a nationally representative sample of 2,871 veterinarians in the U.S., both practitioners and non-practitioners, using standardized research methods. The objectives were to continue to track well-being and mental health of veterinarians and benchmark findings against physicians and the U.S. general population of employed adults. Data were weighted based on age, gender and region of the U.S. For the sample as a whole, the maximum margin of error is +/- 1.80% at 95% confidence level.