Professional Wellness Takes Center Stage for Veterinarians

Health and wellness is a growing concern in the veterinary profession. ( iStock )

Stress: It’s a factor in most professions, but particularly for veterinarians and especially for those just beginning their careers. The more it’s talked about, the better able veterinarians will be to cope with it. On Saturday, the AAVLD Plenary Session, taking place during the joint meeting of the U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA) and the American Association of Veterinary Diagnosticians (AAVLD), addressed the topic of stress.

Michele Pich, President and Founder of Sundog Research and Support LLC, explains some of the factors that make the veterinary profession stressful:

  • Veterinarians are driven to perfection – they may have never failed at anything before
  • Long hours: 12-hour days, working holidays, working weekends and overnight work are typical within the profession
  • Never-ending flow of samples to test
  • Difficult losses: compassion fatigue is a common problem for veterinarians
  • Difficult work or home environment
  • Intergenerational/personality difficulties
  • Emotional toil
  • Burnout

“Everything is interconnected,” Pich says. “We don’t live in a vacuum. One case can trigger emotions and memories from many years ago.”

Moral Distress
Stress can be caused by “moral distress” too, Pich says. It’s “that experience of knowing the right thing to do but being in a situation where it might be impossible to do it,” Andrew Jameton explained in 1984. Pich notes it can mean knowing options are available for treatment; but, people choose not to or can’t afford the treatments needed.

To make matters worse, a survey of 900 veterinarians that Pich performed with her staff showed that 79% of those surveyed reported no training in self-care; and 71% of veterinarians reported no training in conflict resolution.

Awareness and Change
Pich says there are nine dimensions to wellness: occupational, intellectual, spiritual, social, emotional, physical, financial, creative, and environmental. Not all areas will be in harmony all the time, but it’s a matter of learning how to cope with stress.

“Change what you can, and don’t let the rest consume you,” Pich says. She suggests developing and following these 10 habits:

  • Have regularly scheduled discussions about how to make the workplace better
  • Eat healthy and drink lots of water
  • Exercise regularly
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Enhance your awareness with education
  • Understand that those close to you may not be there when you need them most
  • Exchange information and feelings with people who can validate you
  • Clarify your personal boundaries: with clients, coworkers, etc.
  • Express your needs verbally (saying it to yourself is not the same as saying it out loud)
  • Take positive action to change your environment

(Source: and

Industry Takes Action
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) listened to its members and in 2010, passed the following resolution: “The AVMA recognizes the benefits of pet loss support helplines and groups for pet owners, veterinarians, veterinary technicians, students, and faculty at colleges of veterinary medicine and veterinary technology and lay employees of vet practices and encourages their responsible establishment.” (AVMA, 2010).

Since that time, the AVMA has created an entire section on its website to assist veterinarians with wellbeing, including a self-help assessment tool.

Editor’s Note: For more information, contact the Michele Pich at