Newly Published Study Shows Veterinarians Face Increased Challenges and Psychological Distress

Today, results were released that examined the well-being and mental health of American veterinarians. Conducted in the fall of 2021, the extensive veterinary wellness study is the third survey since 2017 and the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the aim of critically examining and raising awareness of the challenges affecting the veterinary profession, while highlighting the impact of the pandemic on practitioners and staff. For the first time, the study includes responses from veterinary technicians and support staff and their views on the challenges they currently face on the job.

From hospital managers and practice owners, to vet techs and administrative staff, the latest wellness survey found that the biggest barriers facing those practicing veterinary medicine are shortages of qualified staff and the fact that not all clinic or hospital employees have access to the same mental care. health tools as veterinarians.

While 92% of respondents ranked increased stress as one of their top mental health issues, 88% cited student debt and concerns about suicide risk as top stressors for vets.

Pandemic-related challenges have had a significant impact on veterinary support staff

Not surprisingly, the pandemic has affected many vets and clinic staff, including vet techs, vet assistants, practice managers, and customer service representatives. In fact, more than 90% of respondents indicated that the shortage of qualified veterinary personnel has been one of the main concerns throughout the pandemic, as has the challenge of providing veterinary services in the context of the evolution of pandemic and industry conditions (68%).

In addition to these concerns, 81% of staff and 67% of veterinarians experienced understaffing issues in their clinics due to employees missing work due to illness or family care. Additionally, staff and veterinarians highlighted their concerns about the risk of increased exposure to COVID-19 (63% and 61%, respectively) and longer working hours (51% and 46%, respectively).

The percentage of veterinarians with severe psychological distress rose to 9.7% in 2021, according to the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, from 6.4% in 2019, largely due to the ongoing pandemic. Among staff, the prevalence of severe psychological distress was almost twice as high (18.1%). Additionally, half of staff respondents (49.6%) and about a third (30.5%) of veterinarians reported high levels of burnout.

Jtwo-thirds of those who reported distress lack healthy stress management plans

Of respondents who reported distress in 2021, only a third (33%) indicated they had healthy ways to deal with stress, compared to 81% of those who did not report distress. Severe psychological distress is more common among veterinarians who work excessive hours, compared to unstressed veterinarians who reported spending more time on healthy, non-professional activities, such as socializing with family and friends or participating in hobbies and activities.

Healthy stress management solutions for veterinary team success

Veterinarians and veterinary staff who responded to the wellness survey recommend tools, such as developing stress management plans for their team members; maintaining a healthy work environment that promotes good mental health; and work with a financial planner to help manage student debt. Social activities that promote teamwork, networking opportunities for professional development, and taking wellness classes have also been recommended to improve wellness and help with stress management among veterinary professionals. Additionally, when asked what veterinary employers do to support workplace wellness, they suggested acknowledging and discussing ongoing mental health and wellness issues, and providing the support appropriate in return, including an employee assistance program and health insurance that covers mental health treatment.

Study methodology

The third online study was conducted in partnership with Merck Animal Health and the AVMA in September and October 2021 by Brakke Consulting, Inc., with a nationally representative sample of 2,495 veterinarians in the United States , practitioners and non-practitioners, using a standardized search. methods. The goals were to continue to track the wellness and mental health of veterinarians and compare the results to physicians and the general US population of employed adults.

In the 2021 study, practitioners surveyed asked to convey a special connection to full-time staff in all practice roles, including veterinary technician, veterinary assistant, hospital practice manager, customer service or other team members of a veterinary clinic. A total of 448 completed questionnaires were returned.

Data was weighted by age, gender, and region of the United States. For the sample as a whole, the maximum margin of error is +/- 1.94% at the 95% confidence level.

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