Suicide among helping professionals: Don’t forget veterinarians

Images Supplied: Michael Weinhardt (So Many Other Things)

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. This is a topic close to my heart. 4 years ago, I lost one of my best friends to suicide. I am not unique in having been affected by the suicide of a loved one. I’m certainly not the only one sharing a personal story today, or during September, which is World Suicide Prevention Month.

Since that day 4 years ago my life has shifted immeasurably; I’ve changed careers, focus, living situation and had my own experience of a mental health challenge with a period of burnout. One of the most positive changes I’ve made is to go from being a “generalist” market researcher, investigating all manner of topics from shelf heights, to shampoo, to selling whiskey online to a specialist in a single industry: veterinary.

This means that most of my working life involves investigating the thoughts, behaviours, needs and frustrations of one type of professional: Veterinarians

Before I was spending my days getting insights into the working lives of those in veterinary clinics around the world, my perception of the profession was, almost literally, one of kittens and rainbows. Even though I count some veterinarians among my closest friends, who told me, frequently about the difficulties they face, I couldn’t see past my own love of animals.

Now, after a year in the industry, I’ve heard enough stories to really appreciate the realities of being a veterinarian. It’s hard work. It’s thankless much of the time. And it certainly isn’t a job anyone would ever choose for the money.

Veterinarians are among the groups with the highest risk of suicide. Female veterinarians in the US are 2.4 times more likely than the general population to lose their lives to suicide, male veterinarians 2.1 times.

In Australia, one veterinarian every 12 weeks takes their own life.  They are twice as likely to do so as other helping professionals.

And in the UK veterinarians are 3 to 4 times more likely to take their own life than the average UK resident.

We know the statistics, so what?

Lots of statistics; one story. Vets across the world are more likely than the average person, and the average helping professional, to lose their lives to suicide. 

This isn’t new news. There are lots of great people doing great work to try and change this statistic. What I believe is lacking is awareness, and much more importantly, understanding.

As a one woman veterinarian lover, my reach for raising awareness is not going to be impactful. I’m writing today to do my best to provide any reader even a little bit more understanding of this issue, so that they might go on to raise awareness, or even just see their own veterinarian in a different light. I also write to confront the taboo; it’s ok to discuss suicide. We should talk about it.

Helping professionals are at great risk of burnout and compassion fatigue. Carers, nurses, doctors, paramedics…….veterinarians are all too often left out of these stories. 

What we don’t think about enough 

I don’t seek to dismiss the pressures that other helping professionals are under, but there are some pressures unique to veterinarians that are not widely understood.

A common misconception of veterinary life is that it is all “cute puppies and kittens”. And, of course, there is some of that. Here’s a cute picture as proof.

Male veterinarian examining dog, veterinary clinic. Vet doctor, treating a sick dog

However, in this shallow perception of the fun veterinary professionals have at work is an insidious dismissal of the realities of looking after our pets. That reality is a cluster bomb of pressures that I rarely see appreciated.

To illustrate these pressures I draw on images taken from a beautiful photoessay by Michael Weinhardt, whose pictures convey more than my words ever could.

1. Veterinarians are the ultimate detectives

As much as we might feel we can communicate with our pets, they can’t describe to us what is wrong. Veterinarians must diagnose with far fewer cues that someone working in human healthcare would get. They are in a position of being the helper, the fixer, the curer; the mediator, the counsellor, the solution. When you are the helper, it is hard to step back and see that you need help.

2. The complexities of multiple species….

Dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, parrots, rats, guinea pigs. All smaller, cuter and better behaved than humans but no less complex. Often, there isn’t the specialised equipment or optimised medications needed for these species

3. …and the complexities of human and humanised relationships

Complex too is the relationship management involved in veterinary working life. A good veterinarian needs to be multi soft skilled, as well as having the required medical and technical skills. 

A good veterinarian must be able to:

  • Calm a worried pet
  • Calm an owner worried about their pet
  • Deal with conflicts caused by worried owners
  • Moderate the complex and increasingly anthropomorphised relationship between owners and pets

Veterinary professionals are not only good, but many are also highly empathetic. In short this means; they care.  A lot.  This leads to emotional work:

  • Managing their own reactions and resilience during a difficult case – whether that difficulty is animal or human caused
  • Consider their team; mentoring and providing skills to less experienced staff
  • The lasting impact of a poor outcome for a patient, or a difficult client interaction; which needs to be dealt with outside of clinic time

4. The perception of a veterinary professional’s emphatic nature works against them

The common perception that veterinarians are fluffy animal lovers can cause serious issues. It results in anger from owners when they are told that there’s nothing that can be done, or that the required treatment is too expensive. All too often clients have an expectation that, somehow, shared love of an animal is enough to provide the financial and other resources needed to cure it. They also have tunnel vision; quite understandably; they see their pet, their emotions only. They don’t see that level of compassion, expertise and relationship management that their veterinarian has already had to put in that particular day. This results in veterinary professionals feeling less justification to be burned out/emotional.

5. This is compounded by invisible financial pressures

Any conversation about finances relating to the veterinary field is usually focused on client outrage about the cost of veterinary treatment. It’s perceived to be expensive, and in absolute terms, it is. But, what people often don’t know is that there’s very little monetary gain for veterinarians. A full time salaried vet in the UK earns around £48,000 on average (based on Vetspanel’s annual research). For a GP this is around £90,000. Practice owners need to manage multiple expenses. Profit tends to be largely reserved from the healthcare companies that supply veterinary clinics, not the clinic itself.

6. There are harsh realities rarely present in human healthcare

There is no NHS for pets. Pet insurance is a woefully poorly constructed product (there’s a whole article in this). Pet owners can be irresponsible, or just not have the knowledge they need to act in time. As a result of these factors, the decision to end a life comes up far more frequently for veterinarians. Whilst it might be the case that most of us inherently place a higher value on human lives than animal lives, the repeated exposure to a sometimes unnecessary ending of a life takes its toll. Especially when you consider not only the sadness present in a euthanasia, but the various forms that human grief takes, and the effort required by veterinary professionals to manage and react to that too.

I see many veterinary professionals react to these challenges with great humour and resilience, and these are wonderful coping mechanisms. However, for some veterinarians, over time, there is a drip, drip, drip of pressure that can mount and resurface as an impact on mental health. 

7. Veterinarians are reminded of these misconceptions constantly, and that is dangerous

If you hear something enough, you start to believe it is true. Veterinarians often laugh off as a joke the jibes they get from friends. They may even make an impassioned speech that changes their friend’s mind. However, what they still hear, more than appreciation of their work, is complaints about cost, frustration from owners that a patient can’t be “fixed”. Without the acknowledgement of the pressures they face, veterinarians will find it even harder to speak up when they need help, for fear of this dismissal. This under-appreciation of the multitude of pressures on veterinarians is a real, human health hazard. We all need to be heard. 

So, on World Suicide Prevention Day, what I really want to say this.

Value your vet.

Value their time.

Value their expertise.

If we all do this, we raise the value veterinarians deserve to see in themselves.

COVID-19 Global Pandemic impact on the veterinary market


In March 2020 we embarked on a small project to track the impact of the pandemic on our Vetspanel members. We resolved to continue this for “as long as the pandemic lasts.” Proof that researchers should not speak in haste.

In December 2020 we concluded the last wave of this project. In partnership with WSAVA, we have interviewed 5000 veterinary professionals in 91 countries.

The goal of this final survey was two-fold. First, to round up 2020 and take stock of where we are as we enter 2021. Second, covering future plans to help the veterinary industry make 2021 a better year.

We thank all 5000 respondents for sharing their experiences and opinions.


Adjustments to practical change is getting easier, but the emotional burden increases

The two first waves of our Covid-19 tracker clearly highlighted the increased impact that the pandemic was having on veterinarians and their practices. The third wave showed that the worse may have passed. Wave 4 shows that while manufacturers have clearly continued to support veterinarians, there is still a lot more they could be doing.  However, while veterinarians are seeing some benefits to pets (increased awareness by owners of pet condition and early detection of issues), there are worrying signs that stress levels, and increased workloads (despite furloughing), may have a lasting effect on veterinarians – some of which have now decided to leave the profession for good.

Vets see an end in sight… It’s just not around the corner.

The first two waves of our Covid-19 tracker clearly highlighted the increased impact that the pandemic was having on veterinarians and their practices. Wave 3 shows that the worse may have passed. The numbers reporting an increase in clients has started to grow in all countries as have deliveries of pharmaceutical products.
However, care must be taken to not assume that this improvement will continue as in almost all countries most veterinarians do not think there will be any changes in the current situation in the next weeks.





Harsh times ahead: The Covid-19 impact on the veterinary industry

First, we thank our panel of vets in these seven countries for continuing to share their thoughts with us during this difficult time. We also would like to thank our clients, and other veterinary industry companies, for their interest and support in this research; we hope the insights help you provide support as this crisis continues to unfold.

A mere 2 weeks after our initial wave and the picture has changed considerably. In the first wave, Italy stood out as by far the most impacted country. Since then the playing field has levelled, and there are few signs that some things are improving or, at the very least, not getting worse.

So, what are the key take outs from wave 2?

Personal and professional concern is on the rise

Back in mid-March professional concern was much higher than personal concern, now that gap has narrowed. Vets are now nearly as concerned for their own personal safety as they are for the safety of their practices. The biggest increases have been seen in the US and Australia; in mid-March just over a third were quite or extremely concerned from a personal perspective; this has now increased to 7 in 10 in the US and 6 in 10 in Australia.

Italy and Spain remain at a similar level of both professional and personal concern as in wave 1, when veterinarians were already highly affected by Coronavirus.

Since last wave we have also seen significant increases in cases of and mortalities from Covid-19 in both the UK and France, which is reflected in heightened levels of concern among vets.

With an increasing number of cases, yet a significantly lower mortality rate, German vets reported lower levels of both professional and personal concern than any other country surveyed.



The impact on revenue for veterinary practices is stark

Over 50% of vets reported a dip in revenue intake when asked how their revenue has changed in the past week across Italy, the UK, France and Spain. Germany, US and Australia also report declines but at a much lower level. This drop in revenue is highly linked to a similar drop in the number of clients visiting the practice.



Veterinarian’s toughen precautions to limit contact with patients

Back in mid-March the common new policy in most practices was “additional policies around personal hygiene”. This has now changed to asking pet owners to phone in rather than come in, or limiting to only emergency appointments.

If we take the UK as an example; over 8 in 10 veterinary practices report only allowing emergency cases, increasing from just 1 in 10 a fortnight ago. Protective equipment is now commonplace in practices, up from 7% to now 60%.

59% of veterinarians now report staff on sick leave due to Covid-19, compared to just 11% a couple of weeks back. Whilst this is not surprising, it is an indication of just how rapidly the virus is spreading.

Similar patterns are seen in other countries – please contact us for a deep dive on any of the countries we are covering.


What can be done to support veterinarians?

Many veterinary practices are cancelling all face-to-face visits from sales reps. This is at a particularly high level in the UK and Germany, but we can expect to see this increase in other countries, especially the US, in the coming weeks.


So, with declining face to face contact what can you do to support the industry?

  1. Support transition to online channels

Teleconsults are now becoming more popular, especially in the UK. Companies and manufacturers who are able to use alternative channels should do their utmost to enable clinics to shift to this new technology as smoothly as possible.

  1. Be transparent about stock and flexible on payment terms

Now that countries are taking tougher measures that are significantly impacting on the day to day running of clinics, there are now higher expectations on manufactures. The majority of veterinarians are still looking for advice and updates on stock availability, but price caps and increased payment flexibility are now much more broadly expected.

  1. Continue to be the trusted source of knowledge

In more positive news, as we see satisfaction with advice given by governments decline, veterinarians are rating the advice and guidance they are getting from national veterinary associations more positively than in the first wave of the tracker.


Closing thoughts

Veterinarians may not be treating Covid-19, but they are very much on the front line keeping our pets healthy. As more and more of us are confined to our houses, those of us who have pets to look after are lucky. The positive impact of having a cat or dog on our mental health has been proved time and time again. We need our furry friends now more than ever, and must not forget the job that veterinarians do, in times of crisis and always.

The full report can be downloaded here. Please contact any of the CM Research team on  for more information.

COVID-19 veterinary industry tracker: what do veterinarians expect from manufacturers and service providers?


Last week saw the launch of the first wave of CM Research & Vetspanel’s coronavirus tracker. We’re running this every 2 to 3 weeks until the impact of the outbreak has lessened. Even in the last few days changes have been monumental for veterinary professionals (and pretty much all of us!). Some clinics have closed doors to sales reps or to all but non-essential cases. On a more personal level, earlier this week a clinic receptionist showed me her cracked and sore hands – a result of new policies around regular hand washing. During the same shift a disgruntled client walked out of the clinic after being told they could not pay with cash anymore. The next day that clinic closed for the near future.

Veterinarians are reporting huge impacts on their clinics

The full results of the first wave of this tracker, covering 5 European countries, the US and Australia will be published on Friday 20th March. The focus of this short piece is a window into what veterinary professionals are expecting from manufacturers and service providers.

Whilst the greatest reported impact on practices relates to number of clients and, by extension, revenue, there has already been a perceived impact on stock delivery and availability of drugs. Availability of drugs and medical supplies and deliveries of stock are reported as being “less than usual” in almost all countries (though this is of course linked to the decline in footfall).

In Italy, where the outbreak is currently more serious, the differences are stark:

Although, it’s rather less stark than the differences between claimed impact on revenue:

What support do veterinarians expect?

So, with an already huge impact on how clinics are operating; what support, if any, do veterinarians expect from manufacturers? A huge 96% of the 1033 veterinarians we spoke to across the world expected at least some support. That support falls into two main categories: information about stock availability and pricing measures. There is also some appetite for information to share with clients, coronavirus focused CPD/newsletters and manufacturers driving research on into coronavirus (especially in Germany).


Stock availability

Regular updates on stock availability is the top expectation in most countries, followed by advice on how to deal with potential shortages. Veterinarians also expect increased production or rationing when it comes to stock. Interestingly, rationing is a tactic expected more in English speaking markets:


Price increases

Avoiding price increases and payment flexibility are next on the list. of vets expect price capping and nearly as many increased payment flexibility. This is especially the expectation in Italy where around two thirds expect support relating to price and payment. In the US, where pharmaceutical pricing is already high, we also see higher reported figures than other countries.



What actions should I take?

In short, what vets are expecting are practical measures to help them weather the storm. To what extent manufacturers and service providers can meet these expectations is down to a multitude of individual factors.

However, what we know from years of studying the interactions between vets and manufacturers is that practical measures are often hygiene factors. In this unsettling period, more than ever veterinarians will be looking for manufacturers who can empathise and understand their challenges. To stand out, be the manufacturer who does what they can to ease stock and financial concerns, but also supports clinics with advice, a listening ear and knowledge of how this outbreak is impacting the day to day lives of veterinary professionals.

For more information about these results please contact Carlos Michelsen or Abi Moorcock.

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