I quit my job. That’s not true – it’s more than.
I am quitting my profession.
That too is not true. I am giving up my belief in my profession. There will still be hours and days and month of work, maybe even extending into years.
Sometimes we open our eyes and the truth is seen. Not uncommonly, this is very unpleasant. We may have spent years not seeing certain things. In addition, it is difficult to unsee what you have seen, to not know what you know. Some would say it’s impossible.
I opened my eyes during a CE course on stress reduction in my profession. I am a veterinarian. I know – puppies and kittens all day. Well…it’s not really like that. It is a highly stressed, highly leveraged industry. Recently, we lost several prominent veterinarians to suicide. I personally deeply felt the loss of Dr. Sophia Yin, the veterinarian who really brought Low Stress Animal Handling, and Fear Free vet care to the fore front. “They” started taking a look and studying our profession. Recently the information has started to come out. More and more, information is being accessible and presented – for those who want to hear. At my last continuing education conference there was one course on stress burn out and meditation. I went for the meditation. What I found out: My profession is now rated as the number one job for suicide, suicide ideation, burnout and compassion fatigue. I guess that warrants being studied.
I went in to the lecture fairly dubious. I seated myself next to the door, so I could leave if I got bored. A social worker, speaking at the conference, laid it all out for me. Each item she ticked off, I said “Oh! Yes – that’s true! And that. Plus there’s a lot more stressors than that, which she obviously isn’t even aware of. But Oh Dear! They only see a fraction of the tolls this work takes .”
I guess I was ready to be educated. I wasn’t ready to have the veils torn off my eyes. I pondered this new information, this new vision for several months. I have to admit, I think this seeing was my undoing.
After, I could never hold it together, blithely sail through the daily stresses, unaware. I couldn’t not see the stressors, and that was a problem. I kept noting them. I watched as they followed me and my fellow workers around.
That fuzzy one, that is Overwork – if feels so good, as you ‘Do Good’ – but like a giant leech, it sucks the life out of you!
That one over there is Referred Trauma. I know – It’s so tiny! It’s just a little bit of someone else’s story. But those bits stick to you. When you get hundreds or so of them on you…
That one beside it, yes, the bigger one, the one that looks like that aggressive dog, who can’t be restrained, muzzled, touched or even tranquilized, and who’s owner is saying he would never bite us, but also won’t hold onto the leash? That one is just plain old Trauma, much scarier than it’s cute little cousin. Still, you can just herd one of those big guys out the door. And usually you can.
The problems is they still hang out in the parking lot, attach their trunks and suckers to your cars – and follow you home. You don’t think they’ve moved in, until you can see them again, in herds roaming around your kitchen. Suddenly, you’re angry with your daughter for not finishing her homework, but don’t bounce back from it like you should, you can’t sleep at night, and forget romance!
“Veterinarians suffer from feelings of hopelessness, depression, and other psychiatric disorders two to three times more often than the general population,” quotes a Boston Globe article. One third (1/3rd) have anxiety, and another third are borderline for anxiety. (That equals 2/3rds of the veterinarians!!) 47% scored high on emotional exhaustion. 67% of female veterinarians showed clear signs of burnout and another study showed that 53% of male veterinarians were also in this category. Another report – 75% of vets studied fell below the average for resiliency. (Can Vet J. 2015 Jan; 56(1): 89–92.)
I can attest to that. My resiliency was in the crapper. That is why I started this blog and my herbal/food medicine. I got the flu and couldn’t recover. Of course behind that was, surgery, steroids, travel, moving, remodeling, poor social connection, divorces, custody suits, and a host of other stressors. But I got to the point that I could not physically recover. I certainly also had the burnout, stress and suffering. In the List of Signs and Triggers of Compassion Fatigue below, I tagged at least 11 of the 14 signs in Feb 2017.
Two studies published in the British Veterinarian Association’s journal, The Veterinary Record, found suicide rates are double or more those of dentists and doctors, and four to six times higher than the general population. 16% veterinarians have considered suicide, 9% have attempted suicide, and 49% felt they were still at risk to repeat such attempts, according to a 2014 CDC study.
Again, I totally understand this. My wishes for a tree to accidentally fall across the road and kill me, have never, thankfully, been realized. When I really noticed the places to where I have gone, AND I got a pretty simple flu and could not recover, I decide to make changes in my life. I prefer to have a life, versus a tree falling on me. In addition, I prefer to have a life, over having an existence.
My personal belief is that veterinarian medicine is a whole lot more stressful for a whole lot more reasons than even the outsiders see. I also believe that those in the industry, i.e. veterinarians, are blind to most of these stresses, most of the times. When we do see them, we blow them off. They still exist, they are part of the package. Unless you rip our blinders off, we won’t even see the boogiemen in the corner. and there is a reason for that – We don’t want to!!!
We like being veterinarian’s and we really want to do our best for everyone. That doesn’t make it a stress free career, it just makes it a blind career.
I love my profession. I am proud of the work I did to get here, the fact I Do Good in the world, that I make a difference, and can feeding my family through my work as a veterinarian. However, it is not longer a good place to be. It is no longer safe. I suspect it never was. So for now, I am taking a break. It may only be a few weeks or a few months. I may come back to my profession with a new outlook, or a new role. But for now – I am checking out.
I am trying to learn how to slow down. I am learning how to breathe, how to take the time to do a hour of yoga a couple of times a week. I am learning how to drive the speed limit, come to a full and complete stop at stop signs. I am blogging about my experiences as I change.
Resources and Notes:
Here is a list of Signs and Triggers of Compassion Fatigue from the Book Professional Burnout….
- Reduced ability to feel sympathy and empathy
- Anger and irritability
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs
- Dread of working with certain clients/patients / staff
- Diminished sense of joy of career
- Disruption to worldview, heightened anxiety or irrational fears
- Intrusive imagery or dissociation
- Hypersensitivity or insensitivity to emotional material
- Difficulty separating work life from personal life
- Absenteeism – missing work, taking many sick days
- Impaired ability to make decisions and care for clients/patients
- Problems with intimacy and in personal relationships
- Poor client care and low competition rates of clinical and administrative duties
By Sy Montgomery SEPTEMBER 19, 2016https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/2016/09/18/why-many-veterinarians-commit-suicide/iCCgr46bIJpgEeesPHTe2L/story.html
Can Vet J. 2015 Jan; 56(1): 89–92. Suicide in veterinary medicine: Let’s talk about it. by Debbie L. Stoewen
JAVMA – Studies confirm poor well-being in veterinary professionals, students
Veterinarians are four times more likely than the average person to commit suicide and twice as likely as other healthcare professionals.
More than one in six veterinarians might have contemplated suicide since graduation. The survey results, based on answers from more than 10,000 practicing veterinarians
Notes from he Field: Prevalence of Risk Factors for Suicide among Veterinarians – United Stated, 2014. CDC – February 13, 2015 / 64(05);131-132, Randall J. Nett, MD, et. al.
Workplace stress, mental health, and burnout of veterinarians in Australia (PDF Download Available). Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51728726_Workplace_stress_mental_health_and_burnout_of_veterinarians_in_Australia [accessed Jun 12, 2017].
Professional Burnout, Vicarious Trauma, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Compassion Fatigue…. Jason M. Newell and Gordon A. MacNeil (pg. 59), p.45 in Rank, Zaparanick, Gentry reading