Kingstonist’s Wizard of Paws gets real on mental health amongst veterinary professionals

You may have noticed people changing their profile pictures on social media to include ‘NOMV’ with the Rod of Asclepius, like pictured above on this photo of Dr. Ryan Llera and puppy patient, Wallace. The acronym stands for Not One More Vet, and aims to draw awareness of the high rates of suicide amongst veterinary professionals.

You may have seen something different on Facebook lately.  A profile picture with a frame that says NOMV.  You may or may not have this attached message:  “Dear Friends: If you are linked to a person on social media who works in veterinary medicine, you may have noticed them changing their profile picture to include ‘NOMV’ with the Rod of Asclepius. Some of you may know, but if you don’t, NOMV stands for Not One More Vet, because we have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession. When you see your friend or social media acquaintance change their profile, it’s usually because they have learned of another colleague that succumbed to suicide. Be kind to your veterinary staff. From the front desk staff, technicians, kennel attendants and doctors.”

These have been popping up all over Facebook in the last weeks because, since the beginning of March 2021, five of my veterinary colleagues have taken their own lives. Never before have there been so many in such a short time. It’s time to revisit (we touched on this in 2018) this information from a veterinary perspective, as our profession is no stranger to violence or death threats, and is plagued by mental health problems leading to the highest rate of suicides in the world. Here is an article by my colleague, Dr. Debbie L. Stoewen that discusses just that, should you want to know more, and another by Dr. Andy Roark about the prevalence of suicidal thoughts among those in veterinary medicine.

Be nice to your vet staff

As the saying goes, ‘you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar,’ or something to that effect. I’m not suggesting that veterinary team members are flies, nor am I suggesting you bring jars of honey to your veterinary appointments (though, it is tasty). Unfortunately, there is a general perverseness in society that tempers flare up when things aren’t going the way you hope. This hasn’t gotten any better during the COVID pandemic.

It’s not okay to yell at your veterinarian or the veterinary staff (or anyone, really, for that matter). I can’t speak for everyone out there doing their best and working hard at their job, but it’s demoralizing when you get lashed out at, especially if you haven’t done anything wrong. Yelling profanities, wishing harm to the staff’s pets as retribution, and threats of violence (often directed to a young woman making minimum wage or just a bit more) occur in waiting or exam rooms at vet hospitals are regular occurrences. And this happens at least once weekly across the country.

I get it. Your pets are a part of your family and you always want what’s best for them. Some of the times in a vet clinic, these situations occur with the passing of a beloved pet. We know it’s an emotional time and we can understand that some anger is part of the grieving process. I wish we could save every animal that comes through our door, but nature doesn’t allow for that. 

Most of the time though, these beratings are often due to the costs associated with pet care. Yes, pet care and pets cost money. The veterinary hospital you take your pets to is a business. We got into veterinary medicine because we love animals and we like working with people. So why is it that people who got into other careers doing the things they love don’t get the same treatment? I’m all in favor of equal treatment, but do people attack mechanics, plumbers, farmers, journalists, accountants, etc. the same way for expecting to get paid to do their job? These days, it may be related to curbside veterinary care. Your pet goes in the clinic while you wait outside.  I can assure you, they are being very well cared for and even given extra treats as we know this is a stressful time for them, too.  But some of these attacks are based on a fear of what might be happening or a lack of trust. If this is the case, it might be time to find a vet clinic you do trust.

Yelling, shaming, berating, slandering anyone, wishing harm upon someone — whatever you want to call it, it needs to end. The world could use more kindness, and being nice to someone costs nothing.  Client interactions aren’t the only reason my colleagues have chosen to end their pain, but it’s one of the largest aspects (student debt, patient euthanasia, and work conditions are also factors).  Those of us in veterinary medicine will continue to take care of patients even on weekends and after hours, giving up time with our families, and being our own worst enemies by not taking time off. We do it because we care, and we take pride in our jobs.

If all else fails, focus on the one thing that connects us all in those moments of being overwhelmed: the love for your pet.

If there’s something you’ve often wondered or questions you have about regarding pets, let us know by email at [email protected].

*Please note that specific medical questions about your pet cannot be addressed and you should speak with your personal veterinarian.

Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with a cat, three dogs, two horses, and a rabbit. Dr. Llera also contributes writing to various other animal and veterinary related blogs. You can see what else he is up to on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.

Disclaimer: All columns are personally written and my opinion, and may not necessarily reflect those of current or former employers.

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