The Harsh Reality of Vet Med…What the World Needs to Understand

I remember being a young child and dreaming one day of becoming a veterinarian.  The thought of working with animals brought me great joy, and I longed to save every furry creature that came across my path.   Most everyone knows that I achieved that dream and proudly serve my community as a small animal veterinarian.  It makes me happy to help animals in need and to educate pet parents simultaneously.  I love my job.

I love my job…at least I keep telling myself that.

To be upfront, I really do have a passion for animal welfare and I honestly cannot see myself doing anything else as a career.  Yet I believe there are a lot of misconceptions about my field of expertise by the masses…and even by those who aspire to stand where I stand now.

There is a reason why burnout is so high in my profession…and there is a reason why my profession has the highest suicide rate of any white collar job (yes, we vets have surpassed dentists in that macabre statistic).  I’ve lost two classmates to suicide, and 2014 proved that no veterinarian is immune to depression with the announcement of the suicide of Dr. Sophia Yin – world-renowned veterinary behaviorist and lecturer.  I’d met Sophia on several occasions, and she seemed so happy and vibrant.  She was the last person I thought would take her own life, but I guess it goes to show that you cannot really understand anyone by judging simple appearances.

I am writing this as a means of helping clients to understand the stresses that their veterinarian endures, and to supply a more realistic description of the role of veterinarian to those who are considering it as a career path.  Allow me to give you a glimpse of a typical day in my life…the following is a synopsis of what occurred yesterday:

7am: My alarm goes off.   I sit up in bed and grab my laptop to check out VIN (the Veterinary Information Network) and see if any noteworthy news has come across the boards.  It’s a quiet news day, so I check my email and review a few acupuncture posts that hit my inbox, followed by a few minutes of “me” time on Facebook.  A quick pushup and pull-up set to get the blood flowing, and it’s off to the shower.

8:45am: I make the drive to work.  While en route, I hear my phone beep a couple times.  Both are messages from friends asking about their pets.  I shoot them some quick responses after I arrive at work.

9:15am: I prep for a morning of surgery.  First I have to get a urine sample via cystocentesis (ultrasound guided needle stick of the bladder) for my boss, which is quickly done.

9:20am: I’m reminded of a case that my other colleague took in yesterday and has returned for more treatment/monitoring.  That doc is off today, so I take the case.  Surgery gets delayed so I can continue the barium intestinal study that was started late yesterday afternoon.  Xrays done, and I call the owner with a prospective plan for the day…the owner failed to answer the phone, so I left a detailed message with my plan and asked the owner to call back to authorize what I had suggested.

9:30am: Finally ready to start surgery.  Four routine procedures to handle first, followed by a very complicated cruciate and patellar repair on a husky – whose anatomy is so messed up that it takes almost double the amount of time to perform the necessary repairs.

10:30am: While in the midst of the knee surgery, the owner of the barium study dog calls back.  Receptionist comes to surgery stating she is on the phone and would like to speak with me.  I stare back at her and flatly reply that I’m sterile and cannot talk on the phone…to which I learn that my detailed message was never listened to by the owner.   I instruct the receptionist to tell that owner to listen to her voicemail and call back to authorize my plan.

12:00pm: Surgery finally completed.  I write up my surgical notes and call the owner of the dog who had the knee repair to discuss the outcome of the procedure.  Then spend the next 40 minutes returning phone calls to clients who had left messages for me earlier in that morning.

12:40pm:  Phone dings while I’m working on notes and phone calls… Another text message from another friend asking about their pet.  I learn that my friend had not yet heard from the pharmacy that I faxed a prescription to several days earlier.  I frustratingly call the pharmacy to find out what happened, only to learn that they did indeed try contacting them and left a message on Mr. Friend’s phone.  I respond to Mrs. Friend, telling her that I gave the pharmacy her number for future contacts.

1:00pm:  I take a look at the afternoon appointment schedule.  I’m the only doc that is scheduled to see clients in the afternoon.  I am subsequently triple booked for a majority of the day due to a high volume of sick patients that needed to be seen.  I took a deep breath and grumbled to myself.  I was going to be in for a busy day.

1:30pm: I shove my homemade turkey sandwich and an apple down my throat and continue writing notes and returning phone calls, taking sips from my water bottle in between sentences.

1:40pm: The first appointments of the day arrive.  I’m not supposed to start seeing clients until 2pm, but necessity required fitting in sick patients wherever they could be crammed in – which usually means doc misses a real lunch break or a trip to the bathroom.

1:45pm: Walk-in sick patient – cat who was virtually comatose and owners who had a history of being sent to collections TWICE by our facility.  These people conned the very nice no-kill cat shelter to pay their bill.  After diagnosing the cat with a urinary blockage and learning that the cat had been ill for FIVE DAYS, I explain to the owner that this animal is gravely sick and suffering.  I recommend euthanasia due to the animal’s toxic state and horrible prognosis.  Owner refuses and insists that we spend the shelter’s money to save the cat.

2:00pm: I call the cat shelter and speak with the operator, explaining the advanced situation with the animal and inform them that diagnostics would be around $300, and treatment would be several hundred more should the cat even survive.  Shelter agrees to cover cost of workup to confirm the problem but anything above that amount would need to be handled by the owner.

2:30pm: Blood tests and xrays confirm the cat is toxic with an electrolyte imbalance that is not compatible with life…which I already knew was the case before any diagnostics were done and am frustrated that almost $300 was spent by the shelter unnecessarily to confirm something that I already knew.  I relay the results to the owner, who seems unwilling to believe what I am telling her.  She is insistent that the cat be saved; I respond that the shelter will not shell out any more money (obviously spoken in a more diplomatic tone, but my frustration is becoming more visible by the moment).  Owner starts screaming that I’m a bad person for not saving her cat and that all I care about is money.  I flatly reply that if she had brought her cat in 4 days ago, we wouldn’t be in this situation.

Meanwhile, the appointments are backing up because I’m spending an exorbitant amount of time arguing with a client who cannot accept reality.

2:45pm:  After 15 minutes of being subjected to screaming and witnessing uncontrollable wailing and childish, selfish behavior by a woman who is easily twice my age, I excuse myself by stating that I recommend euthanasia because the cat is suffering and will give her a few minutes to think about it.  This gives me a few moments to try to see a couple more patients.  I grab a chart from the rack, which is now 10 charts deep.  Sigh…but it’s my job to not subject my other clients to my stress, so I fake a smile as I walk into the next room for what is fortunately a wellness exam and vaccine appointment.

3:10pm:  I return to the room with the combative cat owner and ask if she has come to a decision about anything.  Her response is that she wants to take the cat home to die.  I do my best to remain calm and explain to her that I will not allow that to happen because it is inhumane to the cat to allow further suffering, and again offer euthanasia.  The owner then states she wants the shelter to pay for a private cremation for the cat – I refuse.  I am done with this woman feeling entitled to whatever she wants and putting up an innocent shelter to foot the bill for an animal that she is responsible for.  We finally reach the decision that the cat will be euthanized and she will take the remains home to be buried.  I relieve this poor creature of its suffering, take a deep breath, fake another smile, and move on to the next chart.  The chart rack is now 14 deep and the waiting room is mass chaos.

3:12pm: I walk into the next room, apologizing for the extended wait and explain of the sick patient who took vastly more time than expected.  The owner proceeds to berate me for being 50 minutes late in getting to their dog.  I apologize again, take care of their needs, thank them for being patient and move on.  Another deep breath, another fake smile on my face, and into the next room I go.

4:00pm: For every 2 charts I clear, 3 more come in.  My medical notes can’t get done because I’m so backed up.  I’m relegated to making a few quick notes on each patient’s check-in sheet so I am reminded of the case for later, when I’ll have the time to sit and type everything up.

4:45pm: Xrays need to be repeated on that barium study case from earlier in the day.  My techs handle that but I need to take the time to review them and have a final plan of action for when the owner shows up in another hour.  Thank God, it doesn’t look like we’re dealing with an obstruction, although this dog’s intestinal motility is not normal.

5:00pm: Back to catching up with charts that need to be seen…except from this point on, my day staff is off the clock, leaving me with a skeleton crew to operate the remainder of the night.  I’m fortunate that my remaining two techs are very good and know me well, so they can often times predict my needs before I ask them…but two techs and one vet can only do so much, and I’m still horribly backed up.

6:00pm: I’ve seen skin infections, ear hematomas, diarrhea, pneumonia, corneal ulcers, ruptured cruciates, underweight dogs, overweight dogs, upper respiratory infections, chronic nausea, urinary tract infections, and a score of vaccine appointments in the last 3 hours.  Most of my clients were rather understanding about the wait time but a few were extremely unhappy despite my apologies and explanation of the delay.  My brain hurts, and I still have several charts to see.  I run back to my office to grab a sip of water and see a slew of notes stuck to my desk with more clients to call back when I have free time.

Free time…I’m not sure I know the definition of that.

And let’s not forget that the owner of my barium study dog arrived at 5:30 expecting to pick her pet up and speak with me then, but is still waiting…patiently, mind you.

6:50pm: I discharge the barium study dog and go in with my final appointment of the night (after scrambling to catch up).  One of my favorite patients and clients, I removed a tumor from the dog 2 weeks ago which came back as a sarcoma with dirty margins.  The dog was back for suture removal and to talk with the owners about their visit to an oncology referral facility about radiation therapy.  I remove the sutures and take a feel of the surgery site, only to note another nodule beneath the incision – that stupid tumor was already growing back.  I advise the owner to call the onco department first thing in the morning to get an earlier appointment for a second surgery to take wider margins and follow up with radiation.

7:15pm: Our clinic closed 15 minutes ago, but I’m just now sitting down to write up my medical notes from the afternoon.  In a 5 hour span I saw almost 30 different patients.  And that means I have almost 30 different medical reports to write up.  I sip my water and take another deep, cleansing breath.  I type while I return some phone calls to clients who had left messages earlier in the day.   Thank goodness that I can type over 100 words per minute.  Phone dings again – a facebook friend asking about her parent’s dog and hinting that she was upset that the dog wasn’t able to be seen earlier that day for the dog’s eye problem.  I ignore the complaint and politely answer the series of questions she has and ask her to call first thing in the morning for an appointment.

8:00pm: Charts are finally done.  I look in on my patients who are staying the night before leaving for the evening, and hurried to get my things. I rush to the gym to get a quick workout done so I can release the insanity of the day.  The gym closes at 9 pm.  I contemplate joining a 24 hour facility just so I can go at 2 in the morning and avoid seeing people.

9:00pm: I sit and eat dinner while working on some extracurricular projects.  Phone dings again – another person tagging me in a facebook post about their sick pet.  We proceed to message back and forth about his sick kitty, and I recommend the cat be seen by a vet due to concern for an infection, and I apologize for not being of more assistance.

9:45pm: I finally can relax for the evening… Except my over-exhausted state has me wired and unable to sleep.  I proceed to read more on VIN, check email, and respond to some personal messages that have been in queue for the majority of the day.  I sign on to my student loan website and pay my monthly statement for obtaining my veterinary education….a bill I’ve been paying for 10 years and will continue to pay for another 15 years.  Several hours pass before I’m tired enough to sleep…as in it’s almost 4am now and I’m still awake.

And I gotta do it all over again in 3 short hours.

Being a veterinarian is not glamorous.  It is often an ugly, depressing, heart-wrenching job.  To say that it is stressful is a gross understatement.

You see, veterinarians are perceived by society as completely selfless people who would do anything to save a pet’s life.  Don’t have the money to treat you pet?  No problem!  Oh, you forgot that the boarding facility told you that your dog needed a bordetella vaccine to stay there, and you’re leaving tomorrow for vacation and are 30 minutes away, even though the clinic closes in 10 minutes?  Sure, come on over! Wait, your cat’s been sick for 5 days and is on death’s door?  Just walk on in to the hospital unannounced and get seen immediately, meanwhile completely disrupting the schedule of appointments for the remainder of the day!

Why not…we veterinarians can handle it….can’t we?

Can we?

People forget that our hearts break when we see an animal who is suffering, knowing there is little we can do to save them because the owner waited too long to get them into the hospital.  We lose sleep over the cases of abuse and neglect that we see.  The forced smiles on our faces to prevent clients from knowing that we just euthanized a pet moments beforehand are painful to put on.  The disdain we carry from knowing that we are often times being used for free advice by people on social media who “know we’re vets” and rarely get a simple thank you for suggestions that were made is depressing.  We feel crippled and helpless when money limits an owner’s ability to save their pet – and many of us try our best to discount services and work out payment plans whenever possible; but free services do not pay my technicians, receptionists, or the electric bill.

Nobody needs to worry about me…I admit to suffering from some burnout but it’s not to the point of danger and nothing a brief vacation won’t fix.  But that is not why I’m writing this – my point here is for people to take into consideration what their veterinarian has to be subjected to on an average day (and my hand to God, the day I described above is a typical day for me).   The next time you have to wait 45 minutes to be seen, try to remember that your vet isn’t in her office playing games on her computer; it is more likely that she had spent the better part of the last hour trying to save a dying animal.  The next time your vet comes into your exam room looking haggard with a weak smile on her face, it’s not because she doesn’t want to see you…she’s probably trying to hide her sadness of having to help another client say goodbye to their best friend.

And to those who are veterinarians in the making: think long and hard about why you want to do this.  If you’re here to make money, you are sorely mistaken – expect to have human medical school student loan bills on a salary that is about 25% of what a human doctor makes.  Expect to work long hours, not get a lunch, and stay late after work.  Expect to witness a lot of very sad and depressing cases.  If you don’t think you can handle that, then I suggest you seek another career path.  Our field doesn’t need another statistic.

I’m here because I make a difference.  Because I can handle the bad and cherish the good.  Because I won’t let people define me by their parameters.  Because I believe that, in the long run, I can improve the education level of my clients and the quality of life of my patients.

My actions define me.  I define me.

247 thoughts on “The Harsh Reality of Vet Med…What the World Needs to Understand

  1. Just wondering. Where is the new statistics that we veterinarians have surpassed the dentists for highest suicidal rate?

    1. I work at a Veterinary Hospital in San Francisco and many this Veterinarians problems seem to stem from poor practice management. She was overbooked, which is inexcusable. People (receptionists) were interrupting her during surgery, also unacceptable. She seems to not have a hang on clinic flow and client relations, the Veterinarians that I work with are never 10 patients behind. That is due to the Front of the house management as well. Do no over book a doctor that is also involved with multiple procedures in that day.
      This is a bitch fest of a work place environment that I, as a pre veterinary student and a Veterinary assistant find discouraging , even questioning my career choice, because of the bogus “suicidal” statistic. This Veterinarian just needs to find a practice with better management, then maybe she with stop complaining.

      1. “Complaining” is the exact opposite of what I was trying to convey – I was trying to educate. You missed the point.

        I work in a county of over 100,000 people and, at that time, there were a grand total of 5 veterinary hospitals serving the area. We are going to be busy by the very nature of our location. Then, add in the fact that the closest emergency hospital is at least 40 minutes from my clinic, and you’ll hopefully understand the nature of my situation. It’s not just me, Katie – read the comments and see how many people have said I’m describing their lives. There’s a reason this blog post has been shared over 200,000 times. It’s not because I’m “complaining” as you say – it’s because I’ve struck a chord that resonates with a lot of my colleagues.

        Work flow balance is not my problem – again, due to the demographics of my area, it’s not easy for someone to get their pet to an ER if something terrible occurs. That leaves me and my fellow cohorts at surrounding clinics to see these people and their pets. We won’t turn away someone with a sick pet simply because we’re overbooked – we understand their situation and do our best to accommodate them, knowing that it’s going to put us behind. My receptionists are not to blame; they attempt to call routine appointments to reschedule them when things get out of hand with sick appointments. Sometimes owners answer their phone, and sometimes they do not. On this particular day, no one was able to reschedule.

        And your statement on “Bogus Suicidal Statistic” — do you think I’m making this up? I’ve already tagged two links to those studies about suicide rates among white collar workers in another comment. I suggest you read them. I’ve lost 4 colleagues/friends to suicide now – It’s no joking matter and it highly disappoints me that you see it so frivolously.

        I’m laughing at the “interrupting during surgery” statement – you must be in the ivory tower of clinics if your vets never get interrupted with a question or a concern whilst in surgery. Multitasking is what we do, and I am not so holy as to be unavailable to talk to my staff during my surgery time if I am able.

        If you find my account of that day too hard, then you really do need to reconsider veterinary school. There are more clinics that are akin to my facility than not. We’re busy. We get behind. We sometimes have to juggle 3 horrible cases at once because that’s how the cookie crumbled that day. It’s high stress with high rewards if you play it right, but if you can’t swing it, don’t come on the field and play ball.

      2. This blog is not complaining- it is reality. I just had a day like this today. And yesterday. I am taxed emotionally and physically and I get to do it all again tomorrow. If you truly think you get to practice in an ivory tower where you are never behind, never get interrupted in surgery, never have upset clients, never have to stay late to write up charts and never stay up late worrying about a case (like I will tonight about a cystotomy), then you need to become a human dermatologist not a veterinarian. I applaud the author for the reality check. This is my life. I love my job, my patients and my clients (well, most of them). Yes management issues occur everywhere but the chaos of everyday practice, of serving your clients and doing your best every day, lends to crazy days and sleepless nights. Oh – it is a fact that veterinarians now have the highest suicide rate of any profession. I have lost 3 friends in the last 5 years. So before making such an insensitive comment, please do your research.

      3. The suicide stats are not bogus. 4 Vets in our area have ended their lives via suicide. You are naive to think that the article is simply a bitchfest and that any well managed practice doesn’t experience these problems as well. Last week I had 2 emergency “fit ins” and a walk in. The week before that both Drs “dropped everything” to attend to a dog that the owner rushed in after she had run the dog over in her driveway. Yes, the appts piled up and people chose to wait rather than be rescheduled . Yesterday I put 3 pets to sleep, 2 of whom I had been seeing since they were 8 weeks old. The buck stops with the Dr., being a tech is stressful. I have been on both sides of the fence. The stress a tech experiences doesn’t hold a candle to what a Vet faces on a daily basis. I’m sorry you find this discouraging, but it is real. Anyone who tells you differently is wrong. Let’s see how you feel 10 or so years in practice when one of your biggest problems is that you care for some of the patients more than the owners do. I would never want to do anything else with my life, couldn’t imagine it. I have been in practice for over 30 years and currently own 2 small animal practices. Instead of being holier than thou perhaps you should take some time and read some Veterinary journals. Month after month these issues are addressed
        After Dr Yin took her life an organization has been established “Not one more Vet” to stop the epidemic of suicides in our profession. Go look it up, it will be an eye opener

      4. Good for you….but the “Utopia” you apparently enjoy is not the standard.

      5. Kate your comments suggest that you should seriously reconsider veterinary medicine as a career choice. Almost every clinic I have worked for over my 20 year career were ” bitch fests of a work place” – it is extremely rare to find a veterinary hospital that is well managed by someone who cares enough to try to protect the morale of their doctors and staff and the overall energy in the clinic. I suggest you take the time to work or volunteer in several different veterinary hospitals throughout the Bay Area and get a real feel for what it’s like to work with in this profession before you apply to veterinary school.

        I own a veterinary clinic in Oakland- many small non incorporated vet clinics are in a ” no win” situation since our regularly established clients get understandably furious if the management tells them Dr ” so and so” has no more Appts left that day and so we must send their dog/cat (who is vomiting blood or some other medical issue that came up suddenly and can’t wait until tomorrow for an open appt slot) to an emergency facility because e are too busy. Wouldn’t you be mad if you had a 5-10 year relationship with a vet who turned you away when your pet got sick?

        On the other end of the ” no win” scenario are the poor clients who have scheduled a regular appt weeks ago and now have to wait while we deal with these emergencies- and the staff and doctors who have to deal with the stress and extra hours of adding more Appts throughout the day. The staff miss lunches and work overtime to care for these clients and their pets-sometimes fitting emergency surgery into the schedule too.

        I have attempted many different managerial techniques to address this problem -the easiest solution is to create “buffer Appts” in the day’s schedule for “same day” Appts-however, the veterinary appt schedule can vary WIDELY from day to day- One day losing money because of no one scheduling in the ” blocked” slots and another day all of those slots are filled up by 9 o’clock in the morning and we are back to not having any available appointments. It is also difficult to staff for these days because it’s often “feast or famine”- we are either so busy we are triple booked and need to turn good clients away, or we are slower and need to send some employees home. This is very difficult financially because Most vet clinics barely break even and have little extra money to buffer for the shortages created by having “extra” staff , especially living in the SF Bay Area where hourly salaries are close to $20 ( plus) per hour.

        Another solution is to try to have 2 veterinarians and extra staff working every day of the week-especially on weekends which are often busier. I’m lucky to live in a busier urban area , but this can be difficult for clinic owners who live in more remote areas were they are the only veterinarian for miles and cannot attract an associate to work for them.

        Many people tell me that I should just create “protocols” that focus on taking care of myself and my employees and our clients just have to “deal with it-“but I didn’t go to Vet school to be that type of a doctor – I have a personal relationship with my clients and their pets- basically I’m their “family veterinarian” and I feel they have a right to expect that I will be available for them when an emergency arises
        My clients accept the fact that they may have to go to an emergency clinic if their pet has an emergency health issue when our office is closed- ( I am so grateful Vets don’t have to take emergency calls 24/7 like we did when I first graduated)-but when we are open for business my clients want to see their pets own beloved Doctor! I’m also not talking about pushy clients who want to come in ” right now” because it is more convenient for them and their pet could easily be scheduled on another day, I’m talking about my established long time clients who call during regular business hours with pets vomiting blood, or with broken limbs, seizures – severe pain, hit by car, all serious emergencies that deserve my immediate attention.

        More and more our clients are choosing small business or single owner veterinary clinics because they still get this personal attention and devotion to their pets – they don’t want to go to corporate veterinary clinics where there is no loyalty and no heart-based medicine . Protocols and rules are the norm and if your pets gets hit by a car and one of these other hospitals has no Appts available- well you are out of luck.

        And there in lies the problem–I don’t want to be the type of veterinarian who turns away my beloved clients and their pets “just because” I have no room in my schedule – but I also don’t want to be the veterinarian that gets so burned out I consider leaving my profession or even worse contemplating suicide. Today’s vetetinary graduates are going to have to work hard to find satisfaction in their careers, as well as find a job that will help them payback their astronomical loans and debt load that I am shocked to see students taking on….. It adds one more layer of stress that anyone considering becoming a veterinarian should think long and hard about – this career requires long hours, great sacrifice and a huge heart and pays very little. There are opportunities for less Stressful work within the profession but for me personally, the aspects of veterinary medicine that burn me out and stress me the most are also the most fullfilling and the reasons I became a veterinarian. This is the true “no-win situation” in my book.

        Dr Jenny

      6. I, too, am a vet in a busy practice. Reading these posts was cathartic. As for our practice, we are one of three in the community and have gotten extremely busy in the past few years. Our appointments are booked at least 2 weeks out, but our walk-in business often trumps our appointments 5-1 (no kidding). Our receptionists are not allowed (per my boss, the owner and signer of my paycheck) technically, to turn clients away, though they can make suggestions as to better times to fit people in or shuffling routine vaccines to the next few weeks. I, personally, do not want to turn clients away with a legitimate problem, and it is not feasible or ethical to ask someone to schedule for next week with an animal that may have a potentially serious issue like vomiting and diarrhea for days, distended abdomen, etc. We are also the hospital that everyone comes to when their own vet turns them down for their own emergencies because, for some reason, they cannot see their own. Therefore, I see our practice as being much like a human ER–you never know what’s walking through the door and we do not have the luxury of turning people down. Don’t get me wrong, I consider being busy as job security and we have gotten a lot of new clients from those practices that cannot see their own in a timely manner, but there are times when it is difficult to breath.

        This next point is for the future vet students or those on the outside that can’t understand why they may have to wait. And please don’t get me started on not complaining at your MD’s office about wait time!! One nuance that has not been addressed is not just that we are often busy, but that often a “routine” appointment is anything but that. I always hush my staff when they say “It’s just routing vaccines”, because they’ve just jinxed the appointment. As we are expected to notice every single, solitary thing that is wrong with your animal and to address it, if you are in for “just vaccines”, that entails a full physical exam. That, then, means that if we find an ear infection or a heart murmur, we need to take time to discuss things, then to do diagnostics if agreed upon, which then takes up more time. I once had a client come in for a “check ears” exam and when I noticed the dog was lame, that led to another talk, more lengthy exam, then radiographs that revealed a nasty osteosarcoma. This was yet another 15 minute time slot that stretched to 30 to 45 minutes after diagnostics and further client consult. Try going to your human ENT for an ear exam and them even caring whether or not you were limping around the office.

        My husband has been ill (but recovering) for the past year after never having had to go to a doctor and the more I deal with human doctors, the more frustrated I get with our clients expectations with our skills and profession. I do love my job, but why is it that if I miss an enlarged prostate when your dog is in for congestive heart failure, that I am crucified? Or, if I do not call next day with test results, I get a nasty call, when they tell me they wont’ hear about results from their own doctors for weeks? How about the client who takes their records elsewhere when you don’t drop everything to get on the phone with them for a non-emergency, yet they tell me their own doctor doesn’t do call backs.

        All I can say is that I signed up for this and I do love my job, as stressful as it may be at times. I take things as they roll and when I think I’m having a bad day, I hug the next puppy or kitten or happy little pug I see on a regular basis that hugs me back and that I know loves me for me, warts and all. As for the clients who are understanding and appreciative and patient or do little things like bring in food and coffee, I wholeheartedly thank you all. It sounds cliché, but when you save that life or make something better, no matter how small, it makes it worthwhile. Oh, and to those clients who notice our stress, the tears in our eyes when we lose some special friend, especially those clients who come into our office expecting a miracle, which we do perform on occasion, the words “thank you” go a long way.

      7. You are absolutely oblivious to the truth…. in addition to being completely ignorant and unkind. I don’t know how long you’ve been in the field, or what kind of hospital you work for, but every hospital comes with it’s ups and downs, and no matter how good the management is, and doctors are overbooked constantly. The bigger the hospital, the worse it is. The suicide rate is real, and her blog post is the most accurate depiction of a typical day than I have ever seen. Maybe you should look at another career path, but before you do, maybe you should get some more experience and compassion. You’re just plain wrong.

      8. If you can turn away an animal and client who needs you, when they don’t have other practical alternatives, I strongly urge you to go into a different field. The writing is on the wall that you are going to be sorely disappointed once you ‘get a grip’.

      9. Ok, pre- vet student, come back here in 10 years when you have walked the walk. Until then, you have no right to make comments. I have worked in a 13 doctor practice and had days like this. *IF* you make it into vet med, you will find out. Oh yeah, way to disparage your possible future colleague…not sure I want you as mine.

      10. Whoa Katie, this is what vet practices are like. I should know I’ve worked at enough. People have sick animals and will just walk on in and expect to be seen disrupting the rest of the schedule. If you want to turn away critical patients more power to you but most vet clinics wont do it. Over booking is another fact of life. Should it happen: no. Does it happen: all the time. Why? Because there’s a limited number of hours in the day and you’ll get a whole lot of people that “have to be seen” on a particular evening. That “routine vaccination” is actually a 12 year old dog with arthritis, tumours, cateracts, falling out teeth and a whopper of a heart murmur that the owner just thought could you a vaccination at the same time they asked you about that really nasty cough he’s had. All of a sudden, 15 mins isn’t enough to deal with it. People turn up late and still expect to be seen. People turn up early and get cranky that they’ve waited for 20 mins even though they were 15 mins early. I’ve had clients throw a hissy fit because they had a booking and I should stop trying to save the collapsed animal run in and bleeding to death because THEY had an appointment and the other person with the trying to die dog didn’t. Admin time usually doesn’t get booked out. They’re paying you to make money, not make phone calls and fill in histories. Again should this be the case? No. Is it in every clinic I’ve worked at. Yes. Do I walk out of horrible euthanasias, smile and walk into kitten vaccinations all bright and happy. Yes. Why? Because no one wants to see a sad vet. And wraped up in all that is many vet courses don’t teach a SINGLE psych module. Nothing on handling grieving or difficult clients. Nothing on handling your own stresses or those of your co-workers. I could keep going but I don’t think I need to at this point. There are massive problems with the vet industry that have earned it the “suicide capital of the job world’ reputation unfortunately. It’s more than just a little reorganisation at this particular clinic.

      11. Oh, Katie, the veterinary assistant who is an expert on clinic management! What a ridiculous, unkind, CLUELESS post. You need to re-evaluate your career choice (if you could even get into vet school). Wake up. And grow up.

      12. I’ve been a CVT for 18 years and have worked in 2 well run practices as well as a research facility and can assure you days like this are not unusual. Also, if you are feeling discouraged them this field may not be for you, it is better to find out now than to find out after the student loans. Hopefully you will be able to make the best decision for you based on the new perspective you have gained. Best of luck!

      13. Katie,

        I do hope that you will graduate from vet school and be able to experience everything that the author has described. As a veterinarian 9 years out, having worked both GP and ER, I can say that her experience is accurate. For you to call it “complaining” is just outright naive and disrespectful. Good luck when reality hits you, because the reality of veterinary medicine is that it’s not kind and it’s often ungrateful. The profession is not what what it was once was and it’s unfortunate. Make sure you go into it with your eyes open.

  2. My daughter is wanting to become a vet. I wonder how typical this experience is. I bet that it is a common occurrence but how does it hold up across the country. I remember going to the vet in my small town and he didn’t seem to busy. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It’s unfortunately more common than you think – if you scroll through the comments, you’ll see several other vets who are saying I’m describing their lives.

      1. So are you guys marry or have help at home to help relieve the stress. I mean why is it some go sducidal There has to be a line draw You need a good soul
        Like me

    2. My late husband was a veterinarian, who committed suicide in the ’90s for those and a few other related reasons, not mentioned in the article.

    3. It depends entirely on the clinic your child works at. I work at a clinic that is probably fairly average and we have days like this doctor outlined probably once a week. Sometimes more often if there’s a rash of bad luck(bad things come in threes) or a holiday. Regardless of how busy we are, the doctors(who already work 10 hour shifts) almost always end up staying late. Many vets work 45-60 hour work weeks. Emergency hospitals and larger clinics are often more busy and more stressful.

      I recommend that your child ask to job shadow a local vet to see what things are like. This also looks really good on college applications, particularly for getting into vet school. They are more likely to accept someone who has a realistic view on what being a vet is like. You need a tough skin to work in an animal clinic, but working with animals can be very rewarding.

    4. I work in a smaller community, and every single comment holds true for my office as well. As a vet tech, my 8 hr. shift is normally 10-12 hrs. on average. I would to add, I don’t see patients in such a hurry in human medical offices. I expect to wait on average 20 minutes or longer waiting to see a doctor, but in veterinary medicine people often have the expectation of being seen with out wait, weather or not they were even on time. I often recommend to other people when they inquire about my career, to maybe look into something else, not because I don’t love my job, but for the level of education it requires, it may be hard to make the salary you deserve. The human equivalent to our level of education is normally double or more.

  3. My wife is a vet and this is pretty spot on. I would say seeing 30 patients in a day is high and her old clinic was very busy but the bouncing around and diagnosing, doing surgery and trying to manage patient care dictated by owners ability to pay is very hard compared to working with humans who are insured, doctors who work in speciality areas and will more likely take the advice. The author of this story fails to mention the stress of working with other vets who can burden co-working vets with extra work as they may not work as quickly or may not care as much messing up the whole day’s schedule. My wife misses lunches often and works late nights and stress levels are very high. She is at work after 7 many nights writing her soaps and calling back clients. Upon coming home she is physically and emotionally whooped and after a day of highs and lows, dealing with life, death and constantly walking that line of taking care of the needs of the patient and working with how much an owner can afford we need her to be there for us as well and she always pushes through. I could go on and on but I wanted to say I’m proud of her and wish all vets good luck and thank them for all their hard work and dedication to our 4 legged family members. To everyone else treat them with respect, listen and understand they went to school for a long time to protect the well being of their pets.

    A Vets husband

    1. I too am the husband of a vet, and can vouch for the accuracy of this. We cannot go anywhere in public with someone seeing us and asking for assistance on a sick animal. Just this week, I have had 4 of my own co-workers text me, two of which were when I was in bed sleeping, asking me to ask my wife something for them. They are not even clients. Another occasion this week, someone texted me a picture of their dog’s poop and wanted me to show it to my wife. She has been a vet for the past 15 years, and it has always been this way, but it is far worse today than it has ever been. Please respect your vet and their time away from their job, it is their time with their family and a time to reset so that they can come back and provide the best possible care to your lovable fur babies.

      1. I cannot believe how many people ask vets for free advice (& facilitated access to appointments sometimes too, I’m sure). I don’t know much about state Vet Med Boards (though I read somewhere that many states allegedly let DVM graduates go unlicensed if they work for Vet Med Schools) and/or VetMed-Malpractice but human Docs can get busted by their state medical boards for writing a prescription for anything (eg ibuprofen) for themselves, family, friends, anyone that isn’t in a formal patient-physician relationship with them. Plus they often aren’t covered by Med-Mal so when their neighbor’s “poison ivy” turns out to be some horrible illness & they sue them for a 5 second misdiagnosis…..they’re on their own. Unless it’s an emergency….I explain that for everyone’s sake -personal & progressional (& the sake of the relationship)….no can do. It’s so not fair to you folks.

  4. One more factor in burn-out that isn’t mentioned here is second-guessing oneself. I spend a lot of my non work time worrying about patients. Did I make the right diagnosis? Did I make the best recommendations? Did I choose the right treatment? Could I have done more? It is exhausting.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. Most of my sleepless nights are because I worry…. And worry… And worry. So then I start reading and researching my cases. Before I know it, I have to be awake in three hours.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve been a regular volunteer at out city animal shelter for more than three years now. The more experienced volunteers like me are often given the opportunity to assist our vet and work with some really tough medical and behavioral cases. I see how worn out our staff gets and truly appreciate all vets and vet techs for everything you do on a daily basis. I can’t imagine having to make the decisions our staff has to make on a daily basis. Thank you for all that you do and all that you sacrifice to do it.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve been a regular volunteer at our city animal shelter for more than three years now. The more experienced volunteers like me are often given the opportunity to assist the vet and/or behavioral staff with the more difficult cases and I see the weariness on our staffs’ faces. Yet like you, they continue to do what they do day in and day out. I can’t imagine having to make the decisions that you all have to make every day and you have my utmost respect. Thank you for doing what you do and for sacrificing all you sacrifice to do it. Kelly W, Jacksonville, FL.

  7. Ever since I knew what a veterinarian was I wanted to be one. I was a vet tech in high school and in college. Those experiences changed my mind on that desire, because everything written above is so very true. 2nd year in college I realized I couldn’t handle the selfishness of the pet parent that couldn’t accept euthanasia, couldn’t deal with the ones that wanted euthanasia as an easy way out because they gave their dog chicken bones or allowed them to hobble around on a broken leg for 2 weeks or had fly bite on their ears so badly part of their ear fell off. I’d be swallowing those bills, among others, to save them and end up paying those loans for another 15 years.
    I truly miss that job, it was my passion, maybe someday I will go back. Veterinarians (and their techs too) are under appreciated for all they endure-mentally, physically and emotionally. Thank you for all that you do!!!

  8. You sound very much on the verge of serious burnout, if not there already. Please consider one of these suggestions: Take a sabbatical. Talk with the practice owner about scheduling problems that leave you as the only veterinarian covering the clinic. Seek another employment situation, where there are enough clinicians to cover the appointments and walk-ins. Teach the front desk staff to say NO! Lack of respect for your schedule equates to lack of respect for you, the clients, the patients, and the technicians. There must be other options for referring non-scheduled patients, such as a local 24 hour clinic.
    If you truly wish to continue in this line of work, you need to make some significant changes — and soon! Once you lose the love of the job (and trust me, it only takes a non-stop daily schedule like you described to make you lose it), your work and your patients’ health will suffer along with your own.
    I’ve been there, and fortunately was able to make the changes required to find my happy place again. But you know what? I’m on another sabbatical again — and happily looking forward to resuming practice in a few months. It’s okay to take care of ourselves (something we don’t get taught in vet school).

    1. I agree with your comments 100%. I too have “been there, done that”. I graduated from vet school 38 years ago and have been involved in many aspects of this profession. My first job was at a 2-1/2 person practice where often I was left to run the whole place as the only vet. There were no 24 hour referral practices at that time. After working all day, I would get awakened once or twice a night with an emergency which sometimes would require me to go back to the hospital. Sometimes the emergency would require that I stay there the remainder of the night to care for a critically ill patient, then having to start the next day with abbreviated sleep, no shower, no breakfast, and in the same clothes. I lasted 18 months like this before burn out consumed me. This was no way to live. We often talk about our patients’ quality of life. Well our quality of life matters too.
      This person’s schedule is not sustainable.
      It is impossible to see 30 patients in a 5 hour time period and still do a thorough job. I schedule 20 min appointments in my office (3 per hour per vet) and even then we sometimes get behind.
      There is something seriously wrong with the organization and management of this hospital that allows this They need more vets, or fewer appointments, or a new manager.

    1. I have found being a large/farm animal vet is just as stressful and far more physically damaging. Depending on the practice and number of vets employed, you can be on call 24 hours a day, up to seven days a week. I have been called out of weddings and funerals by clients. Large animals are dangerous and often difficult to handle . One of our vets recently had her leg broken my a clients horse, another left on vacation, leaving me as the 24 hour, on-call vet for the clinic for the next 10 days.

      The majority of surgeries are performed at one of the major horse clinics (both 2+ hours away) so our surgeries are usually limited to gelding and minor wounds.

      The stress is still the same; clients are often uneducated on animal husbandry and call too late after a problem arises, they are on limited incomes and can not afford care and we see many abuse/neglect cases.

      1. One of my best friends permanently destroyed his shoulder and his back working with large animals. He lives in pain now. I sympathize with what you ate going through, hang in there.

    2. I think in some ways it is worse in large animal. We typically don’t have as many appointments in the day vs. a small animal vet because we have to drive and appointments take longer but, the on call is the major problem. You have to be available at odd hours, weekends, holidays. I’m a young large animal vet/equine vet and I quit a few months ago to travel because I was so burnt out and was having some major emotional health issues. Large animal/equine vets in my experience have a “pay your dues” attitude as most of the owners were on call 24/7/365 at one point in their career and don’t have sympathy for you and don’t manage well. Internships are terribly exhausting and you are basically glorified slave labor. I really enjoyed what I did daily in my appointments but my quality of life was horrible. Battling the cost issue was hard because you often feel like you aren’t doing enough. I would go months without seeing my friends. I had to say no to everything. I was on call 60% of the month. I’m currently trying to figure out what to do because I still feel really passionate towards equine sports medicine, imaging and equine welfare but I was so unhappy in that lifestyle before. I will also have to move away from family to get a job in equine, which for the last 2 years of my life have been the only true sources of happiness for me. Its a hard decision. I feel cheated, discouraged and lost all the time. What do you do when your dream doesn’t work out?? Its harder to make a change after you’ve invested 10+ years into one specific path. You get put into a box and finding opportunities outside of academia to explore the profession is difficult. Not to mention I got a neck/shoulder injury from a cow about 3 weeks prior to my last day and am just now starting to feel capable and strong again 5 months later. Thank you for being honest about whats going on. If I wasn’t currently looking for a job I’d post my whole story. It’s terrible what veterinary medicine has come to and if I had to do it all over again I would have done something else like PT school.

  9. Thank you for this article. I think that you put a veterinarian’s job into perspective. I manage a practice and I am highly cognizant of the daily struggles. There are high expectations placed upon our shoulders and often not enough awareness to the limitations we face that makes those expectations difficult to achieve. Continue to strive for that work/life balance!

  10. Another thing I’d do is stop working for free for your friends. People in other professions routinely refuse to do this. Eventually they will stop asking you and will go to or call their vet instead like they should anyway. There is no reason that you should be giving advice when a lawyer for instance wouldn’t put up with constant phone calls from friends, especially FB friends about their legal issues. Or an IT person wouldn’t be constantly diagnosing people’s computer issues, though many get pulled into this bc people get frustrated very easily with simple computer issues. I am in a helping profession too, social worker, and it’s tempting and easy to get drawn into this field out of work bc I like it for one. But it leads to people taking advantage and not getting the help where they should. And also people do not respect you or your advice as much bc it was free. Another thing even though you type fast I bet speech to type would be faster once you get used to it and that you can do while you are doing other things, household chores, driving(carefully). Good luck and maybe you should take a week and go away for a seminar on new research etc. to remind you of the meat of the field, rather than the daily grind. That always helped me. Be careful as it sounds like you’re close to burnout and it’s hard to come back from that.

  11. Much of what was relayed above is within the vet’s ability to control, and in fact, it is the vets *responsibility* to control it! Put a cap on the number of patients you can see per day. Walk away from people that are being irrational. You cannot provide adequate care to your patients if your are stressed and rushing from one to the next. Take control of the situation.

    As a client, I would be furious if asked to wait for even half an hour beyond my appointment time. Do you think vets are the only people with busy schedules? I do not have time for that, which is why I made an appointment in the first place! Emergencies come up, and delays will happen, but wherever it is avoidable, it is your responsibility to avoid it.

    If you cannot do the above at your current practice, quit and get a job at a practice with better controls in place. Life is too short.

    1. But don’t you normally expect to wait at least a half an hour at the human doctor to be seen? I’ve never been seen at my scheduled appointment time with my own physicians! Why do vets have that expectation and physicians get a pass for being overbooked? That double standard is not fair. It would be great if every client showed up on time and no one walked in with an “emergency” (most are not) but turning people away is bad for business, especially when people refuse to pay for the level of care they want. We work harder because we need to in order to survive and pay the bills. Clients think they’re being ripped off and expect vets to earn $20,000 a year in order to give away all their time and help but that doesn’t support a family or pay back loans and all these low costs hurt veterinary technicians who should be paid more, but we cannot raise our fees without clients getting furious because they don’t know the reality of the economics of health care. An emergency visit for a human can cost the insurance company tens of thousands of dollars while a similar work up for a dog with the same problem might barely break $1500, but people don’t see that because insurance hides the actual costs.

    2. Do you ream your human doctor out when you wait 45 minutes in a facility that doesn’t even do emergency care? I doubt it. Many of those things mentioned are NOT in the vet’s control. You sound like an entitled person – so if your dog came in on an unplanned emergency, you want the vet to stop treating it because he/she had appointments booked? I bet not.

  12. I have been a practicing vet for 25 years. I have some advice for you. Quit that clinic, they are overworking you. Go to work for yourself if you need to. Find your own set of priorities and ethics. Do not tolerate overly demanding clients. In my career I have been pushed to the edge many times by clients and “friends”. At the end of the day its you and your family. If you persist in working this way it may just be you. Its taken a long time and I think I have most of it figured out. I still love my job and my patients . Often I even like their humans,

    1. I agree ! Our favorite vet used to work in a fast paced large/small animal hospital for many years. She was not an owner. She decided to be a part time vet. She fills in when there’s a need. She makes her own days/hours & has done a short term in an emergency hospital. She has experienced working for various hospitals & has stayed at a few for a few years. She said she is happier this way & never had any interest in owning her own practice. This decision afforded her time to raise her children & yet pursue her love in veterinary medicine. I had worked in the veterinary field for over 22 years, so these scenarios don’t surprise me.These vets really do get pushed beyond the normal limits. Yet, they are so compassionate in never leaving a pet behind. I wish the most difficult clients could walk through a ‘normal’ day of a vet & maybe then, realize how inconsiderate they are being. A lot of these vets are far more passionate than human doctors!

  13. This was a beautiful, but sad post. Thank you so much for speaking up. I’m always trying to encourage more awareness among the people I know. If a person is considering veterinary school, they should consider some form of preventative care for themselves.

  14. Other than euthanasia, pretty much sums up a day in the life of a pediatrician. I left medicine at age 50…… It was killing me. Oh, not all doctors make big bucks these days, pediatrics is at the bottom of the food chain. I never came close to cracking the $100K barrier.

  15. Reblogged this on Vatican Cameos and commented:
    When I’m not too sure if vet school is the right decision for me… this post popped up. It actually feels better after reading it when you see that you are not the only one who’s struggling, and people all have a battle of their own that you can’t see. It makes you concentrate on what’s more important in your life.

  16. Thanks for your honesty. My wife (the DVM) and I run a small practice, and opening that place is the best/worst decision we’ve ever made. I’m about to post a new blog on my site and plan to add a link to this (I hope that’s okay).

    Be well.

  17. What the author of the original article is referring to is actually a recently recognized phenomenon known as “compassion fatigue” which is often confused with burnout. Why I am not an authority on the subject, this is not only experienced by the veterinary profession and it’s basis is not soley from outside sources but from within. Coping with compassion fatigue begins with recognizing our predisposition to the “illness” by being inherently selfless, caring and compassionate individuals. That predisposition, coupled with the pressures we put upon ourselves to meet often unrealistic expectations (often well-beyond those we are trying to help) to perform flawlessly (along with outside real pressures from coworkers, clients and employers) and a failure to self-care adequately, leads to a feeling of emptiness, withdrawal, isolation, depression and yes, a depth of despair that may have one believe that life is simply not worth living. That said, understand the origins of this disease, recognize it’s signs and seek the advice of a professional that can aid you in battling, or preventing, it from destroying your love and pursuit of the most wonderful profession in this world! This is not an ad, but start at, an organization led by a certified compassion fatigue specialist who devotes all efforts to the veterinary profession.

    1. OHHH…I think it’s a lil more than compassion fatigue…I think it’s a lot of compassion ABUSE…esp now….with corporate businesses expecting too much into capital gain & many involved, not even vets themselves. Too many women in this industry still being pushed around by male money makers. When U are employed by someone…U have very lil say. And let’s face it…self-serving sociopaths LOVE compassionate ppl to BS THEIR needs. U complain…u’r out…simple as that!

      1. First of all, thank you for this article. It has been shared on Facebook by a few of my CVT coworkers and friends. My one criticism is that in your article you barely mention your technicians. In the 10 years that I’ve been a veterinary technician, I’ve seen the trickle down effects of management to staff. Pressure on the doctor to produce, whether it be an owner doctors spouse whose “managing” the books or the large facility corporate style. As a result the appreciation and credit given to veterinary staff is little to none. CVTs in the US on average make between $23-28,000, many without company insurance. We work long hours away from our families as well. We are not on a contract and are expendable. I would love to see more articles like yours about being a technician but, I know that vet techs are terrified of losing thier carrier. One time, during Vet tech week,I was handed an envelope by one of my owner doctors . I’m thinking “Oh! Starbucks, how nice! ” no…it was an invoice for my account. I really felt appreciated. Contracted doctors who are resentful towards management can fall into a habit of being impatient, unsupportive and even at times abusive toward thier staff. Some pet owners are abusive or combative. I’ve worked in both ER and GP. I’ve broken up domestic fights in the lobby, seen clients rip displays off counters and have seen clients stalk and threaten veterinarians. The most common and heartbreaking complaint is when a client can’t afford services and then accuse us of being “all about the money”. We all work hard and make sacrifices for the job we love. No one persons struggle is more valid than anothers. The most important and last thing I’m going to say is that we need to be more supportive of eachother, as a TEAM. Yes, these are the conditions we chose to work in but, knowing how psychologically toxic the environment is; we have a choice. No, I don’t mean if you can’t hack it get out. We can choose to treat eachother with respect, to train with a positive attitude, nurture individuals strengths and lift eachother up. A good job is always expected and people need to know when they’re doing a good job.

      2. I’m regularly telling my techs how much they are appreciated…they’re all contracted, and all have health insurance (plus vision and dental!). I know my job would be A LOT harder if I didn’t have them by my side – and believe me when I say I’m thankful for them, every day.

    2. Compassion fatigue is NOT an ILLNESS or a DISEASE. It’s NOT something that someone just needs to take a chill-pill & get over….it’s signs of ABUSE! It is NOT a disease & that something WRONG with U….it’s a state of too much.
      Burnout is when it has gone too far.
      ALL people have a life outside their jobs…if ppl keep trying to make ur whole life about ur JOB…of course, U are set up to fail!

  18. Ditto every single thing you describe. Love the 3 hours till wake up. And the friends expectations. Owner with no money and self entitlement intelligence level. Ditto just all of of it. 🙂 this is our life – and we’re living it hard.

  19. I’ve been a vet for 35 yrs. I did large and small animal medicine for 20 yrs. until I finally destroyed my back with the cows and horses. Now I get cussed out at least once a week because I can’t do farm calls anymore. The worst part of my job for the 35 yrs. is even though I charge the lowest fees around I get cussed out daily for charging 100 dollars for a surgery that for a human would cost well over $ 50000. I’ve never ripped anyone off or did unnecessary stuff to pad a bill. I have always tried to keep it as low as possible and don’t even charge for many things I do or give the animal. I still get accused daily of being a thief and being rich. Usually by people driving a brand new 70000 car while I drive an old 10 yr. old pickup. The biggest problem I see is the misperception the uneducated public has that vets make a lot of money.

  20. Until recently, I never knew these facts about vets. As I have become involved in animal rescue, I have come to learn much more than I ever wanted to know. I have used the same vet for many years, because I believed him to personally care so much for my dogs. I have had to wait an hour to be seen, I have sat in that little room alone with my dogs while an emergency was taken care of, I have paid higher prices than many of my friends because I thought I had a great vet. Never once has a complaint issued from my lips and each apology has only been met with a “don’t worry about it”. He knows I don’t like to leave my dogs overnight unless it is absolutely and without a doubt necessary, he knows that I trust his judgement on all issues and my first question is usually what he would do if it were his dog. When my male finally succumbed to heart disease, which he had treated for 9 months, he helped me carry him to the truck so I could take him for cremation because he knew I couldn’t leave him there to wait for transport. When my girl just wasn’t feeling right on a Saturday morning, he got me in, got me over to another place for an ultrasound, and, when it was confirmed that a splenetic tumor had ruptured, he met me on a Saturday night at 9 pm in his office because he knew I would be unable to have my girl cross that bridge in a strange place with strange people. Whether I have ever added any extra stress to his life, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I can never repay the debt I owe him for his kindnesses and sincerity. I do know that if there is anything I can ever do for him, there would be not even a moment of hesitation, kidney transplant included! I am forever grateful to have found him and I can only hope that he never leaves the profession. Fortunately, I am older than him, so hopefully, he has no retirement plans until I am gone from this earth. To him and all like him, thank you from the bottom of my heart. My gratitude is forever.

  21. In case none of you learned this in vet school – the definition of “complaining” is to express dissatisfaction or annoyance about a state of affairs or an event… And this article sure has a lot of that. Choose a different job if you’re constantly sighing and faking smiles darling. We do over 40 surgeries a day at the clinic I work for, on certain days over a 100 on feral cats and yet none of us sigh and fake smiles on a regular basis. We are happy to help even the most disgruntled of owners, no matter how tiring because after all, customers are the ones paying for our food and bills. This article doesn’t seem educational to readers, it just informed readers about your frustration with the field and your apparent depression towards it. I would recommend better management, training, and less multi tasking. Especially during surgery, but that should be common sense. If your child was under serious surgery, would you want the surgeon to be multi tasking with his/her staff? Hopefully this doesn’t cause anymore depressing sighs.

    1. Firstly, the only person that could ever get away with calling me darling was my father, and he’s dead. So I implore you to refrain from patronizing me.

      I’m happy for you that you enjoy your job and that you never have a horrific day at work that seemingly a vast majority of our colleagues experience, myself included. Really, I’m happy for you. Yet there is a reason this blog has been viewed over 200K times and shared/referenced/reblogged: it’s because my experience is more the norm than your experience.

      And no, I reiterate: I was not complaining. The majority of the time despite the hardships, I do enjoy my job. However, on days like the one that I experienced and blogged about, I felt it necessary to explain the ins and outs of how days like that work.

      Also…if you think human surgeons are never interrupted during surgery, you’re living in a fantasy world. It happens, both in veterinary medicine and in human medicine. Sometimes, the proverbial crap hits the fan and things need to be dealt with.

      I wish you the best in your career and I hope that your days continue to be as bright and shiny as you describe.

  22. Great article. On that same note, try running an animal shelter, a no-kill animal shelter, where the public thinks you have never ending room and can take any and every animal. The owner of a vet clinic in our area once told me “your job is a lot harder, since you tend to see were the worst in society, those who are giving up their animals, for ridiculous reasons, and at least in the vet clinic we get to see some good scenarios. The people who are responsible pet owners bringing their animals to the vet and taking care of them.” She hit the nail on the head. We have some good days too when we see a wonderful adoption take place or animals that we are working with come out of their shell and now are able to be part of the family. Compassion fatigue is a reality in shelters also. And then to make myself even crazier, I am also an animal control officer. What The hell was I thinking? But I wouldn’t change it. I know I make a difference and you do too. Thanks for all that you do.

  23. Hi Octrivet! Just wanted to let you now I shared this post on our Veterinary Strong facebook community, where we’re dedicated to empowering veterinarians, vet techs, vet assts, and vet students who struggle in all walks of their professional life.

    Thank you for sharing your incredible insights around your personal experience and suffering. If you don’t want us to share this post, please be sure to let us know!


  24. Your article breaks my heart because I know how true it is. I’ve worked for 10 years as a technician in general practice and specialty. I’ve watched every vet I’ve worked for and with go through this every day. A thing I’ve been wondering about, but am too embarrassed to ask the DVMs I know for fear because it seems weird: are you trained in school on how to manage emotionally intense interactions with clients? Do you learn as you go? I’ve always wondered if schools make a deliberate effort to teach vets how to set emotionally healthy boundaries, empathize without taking on a problem, and recognize when an interaction has no possible productive outcome so it’s time to disengage.

    1. When I was in school, no. It wasn’t something that was recognized at the time, and in some ways it was considered taboo – no one wanted to admit that we are, in fact, human and subject to emotional duress.

      In today’s vet schools, however, it appears that this is becoming more largely recognized and discussed. I’m seeing younger graduates who tell me they’ve had counseling in school about this very subject – compassion fatigue, burnout, and setting boundaries. That is promising for the future and I hope that the model is adopted everywhere. 🙂

    2. By the way….you’re never “Just A Tech” (screen name) — techs are what make for great DVMs and great hospitals. I appreciate my techs more than I can ever describe and they know it. I hope your doctors do too!

  25. I read through this blog and most of the comments. I have found a lot of truth and common ground in most of the comments. As a practice owner in a rural area, I am faced on pretty much a daily basis with whether or not to make good, established clients wait to be seen, if we should double-book our schedule, or should we put the client off til tomorrow? Is what the client describing truly an emergency (or are they exaggerating the problem or are they oblivious to how sick their pet truly is…owners tend to fall on one end of this spectrum…)? These are the tough decisions that we as veterinarians have to make. If you don’t see the pet (for vomiting 2 times at 10 p.m.), will they make it through the night? Recently had a pet that died within 2 hours of an emergency call after only vomiting 2 times. I had instructed the owner to call back if the pet worsened, and they didn’t. They owner was very upset, and I was dumbfounded. Why did this dog die so quickly? How many pets do I see for GI upset, which is almost never an emergency? This dog didn’t read the book. I think that this is an industry-wide problem because we as veterinarians are the primary care-givers, and there isn’t an emergency facility that can take care of these pets. In addition, I feel that pet owners often now have unrealistic expectations of their veterinarian. In my experience and opinion, this is what contributes to most of my stress, loss of sleep, and frustration on a daily basis. Vets are very dedicated, highly trained, experienced, and compassionate individuals. But, we are not miracle workers. Animals don’t always respond to treatments (like people) as we expect. Sometimes, a disease has progressed too far when it is diagnosed. We are willing to go above and beyond for your pet/animal, but we also have to charge for our work. All of the services and diagnostics that we provide cost us money. A digital x-ray machine alone costs over $60,000.00. Add to that bloodwork equipment, ultrasound, anesthetic equipment….etc. Our hospitals have much of the same equipment as human hospitals!!! In addition, we have all of the overhead of staff, medications, etc. YET…we charge a fraction of what human doctors and human facilities charge. I wish that owners understood that we hate delivering bad news to them in regard to their pet’s prognosis. That is never fun. We want to be able to fix their animal (that’s why we entered the profession and endure the long hours/emotionally taxing days). Understand that we don’t enjoy having to tell you that bad news. The most important thing that pet owners can know is that “thank you” goes a really long way. If you show appreciation for your vet and their staff, it can make their day. In addition, if you are upset/concerned about your pet, please don’t re-direct that frustration/concern onto your veterinarian. Stay calm. Listen. Try not to react emotionally. I know that these things can be easier said than done, but they go a long way toward ensuring the most productive relationship with you vet on behalf of your beloved pet.

    Finally, in regard to the vets that posted about being a large animal vet, I have found that this is often much better for my psyche. This is because I tend to do mostly ruminant work, and these owners have realistic expectations. They understand that animals sometimes die, despite our best efforts and best treatments. They tend to truly appreciate all that I do. Even though the hours are long and the work is physically taxing, I tend to be less stressed when I am doing large animal work vs. small animal work. I am fortunate enough to work in a practice where we have multiple vets with rotating on-call, which greatly helps to prevent burn-out. We work as a team to try to handle the emergency burden during peak times of the year. I do a minimal amount of equine work, and I would equate that work to being very similar to small animal in regard to owner’s expectations, etc. Equine work is not something that I tend to enjoy very much.

    That’s my 2 cents worth. Thanks for writing such a thought-provoking piece!

  26. I may be leaving the vet industry. So much pressure, so many clients with unrealistic expectations, getting blamed for things that were never my fault and are beyond my control including things from not being able to fix incurable conditions in elderly animals to delays in call backs and appointment times due to the volume of emergencies, walk ins, very sick time consuming appointments, people running really late but still expecting to be seen…..etc. The worst part is, is when you’ve actually tried to go the extra mile. You’ve stayed back after hours to make arrangements, call backs and see the extra patients. You’ve skipped lunch to call them and all you get is abuse that you should have left the emergency patient to die and come to the phone an hour ago when they called, instead of making them wait and don’t think the boss wont be hearing about it tomorrow! And if you happen to have the day off? Well why wasn’t I called to come in even though there were other staff on capable of handing their enquiry? I mean, how dare I have any time off? I had one client lodge a complaint because I had a few emergencies right before their appointment. (One of which was completely hysterical. They saw it clearly, it was the walk in before their appt- it lived by the way). I was running 20 mins late for their non-emergency appointment. That’s all! I wish my doctor ran that close to time. Additionally I explained to the waiting client what have gone down and apologized sincerely for the wait. Reward? After being seen, the client returned to complain that after giving it thought, she’d go to the clinic down the road from now on due to my unacceptable behavior of “chatting with the clients” (Re: calming down distraught owner and explaining what we were going to do to fix her pet) instead of doing my job which was seeing people with appointments first. Do clients actually know how much it upsets us when we’re doing the best we can but all we get is abuse in return? So many people I graduated with are no longer GP vets. They burn out and leave. It’s sad. I loved that I could make a difference and seeing animals recover. It was great having some pets and their owners being genuinely happy to come through the door. And some of the clients really were so nice. It could give you a warm feeling to take in unwanted animals and wildlife cases that you knew would probably be dead if you hadn’t stepped in, but can now go on to live a full life because you cared enough to do something. But sometimes it’s so hard. The few people I’ve seen on this thread making snarky comments about the vets, please remember that vets are human too, and have quite possibly had a more stressful day than you can imagine. Try to be a little more sympathetic next time you think about letting loose on your vet for something as minor as having to wait a few extra mins to be seen. Your next comment could be the one that burns the staff member out (or worse, the vet industry has some awful statistics on that) so they wont be there next time you need them.

  27. if you see abuse you shouldnt be smiling through it, legallyyou have to report the owner. You dont have to tell them, but you still need to report them or you are allowing them to continue to mistreat the animal by ignoring it

  28. Hello. Loved the way you have written it. So true. I thought this happened only in my country India where i have been practising.

  29. Great insight. My niece just became a DVM and I’m concerned for all in your profession. The demands on you physically and emotionally are intense, along with the pressure of the staggering debt incurred.
    I’ve been a RN for 35 years and we call into the OR frequently to get orders from surgeons for their other patients. Ignore the idiots and trolls.
    I’d set limits on the ‘askholes’ who ply you for free advice at all hours.

    1. I have just retired after 33 years in practice; 2 years of 24 hr shift ER work (75 hr work weeks), general practice (50 hr work weeks) and co-owning a practice for 20 years (36 hours of in clinic time plus untold hours of management/owner ‘work always on my mind’ work stress) so I have seen the profession from different sides.
      In response to Katie, who thinks management is the sole problem: You have a point that it can contribute; but it is not the primary issue. My first jobs rated lower in the management category (absentee boss, little mentorship, many untrained staff members) but the stress back then was less than the past 10 years. Even though we subsequently created a ‘well -managed practice’ (both financially and in staff retention of 15-20+ years for key employees) there is no doubt that in later years I felt the increasing stress of client/professional expectations-and obviously my staff did too.
      This article should be required reading for anyone wanting to go into Vet School. I think there are not realistic expectations (at least these days) about the profession. Along with record numbers of admission slots (much easier to gain admission to Veterinary school-1:2 applicants in many states, vs 1:7 when I applied) and skyrocketing debt…..all a recipe for disaster.
      The ironic part is that even though hours have never been better for most DVMS (at least companion animal who work in urban areas with ER. My small town colleagues-I don’t know how you do it!) it has never been more stressful. It can be difficult for older DVMS to commiserate when younger DVMs complain about working ’45’ hours a week (we worked way more when it was very difficult to find a position, women were new to the profession and had to ‘prove’ themselves, and ERs were a brand new thing) but I do feel their pain because I have felt the pain of perfectionism/compassion fatigue more in my later years than in early years-it is a real problem for today’s DVMs.
      Looking back-I think the main issue is our personality type: highly intelligent, goal-oriented, and possessing extreme empathy-to the point of neglecting self care in our service to others. Because of this, our profession has created this problem ourselves. Between becoming highly invested in client’s pets (DVMs have always done this but the degree to which clients have come to expect this is unrealistic/unfair), being people pleasers and our perfectionism due to the explosion of Veterinary advances as well as heavy judgmental social media pressures we have a trifecta of self imposed stress.
      Yes, our clients love us (and we love most of them) but this creates huge pressure, and when we disappoint them or we don’t give in to emotional manipulation it eats away at us.
      The answer, IMHO, is threefold; Make school more affordable (decrease admission slots and streamline the educational process), put a major emphasis during Veterinary education on creating self emotional well-being as well as people skills/coping with difficult people (co-workers or clients) and create realistic job expectations for applicants.

  30. I’m not a vet, but my husband is, and although I don’t witness it, this perfectly describes his day.
    As a vets wife, I do my best to help in anyway possible to make life easier for him after work (like cooking, cleaning, etc. I also work full 8 hours in corporate). I also noticed that he’s becoming extremely short-tempered, easily angered, and very cynical and judgmental. It affects me because I really do get the back end of all his stresses/frustrations/emotions, even though I know he doesn’t mean to take it out on me. It really makes me not want to be around the negative energy.
    So my question is, what can I do to make his life easier? Happier? Less negative Nancy, less Debbie Downer? I always told him I don’t want him to end up being a grumpy old man, because I see it so clearly going down that path. Should he go to a therapist and talk? Should I have him talk? Or leave him alone? Any help/advice would be so so appreciated!!! If you are a vets wife, please let me know how you handle your husband when he is drowning!!

    1. Bless you for helping to support your husband, I’m sure he appreciates everything you do. I wish I could give you some tried and true advice, but because we all handle stress differently, it’s hard to say what would help. Some of us just want to be left alone, while others want to talk it out/get it off our chests. If he’s really in a bad place, perhaps speaking with a therapist would be warranted, but he has to be willing to do that, of course.

      The biggest thing that he needs to know is that he’s not alone in this fight. He’s got your support. Thank you for your understanding and your support of your DVM husband!

  31. It’s 2020 and this post is spot on more than ever. I went back to vet school in eastern Europe to focus on birds/fish (never interested in mammals) and I have to say every clinician veterinarian I have worked with as an intern has said to me they don’t like their job (plus the deficit in vets is causing huge shortages).

    I am sad that you all are so stressed out but I wonder if the dominance of small companion animal era in veterinary medicine is ending.

    The one thing for potential students to remember is to 1. Don’t get involved in this profession solely because you love animals 2. Do your research whether the entire process is worth it for you financially and lifestyle wise And 3. There is a whole lot you can do with your veterinary degree besides clinical practice.

    Best wishes to you all from aquaculture.

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