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January 2, 2019

Press release: The American Veterinary Medical Association

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) participated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in researching Suicide among veterinarians in the United States from 1979 through 2015. The study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, reported female veterinarians were 3.5 times as likely, and male veterinarians were 2.1 times as likely, to die from suicide as the general population. According to a 2016 CDC report, 45,000 Americans, ages 10 or older, died by suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and is on the rise.

Every profession has unique challenges and stressors that must be addressed. Just as veterinarians are passionate about their profession and dedicated to improving the health and welfare of people and animals, the AVMA is committed to the health and wellbeing of their members. Prior to the release of this and other studies, the AVMA, and a broad coalition of partners from industry, state and allied veterinary medical associations (VMAE), academia (American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges), representatives of private and corporate practices, the North American Veterinary Technicians Association (NAVTA), practice managers, the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), independent veterinary communities and others, joined together to tackle this issue.

“Too many of our colleagues have either contemplated, attempted or died by suicide,” said Dr. John de Jong, AVMA President. “And one suicide, is clearly too many. Working with our colleagues throughout the veterinary community will help us find solutions more quickly. This issue is affecting not only our profession, but society as a whole, in numbers greater than ever before.”

In addition to their partners within veterinary medicine, the AVMA is working closely with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and other suicidology experts.

“As medical professionals we need to understand and learn about the clinical signs associated with suicide and work with other medical professionals to confront and combat this serious problem,” Dr. de Jong said.

The AVMA and partners are creating and developing resources, not only for those in distress, but for those who love and want to help those who are suffering. A key program available to help veterinarians identify and refer at risk colleagues, is QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training. The AVMA offers this one-hour, online ‘gatekeeper training’ free of charge to every member and veterinary student. It teaches people without professional mental health backgrounds to recognize the signs that someone may be considering suicide and helps them to establish a dialogue.

“Often times, people may suspect someone is suffering but they don’t know what to say, or they worry that what they say may make the situation worse,” said Dr. Brandt. “It is my goal to have every veterinarian complete the QPR training. It provides guidance on what to say and ways in which you can enhance a sense of belonging and help alleviate the sense of fear that some may have about being a burden to their friends, family or colleagues.”

Programs and tools available to tackle specific stressors include:

  • Moral/ethical distress—the result of a medical caregiver’s unique relationship with a patient, through which empathy allows the caregiver to “take on the burden” of an ill or dying patient. The AVMA has collected and developed a number of resources to help veterinarians combat moral/ethical distress.
  • Financial burdens can also play a part in harming veterinarians’ mental health. With average student debt loads on the rise, veterinarians may be struggling to make ends meet and find it difficult to plan for the future. The AVMA has resources on financial planning ̶ including a personal financial planning tool, salary calculator and tips on student loan repayment–to help veterinarians address these concerns.
  • Availability of controlled substances ̶ The potential for drug abuse and addiction is higher in medical professions than in other workplaces because of the increased access to controlled drugs. To address these issues, the AVMA has developed an online wellbeing and peer-assistance toolkit.
  • Student debt and other early career stressors ̶ MyVeterinaryLife.com, a website aimed at students and early career veterinarians geared to helping them navigate wellbeing, finances, and career concerns.
  • AVMA’s 100 Healthy Tips to Support a Culture of Wellbeing–this guide offers strategies and practical steps one can take at work and at home to support healthful living and create a positive work environment.
  • Peer assistance programs around the country can be found at veterinary peer assistance programs.
  • Veterinary Wellbeing Summits–These summits provide veterinary practitioners, as well as those in industry, academia, researchers and others, an opportunity to discuss what steps should be taken to support enhanced wellbeing throughout the profession.
  • Numerous educational efforts through public speaking and webinars aimed at creating cultures of wellbeing are ongoing.
  • AVMA is working with the United Kingdom’s (UK) Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) to improve the health and wellbeing of all those who work on veterinary teams across the globe.

“This truly is a profession-wide concern,” Dr. de Jong said. “We know that we don’t have all of the answers but there is strength and hope in such a strong industry-wide collaboration.”

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