Media Coverage

Merck's veterinarian wellbeing study calls for industry to support future generation


Feb 21, 2018 - Animal Pharm
By Sian Lazell 
Animal Pharm
February 21, 2018


A study by Merck Animal Health has signaled concern for the future of the veterinary profession, after revealing the extent of negative impacts experienced by veterinarians. 

In collaboration with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the firm conducted a large, controlled study with veterinarians to definitively quantify the prevalence of mental illness and stress in the veterinary profession.

The study found veterinarians aged 45 and younger are more likely to experience serious psychological distress and only 27% of this group would endorse the profession to a friend or family member.

Only 41% overall would recommend the profession and even large numbers of vets that scored high in wellbeing and mental health do not recommend the profession. For vets 34 years old and younger, the rate drops to 24%. On the other hand, 62% of vets aged 65 and older would recommend the profession. 

Around one in 20 veterinarians are suffering from serious psychological distress, which Merck said is in line with the general population. However, when analysing the data by age, younger veterinarians are being more impacted by the financial and emotional stresses of the profession, compared to both older male veterinarians and individuals in the general population. The most frequently reported conditions they suffer from are depression (94%), burnout (88%) and anxiety (83%).

High student debt is a prevalent concern, with 67% percent of vets rating it as a critically important issue. According to the AVMA, the average veterinary student graduated with over $138,000 in student debt in 2017 – nearly twice the average starting salary for a veterinarian.

Other serious issues reported by young professionals today are stress levels (53%)and suicide rates (52%). The study found poor mental health is closely associated with the stresses of professional life as a veterinarian including excessive work hours, a poor work-life balance and student debt.

Moreover, only 50% of veterinarians with serious psychological distress are seeking help. Few employers offer employee assistance programs and only 16% of vets in distress had ever accessed resources wellbeing and mental health resources through national or state veterinary organizations.

Study investigator Linda Lord, an academic and allied industry liaison lead at Merck, said: "This survey is unique in that, for the first time, a nationally representative sample of veterinarians in the US were asked about their wellbeing, which is a broader measure of happiness and life satisfaction than mental health alone.

"Based on the survey results, we are particularly concerned about younger veterinarians as they are the future of our profession. We must work together to promote a healthy lifestyle, including work/life balance, access to wellness resources and debt reduction."

Jen Brandt, director of wellbeing and diversity initiatives at the AVMA, added: "Veterinarians today cope with a physically and emotionally demanding occupation that is undergoing changes from increased competition to the declining ability of clients to pay for veterinary care. Moreover, veterinarians often find themselves giving up the things that improve wellbeing and provide a healthy balance in life, such as family, friends and time for self-care.

"As an organization that serves veterinarians, our mission is to protect the health and welfare of our members and the future of the profession. As part of these efforts we continuously work to identify accessible resources and assistance related to wellbeing and mental health. Studies such as the Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study provide helpful guidance on the types of resources and education that may be most beneficial."

Reprinted with permission of Animal Pharm News

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