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Vet Talk

Suicide Affects Veterinary Technicians Too
November 5, 2018 (published)

Recently another veterinary technician, Amanda Ryan, took her life.

Amanda’s distraught co-workers in North Carolina started a Facebook page in her honor, The Fighting Blues For Amanda. It has 4,500 members and is still growing.

There has been a great deal of coverage about the increase in suicides of veterinarians, but there has been little talk of this issue when it comes to support staff.

Those of us that choose to work in the veterinary field do it because of our love for animals. Over the years though, that love can take a toll, both mentally and physically. Like veterinarians, veterinary technicians tend to be high achievers, strive for perfection, work long hours for low pay, and are invested emotionally in our patients. As in human medicine, we work in life and death situations, and the life of our patients is often in our hands. What is unique to the veterinary profession is we also help to end lives to alleviate suffering with euthanasia. Other challenges we face are similar to what the average Joe struggles with: low wages and social media.

Being a part of the euthanasia process would appear to the general public to be a big issue for our field in contributing to burnout and compassion fatigue, but in reality, it is a small part of the problems I hear support personnel experiencing when they’re discussing burnout and compassion fatigue. The National Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) ran a survey in 2016 and found that the greatest challenge for veterinary technicians/support staff is “office dynamics, communication, and personnel.” The dynamics of the workplace and how we treat each other is a big issue in veterinary medicine.

For some reason I don’t understand, many clinics have a “mean girls” culture. That is not to say it is just women being mean. It means that for some reason or another, someone is targeted as not working fast enough; someone’s skillset is not good enough; team members are made fun of or talked about behind their backs; and when any of those targets seek help from management, they are called out as tattle tales. Instead of helping to build that person up, often they are ignored and bullied by others in the practice. This has to stop. We should embrace other team members and help teach them better skills, welcome them, provide support if you see them struggling with a patient, and be better team players.

Another issue I often hear is that veterinary staff are overworked and underpaid. While salaries vary by region, most veterinary support staff salaries are not enough to be able to live on. Many veterinary technicians have to seek a second job to be able to pay their bills. Health insurance is offered at many clinics, but it is so expensive that a lot of support personnel are not able to participate in it. Ten-hour (or more) work days are becoming the norm in veterinary medicine. Long days without breaks take their toll both mentally and physically. Within 10 years of becoming a veterinary technician, most people have back and knee issues. Plus, not being able to forget your patients all day is draining; it is difficult to just turn it off.

When I used to ask my veterinary assisting students why they wanted to enter the field, they would often say it’s because they are not good with people or do not like working with the public. In a veterinary clinic, client service is a huge part of your day-to-day tasks. While most clients are great to work with and respectful of the veterinary team, it just takes that one client that yells “You’re only in it for the money!” to ruin your day. The general public often does not understand that we use the same equipment and materials that are used in human medicine, but without the insurance and government help to offset the patient’s end price. Many pet insurance plans do not cover a lot of conditions, depending on your plan, and most require the owner to pay up front and then are reimbursed.

Additionally, we are now living in the age of social media and online reviews. When some clients are unhappy they run to their social media accounts and blast “DO NOT GO TO XX CLINIC, they just want to rip you off!” This behavior has contributed to more than one veterinarian committing suicide.

Words can hurt more than we realize.

What can be done about this crisis? Within the field, we need to remove the stigma of seeking mental health help. Make support staff aware of some of the groups available for support. We must take better care of ourselves and our co-workers.

Clients, remember to thank your veterinary team for caring for your pet. Instead of posting to social media, talk to clinic management if you are not happy with an invoice or the care of your pet.

Amanda Ryan’s friends started a movement with their Facebook group, #TheFightingBluesForAmanda.  Let’s keep it going and work to help more people so we don’t hear about another veterinary technician committing suicide.

(Editor’s Note: The Veterinary Information Network [VIN, the parent of VetzInsight] and the VIN Foundation offer a support group for veterinary technicians. For more information, see the group’s Facebook page.)

4 Comments

Kelly
November 9, 2018

The one that kills a part of my heart every time is "why should I pay $XXX for a euthanasia when a bullet costs 5 cents." I finally couldn't take clinic work because of the constant argument with clients about what diagnostics were needed before treatment. Yes, money is a factor, but so many clients seem to have this mentality that because we love animals then we should offer our services free or at reduced cost. Pets are a privilege, not a right. Pet parents need to take more personal responsibility for the life that they adopted. It's not your vet's fault that your pet got sick, or injured, or needs yearly vaccines. So why should we be subsidizing your pet's care? If you wouldn't go into your human doctors offices and demand free services, what right do you have to do it to your vet and vet's staff?


Mistie
November 9, 2018

I think having the support of the vets also helps. Especially when a client is being unreasonable. Many years ago, I had a patient with nearly perfect teeth. He did not need them cleaned, but unfortunately some trapped hair had made it necessary to extract a few of his incisors. The day of his procedure quickly turned hectic and we ended up in an emergency surgery that took much longer than expected. As a result, we didnt get to the extractions until early in the afternoon. When the owner found out, she became irate. She yelled at me saying her dog hadn't eaten since the night before and we were inhumane to force him to go without for the whole day. She screamed that she was going to call the ASPCA and have me arrested for animal cruelty. She was going to make sure I was never allowed to work with animals again and called me a sadistic b***h. I tried to calm her down and explain what happened and that missing a single meal wasn't going to hurt her dog. She refused to listen and demanded to speak to the owner. He wasn't there at the time so I told her when she could call and speak to him. I was off for a couple of days so I heard about the conversation later. He had apologized to the owner and refunded the entire bill. He never asked for my side of the story nor the doctor that worked the case. Essentially, by doing what he did, he told her that she was right and that I should be charged with animal cruelty.


Kayla Gardner
November 7, 2018

I completely agree with this awareness post. I too, work at a veterinary clinic in texas with a big staff that has a problem with treating others the way we want to be treated! This also includes our doctors!!! As i slowly make my way through my shifts i just take a few minutes to look around me and see what’s going on. As usual, someone is not happy about something or another person. The verbal comments just continue to go on and on and sometimes it effects our technicians to the point of tears. I just need to say that mental awareness in the veterinary field needs to be taken more seriously.


Diane Tinker
November 5, 2018

I have been at the same practice for 26 years, and really think work environment plays such a big role in how we feel at the end of the day. I've been through times when I don't think anyone there was happy, and people were miserable. Not a pleasant place to work. Management, or a manager, that is a real advocate for the staff, as well as the "boss" (private, or company), makes a HUGE difference. If you have someone you feel you can go to if you need to "unload", or decompress. We are fortunate, that we now have a manager, who treats us all like family, because, in a way, we are. We spend long hours a day together-every day. I have worked there when it was toxic, and there was really no one to talk to about it. People at home "don't get it", and you don't want to bring them down. Having co workers you can talk to, helps SO much, and having a team that has each other's backs, is important. There should be a Vet Tech hotline, for those who don't have that where they work.




 
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