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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Depression In Veterinary Medicine

I recently read an article that presents some very interesting and somewhat disturbing data.  Apparently veterinary students are more prone to depression than human medical students and the general profession.  Here are some key quotes from that article (linked above). 

During the first year of veterinary school, 32 percent of the veterinary medicine students surveyed showed symptoms of depression, compared to 23 percent of human medicine students who showed symptoms above the clinical cutoff, as evidenced by other studies.

The researchers also discovered that veterinary students experience higher depression rates as early as the first semester of their first year of study. Their depression rates appear to increase even more during the second and third year of school. During the fourth year, depression rates drop down to first-year levels.

Hafen said several factors might contribute to the higher rate of depression in veterinary medicine students. Veterinarians deal with stressors that human medicine doctors do not have to experience, such as frequently discussing euthanasia with clients. Although both programs of study are intense, veterinarians must understand a variety of animal species rather than focusing on the human body. Struggles with balancing work, school and life could also lead to higher depression rates.

Honestly, I can't see that these findings surprise me. Veterinary school is incredibly hard and stressful, and I don't think people realize that vet students have to learn more than human medical students do.  I certainly remember how stressed I was and how much time I spent studying and preparing.

Unfortunately I think that it gets worse in many ways from school.  Practicing vets no longer have to worry about intense studies, but they do have more pressure on them regarding the health and well-being of their patients.  In vet school you always have a safety-net of interns, residents, and professors that can make the final decision in cases, but when you're practicing it's all up to you.  Add on stresses related to paying bills, student loans, starting families (if that hasn't been done in school), being expected to financially produce, and often running a business.  It's actually more of a wonder that we don't see most vets succumbing to depression.

Although the mental health of human medicine students has been extensively studied, the same extent of study has not been performed with veterinary medicine students. Additionally, most veterinary research related to depression involves pet owners, not veterinarians or students.

I agree that such studies need to look at the veterinary profession as much as it does the human medical profession, I think it needs to reach beyond the students and include active practitioners.  We may find that depression in veterinary medicine is more wide-spread than is thought.  At the same time, there may be a mitigating factor in the fact that we work with animals, which have been shown to lower stress.  But I'm sure the stress-lowering affect of pets doesn't include ones trying to bite you!


  1. I have read numerous articles stating that suicide rates by profession are the highest among veterinarians- particularly in Australia and the UK. Easily twice that of human doctors and four times greater than the general population (according to said articles). I can't say I'm surprised that the rate of depression is already so high as students. It's led to many debates between my pre-med friends and myself (pre-vet); it would be great to see more research done on veterinary students.

  2. this does not surprise me at all - given the huge amount of stress (and the huge expectations of owners that the outcome of interventions will always be ok) involved in this wonderful job. In addition it must be stressful to have to put animals asleep (even when you know its in the animals' best interest) several times a week and to have the constant reminder in the fridge until they are collected. I think also that vets feel that they should be "professional" and not upset when they have to put an animal asleep. I can only speak from personal experience but I find it very human that a vet can be upset - afterall when my dog died and the vet was upset (the vet knew my dog a long time and my dog loved to visit the clinic even though she was very ill) it meant a lot - she wasn't just another dog, another patient. Bottling emotion cannot be good either for the mental and emotional health of vets (though I know there will be clients who will say they would prefer the vet not to be upset). Its a wonderful profession and much is demanded of a vet - I am not surprised that there is a lot of burnout and depression among vets - seems to me that after about 15 years (if vets last that long in daily pracice) the job begins to get to them -hardly surprising between all the stress of the work and having to deal with owners who won't listen or think they know better and clients that want to take the hand off you with sharp teeth and claws.

    I agree more research needs to be done in this whole area.

    1. research won't solve a thing. Just costs money and employs more researchers. People have to take responsibility for themselved. It is one thing to have a chemical imbalance and be depressed and need treatment. It is another to be depressed cause life if tough. Learn to cope. Do your best. Find a destressor and if you are clinically depressed get help. There, that is the result of my research. PS. I am a veterinarian.


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