Wellbeing in Veterinary Medicine

May 2023 by Dr. Joseph Hahn

As veterinary professionals, caring for animals and promoting positive health and wellbeing for pets is in our DNA. Anyone who is involved with veterinary medicine understands that mental health awareness is an ongoing topic of concern – from the rewarding, “new puppy” highs to the heartbreaking moments we are often challenged with – it’s no surprise that the emotional struggles of veterinarians contribute to our stress levels. For me, as the Executive Director of Professional Veterinary Services for Merck Animal Health, I’ve made it my personal commitment to support veterinary professionals by continuing our company’s work to address the mental and emotional burdens that are impacting our industry.

When someone asks why veterinary wellness is important to me, it always starts with my personal story before I joined Merck Animal Health 14 years ago. At that time, I was working a full-time emergency job in Chicago, as well as picking up additional hours doing relief work in the surrounding city area. Factor in many years of this work, with daily rush hour traffic and limited hours of sleep per night, my personal wellness and mental health were at an all-time low. While I did not have a definition for what I was feeling, I can look back now and see how veterinary professionals struggle with wellbeing on a daily basis. The only thing keeping me going was the positive work I was doing to help pets and the people that cared for them, night after night and day after day. Not to mention, I was experiencing student debt, pressure at work, and personal stress at home with my family. I was completely exhausted and knew I needed to change my mindset and reset my career in order to preserve and find a way to focus on the parts of the profession that I really loved – helping people and their pets.

Since then, I’m happy to say that my wellness began to improve; and now, thanks to my role at Merck Animal Health, I have a platform to tell my story and encourage positive mental health for my fellow veterinary professionals.

Back in 2017, one of my co-workers, Dr. Linda Lord, began an initiative to take a serious and scientific look at veterinary wellbeing with the first and pivotal Merck Animal Veterinary Wellbeing Study, and this project hit particularly close to home for me. Unfortunately, Linda is no longer with us, but her legacy lives on as we are currently in the process of our fourth study to analyze this serious widespread problem in our profession. The studies have uncovered many issues we expect and experience daily, such as high student debt and work-stress levels as top concerns. One of the things we didn’t expect was that more than 50% of veterinarians would not recommend the profession to others, and that working not enough hours is more harmful to wellbeing than working too many hours. With this data in mind, it’s important that we do everything in our power to reverse this trend and make the veterinary profession more of an inviting and positive industry for our future leaders. This work is ongoing and critical to the survival of the profession in general and the individuals in it specifically. The Wellbeing Study also confirmed that the suicide rate in our profession is significant, so we must do everything we can to help raise awareness for positive mental health among veterinarians. As we all know, progress is impossible without change.

Merck Animal Health is working on partnering with many organizations to develop programs, resources, and tools to reverse the current trends in veterinary wellbeing and burnout. If you or a colleague is feeling trapped or at the end of your rope, please reach out to get help and know that you are not alone. We are a caring and giving profession, with an unconditional passion to support animal health and wellness – but it’s crucial that we support our own mental health, too. We are stronger together and we should all commit to giving each other the same care we give our patients.

For further information on what Merck Animal Health is doing to support veterinary wellbeing, please visit: The Veterinary Wellbeing Study.

And for those veterinarians looking for tools and resources that support personal and professional wellbeing, please visit the AVMA’s online guide or mental health awareness, available here: www.avma.org/resources-tools/wellbeing

About the author

Dr. Josesph Hahn meet the team

Joseph Hahn

Executive Director of the US Companion Animal and Equine Professional Services