Growing up on a farm in north central Wisconsin, I had a natural affinity to animals. My first passion was horses; my Dad used draft horses in the woods for making maple syrup. Later I became enamored with cows, and enrolled in 4-H and showed them at the county fair for many years. This innate preference for animals was no doubt a significant factor that contributed to my career choice of a veterinarian.
As a 12-year-old boy, I was amazed at the abilities and insights of our veterinarian as he attended to our animals. I was amazed at his ability to determine the pregnancy status of our cows by rectal examination. Given the challenges of artificial insemination, the rectal examination results were sort of a “report card” so to speak of our efforts. I always eagerly awaited the diagnosis, and when the cow was not pregnant appreciated advice and/or treatment to help achieve that goal. Additionally, I valued his ability to solve problems. From sorting out why a cow was sick and how to make her better, to delivering a “stuck” calf, the veterinarian left the farm in better shape than when he came. While this type of practice is considered “fire engine” practice, it was the norm back then. The preventive health programs that are common today were just being developed at that time. The notion of helping people with their animals appealed to me.
My curiosity in veterinary medicine lead me to seek job shadowing opportunities while I was in high school and college. Our veterinarian graciously allowed me to ride along several times. I learned quickly what a large animal veterinarian’s day was like and decided to pursue that career.
Aside from my affinity to animals, my job shadowing experience ranks as the next most important factor that focused my efforts to become a veterinarian. Recognizing the importance of job shadowing, I have returned the favor to many youths considering veterinary medicine as a career. The majority of those that rode with me while I practiced were high school or undergraduate college students. I always discussed the wide spectrum of opportunities that exists in veterinary medicine with them and enjoyed their conversation.
School organized Career Days are another venue to tell young people about the opportunities in veterinary medicine. My practice associates and I have participated in many of these programs at our local high schools over the years.
At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had great fun going into kindergarten classes to share some of the things I did as a cow doctor. I always got loud gasps when I showed them a cow aspirin and a hoof nipper, the bovine version of a fingernail clipper. Young children are fascinated with animals, and frequently rank veterinary doctor as what they want to be when they grow up.
I encourage you to embrace the opportunities to nurture young people’s interest in veterinary medicine. We have to plant the seeds that will grow into the next generation of veterinarians.
Professional Wellness: Break the Dam!
Why wellness? Nearly 10 percent of veterinarians characterize themselves as experiencing severe psychological distress.
Why wellness? Nearly 17 percent of veterinarians have contemplated suicide since graduation.
Why wellness? How do you respond when confronted with a phone call from a veterinarian's spouse informing you the veterinarian is threatening suicide?
Why wellness? Does your practice have a drug testing policy?
Why wellness? Over 72 percent of survey respondents say they've worked with someone abusing substances.
Hypotheses abound regarding our profession experiencing far higher than average levels of psychological distress, depression, suicidal ideation and substance abuse. I challenge you: we need more than hypotheses, we need more than task forces; we need more than summits. Personally, I'm sick and tired of hearing of these woes affecting the profession. We have the knowledge; we have the resources. We must take action to assist those members of the veterinary profession suffering from mental illness and substance abuse.
What can be done? Educate yourself! Educate your colleagues! Can you recognize symptoms of psychological distress? How do you respond? What resources are at your disposal? Are your practice's controlled substances secure and records kept current? Does your practice have a substance testing policy in place? What resources can you offer the spouse of a veterinarian contemplating suicide?
Have you looked at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine's "Veterinary Wellness" website – http://veterinarywellness.colostate.edu?
Did you know you can access informative webinars sponsored by Pet Poison Helpline and AVMA Life – http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/veterinarians/webinars/avma-life-co-sponsored-webinars/?
Recognize the profession's paradox of extraordinary psychological distress and easy access to powerful substances. When will we do something about it? What's holding us back? Let's break the dam and implement resources already available! Break the dam and implement assistance programs! Break the dam and implement stringent drug control procedures! Break the dam and knock down stigmas associated with psychological distress!
It's time to end the suffering. It's time to end the stigmas. It's time to provide support to those afflicted with psychological distress and substance abuse, especially if related to profession stressors. Join me to Break the Dam!Last modified on