Euthanasia and difficult clients: two outstanding reasons for stress in Singaporean veterinarians

Veterinarians in Singapore are possibly more stressed and upset than their clients think they are. This is not to say that all Singaporean vets are stressed and upset but, in general, there appears to be an issue over the mental well-being of vets in Singapore. Two outstanding causes are difficult clients and the euthanasia of companion animals according to an article on the Channel News Asia website. Interestingly, this somewhat mirrors the experience of veterinarians in America upon which I wrote an article many months ago.

Singapore vet clinic
Singapore vet clinic. Photo: Pinterest.
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There may be, among a reasonable section of veterinarians, a disconnect between what they thought being a veterinarian would be like and what it actually is like. One veterinarian, Chow Hao Ting, took a break from the business and he said:

“There was this difference between what I thought the profession would be like, and what it turned out to be”. He was referring to financial pressures, dealing with clients and the challenges of the work. I’m not sure what “financial pressures” he is referring to but perhaps it could be the expensive training that veterinarians go through, often financed with loans.

It appears that some veterinarians can get so depressed that they consider suicide. They suffer from mental strain and compassion fatigue. However, there is no official data on this so we are reliant upon anecdotal evidence. The vet Association representing Singapore veterinarians are now more aware of the mental health of their members.

I also wrote some time ago about a veterinarian who took her own life because of the stresses of the work particularly the euthanasia of so many dogs. She worked in Taiwan.

Studies in other countries such as the US, UK, Australia and Scandinavia backup what is being discovered in Singapore about veterinarians’ mental health. One Singaporean veterinarian who has worked in the business for 20 years said that she had gone through periods of feeling low and wanting to throw in the towel. A major factor, she confirmed, especially during the early years, was the stress and guilt associated with euthanising companion animals.

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Perhaps one issue is that veterinarians have to present a strong face when they euthanise someone’s pet. In other words they can’t show emotions which may be one reason for becoming depressed. This woman used to cry every day. She said that she still does cry but less these days. This is because she has adapted to her work and got used to it.

One veterinarian made a comparison between human doctors and animal doctors making the point that human doctors don’t euthanise people but veterinarians do it all the time and they are terminating the lives of animals that they want to try and save. Euthanising animals goes against the grain for a veterinarian. They are trained to save lives and improve the welfare of animals not to kill them even if it is for humane reasons.

As for clients, some veterinarians find them too demanding. They treat clinic staff badly and over time this wears them down. Another source of complaint is that social media is a major component in their relationship with clients because complaints about them can be made online. These complaints are often unfair and inaccurate, they say. They feel that complaints made on Facebook, for example, are from people lashing out and complaining unreasonably which can have a detrimental effect on their business and themselves.

Until now, specialist psychological or emotional support for veterinarians has not been available in Singapore. This might be changing to put veterinarians more in line with those of the US, UK and Australia where counselling is provided.

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Channel News Asia was the source of this article.

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