Study shows that stress placed on veterinarians can cause ethical conflict and other problems

According to a new study co-authored by a Cambridge Health Alliance psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School researcher, veterinarians often suffer from moral stress issues in the veterinary field.

Veterinarians don't know how much pain cats are experiencing or if the drug is effective
Vets under stress tend to second-guess the diagnosis (public domain)
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The research was done by Lisa Moses and J. Wesley Boyd and will be published this month by the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine showing the stress placed on veterinarians that cause ethical conflict and other problems.

The study was done by surveying 889 veterinarians. It was found 69 percent were stressed out because they couldn’t provide enough care for the animals they treated.

Animal advocates tend to think of veterinarians as being driven by money. Vet visits today have doubled, tripled or quadrupled in price and pet owners as well as veterinarians have to make tough decisions.

Moses stated in an interview with The Boston Globe

“I believe that the common occurrence of having your personal moral compass challenged on a regular basis is a real dragging force.”

Boyd added

“I had this naïve thought that working with animals would be uplifting, exciting, and not necessarily have the same negative elements of practicing medicine on humans. The degree of distress among veterinarians was a surprise to me.”

Conflicts occur for several reasons including:

  • not being able to cure an ill pet due to cost issues
  • not being able to cure an ill pet due to the degree of illness (terminal)
  • conflict with pet owner regarding unnecessary euthanasia
  • needed euthanasia but the client refuses to let go

Moses also states compassion fatigue is often the cause of distress since few veterinarians receive training on how to cope. Not only do they face issues at work but also personal issues when they get home. Only 11 percent get help when they’re in emotional distress over whether or not they did the right thing for a client/pet.

Empathy over an animal patient decreased 25 percent over time as well as 33 percent over time toward pet owners, the study showed.

Veterinarians are also known to practice past the usual retirement age because they’re afraid their patients will suffer. They fail to take care of their own needs before that of the animals, which can create an entirely new set of problems, including misdiagnosing an animal.

We, as pet owners, need to stay on top of pet health for our furry family members. We also need to remember veterinarians are people too, often with the same personal issues in their private lives.

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6 thoughts on “Study shows that stress placed on veterinarians can cause ethical conflict and other problems”

  1. This was and is part of the job. What they really need to learn is moral accountability when they kill a pet with negligence.
    I suggest you run a background check on any DVM you plan on hiring to care for your pet.

  2. As I’ve stated a number of times recently, I just had another cat euthanized and I think both my vet and a trusted friend here fail to understand and accept my reluctance about it. I did view the idea through my pet’s eyes and what I saw was that Einstein still enjoyed life as he always did, though not getting around as well and probably feeling sick. I watched him every minute and didn’t mind helping him with all we could do for him, money no longer being a hindrance as with my other cats in the past. The vet tended to look at what was wrong with him or what she couldn’t fix – that he was simply broken and useless and a reminder of her own limitations, that she’d also face the same dilemma with her own cats one day. Rationalizations and thoughts of selfishness on the pet owner’s fault should not be the only considerations. I know that if the question could have been put to Einstein whether to die or not would have been answered with an immediate NO, so that should be considered too. As I said I followed through with it anyway under pressure, but I maintain my belief as I stated here. Not happy about it either way and I’m tired of feeling like I’m the bad guy, even though it’s not said to my face.

  3. I’ve seen the result of a vet who was reeling from these stresses and not able to acknowledge or ask for help.

    His manner changed in both the handling of one of my cats and also to us. He did apologise, when questioned, on both occasions, but it was very obvious that the stress was eating him alive.

    The stiff upper lip, the constant exposure to companion animals/carers in distress/pain, the lack of emotional support and commercial pressure from bosses are particularly cruel and harmful.

    I wonder if human doctors have any buffers in place to help them with these issues? Maybe the institutions teaching both types of doctor could work together, share resources, help those students and juniors to cope better?

  4. I totally understand how stressful a truly compassionate veterinarian’s job would be. The four reasons stated as issues causing conflict are huge factors. I would feel the same.?

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