Veterinarians cite job satisfaction, high stress levels

Veterinary well-being study reveals importance of continued focus on personal and professional health and well-being.

January 24, 2020

5 Min Read
Veterinarians cite job satisfaction, high stress levels

Merck Animal Health, a division of Merck & Co. Inc., recently announced the results of a comprehensive study of well-being and mental health among U.S. veterinarians, which are critical issues facing the veterinary profession.

Conducted in collaboration with the American Veterinary Medical Assn. (AVMA), the "Merck Animal Health Veterinarian Wellbeing Study" also examined job satisfaction, compensation, burnout, substance use disorder, cyberbullying and suicide among veterinarians while evaluating potential solutions, an announcement from Merck Animal Health said.

In this study, veterinarians rated job satisfaction highly, saying: “I’m invested in my work and take pride in doing a good job,” and “My work makes a positive contribution to people’s lives.”

Conversely, the study found that veterinarians were very concerned about high stress levels (92%), high student debt (91%) and suicide (89%) in the profession. Despite new awareness regarding well-being and mental health in veterinary medicine, the study showed that veterinarian well-being, on average, has not improved since a similar study was conducted in 2017, the announcement said.

“Our research shows that attitudes toward mental health in the veterinary field are improving, but we still have work to do as it relates to treatment,” said Dr. Judson Vasconcelos, Merck Animal Health director, veterinary and consumer affairs. “For example, this study found a significant and positive change in caring towards those with mental illness, but there is still a large treatment gap, with half of those surveyed experiencing distress and declining to seek treatment.

“Through the years, we have partnered with AVMA to develop tools and resources to improve well-being within the veterinary community and make veterinary medicine a stronger and healthier profession. As a result of this study and the 2018 study, we continue to work with AVMA on programs to prioritize self-care, invest in personal well-being and manage stress in healthy ways,” Vasconcelos said.

Higher burnout rates

Using the "Mayo Clinic Physician Burnout & Wellbeing Scale," the study found that veterinarians, despite working fewer hours, had higher rates of burnout than physicians, scoring 3.1 on the seven-point scale versus 2.24 -- a statistically significant difference, the announcement said.

The Merck Animal Health veterinarian study defined well-being as the way an individual feels about his or her life and how it compares to their ideal life. The survey found that well-being, on average, was lower among younger veterinarians. “Not working enough hours” also had a greater negative impact than “working too many hours” among those surveyed, the announcement said.

Although the prevalence of serious psychological distress in veterinarians was consistent with the general population of employed U.S. adults, it was much more common in younger veterinarians than in their older counterparts, the survey found.

While significant strides have been made in positive attitudes towards those with mental illness, half of those experiencing serious psychological distress in the last year did not seek treatment.

The study also found that 52% of veterinarians would not recommend a career in the veterinary profession. This was consistent with the 2017 study, citing high student debt, low pay and stress as the main reasons, the announcement reported.

Suicide prevention

According to Merck Animal Health, the study confirmed similar research findings that veterinarians are much more likely to think about suicide than non-veterinarians and are more than 2.7 times more likely to attempt suicide. In addition, the study found that veterinarians who considered suicide of fellow veterinarians a critical issue facing the profession increased 9% from the 2017 study, rising from 80% to 89%.

Female veterinarians have higher rates of suicide ideation than their male counterparts, although male veterinarians are more likely to attempt suicide, the study found, and female veterinarians experience higher levels of serious psychological distress than their male counterparts, with a statistically significant increase from 6.3% in the 2017 study to 8.1% in the 2019 study.

“This study affirms that more veterinarians are comfortable discussing mental health-related topics, and there has been a significant increase in the number of respondents who believe that veterinarians are caring toward those with mental illness. That’s an incredibly positive shift in the last few years and suggests that educational efforts to reduce stigma have had a measurable impact,” AVMA president Dr. John Howe said. “In addition, this study links the data to practical and realistic strategies that individuals and organizations can apply to enhance well-being. As an organization that serves veterinarians, our mission is to protect the health and welfare of our members and the future of the profession. The more clarity we have on contributing factors, the greater confidence we have in developing resources that create a substantive difference.”


The study provided techniques and potential solutions to improve veterinary mental health and well-being, according to the announcement. Individuals are encouraged to create personal stress management plans; balance their work with healthy personal activities; work with a financial planner, especially if carrying a burdensome level of student debt, and limit time on social media in favor of in-person interactions.

Veterinary practices should discuss stress and mental health frequently and encourage employees to seek help, if needed. Mental health insurance coverage should be made known, and employers should consider creating employee assistance programs if such programs are not currently in place.

Financial commitment

Merck Animal Health also announced that, in support of AVMA’s veterinary wellness efforts, it is making a second $100,000 commitment that follows up on the 2017 commitment to support AVMA’s Workplace Wellbeing program and resources.

“Merck Animal Health is proud to partner once again with AVMA on this landmark study, which digs deeper into understanding the challenges facing the veterinary profession,” said Scott Bormann, Merck Animal Health senior vice president, North America. “Our partnership with AVMA and the financial support we are providing is helping AVMA bring critical awareness and solutions to this very important matter and providing real solutions and resources to better meet our veterinarians’ needs.”


The online survey was conducted in September and October 2019 by Brakke Consulting Inc. among a nationally representative sample of 2,871 U.S. veterinarians -- both practitioners and non-practitioners -- using standardized research methods.

Subscribe to Our Newsletters
Feedstuffs is the news source for animal agriculture

You May Also Like