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Health Fusion: Two women coming to help rescue burned-out veterinarians

Veterinarians and vet techs have high burnout and suicide rates. The COVID situation has added to their burden. In this NewsMD "Health Fusion" column, Viv Williams, in honor of National Veterinarian Technician Week, hears from a vet tech about the situation. Plus two women team up with a national life coach to create tools that help people in veterinary medicine manage the stress.

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Viv Williams
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We just love our fur babies. And we'd do whatever's needed to keep them healthy, right? But what happens when you can't afford their medical care? Amy Stern, a vet tech at Quarry Hill Park Animal Hospital in Rochester, Minn., says she's seeing this happen more frequently since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And she says it's heartbreaking.

"Owners come in and they want us to take care of their pets on an emergency basis, but yet then they're not able to take on the financial aspect," says Stern. "That's very difficult for us, because we want to help all of those patients."

But they can't. Vet and vet techs, like human health care providers, simply can't take on the costs themselves. They'd go bankrupt. This situation is an emotional nightmare for pet owners and care providers alike.

"If an animal is sick or injured and owners can't afford the care, some are euthanized," says Stern. "This is becoming an everyday thing. Some days, in our hospital, we're euthanizing 4, 5 or 6 animals in a day. That becomes a heavy burden."

And the burden on vets and vet techs seems to be getting heavier. In addition to the cost issue, Stern says vet clinics here and across the country are experiencing increased demand for new pet exams, wellness exams and emergencies. Growth in business seems like it should be a good thing, but not when changes in staffing and protocols to accommodate COVID-19 cause backlogs. A commentary article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association about a workforce crisis in veterinary medicine addresses those issues and reveals that they're still trying to figure out exactly why so many clinics are short-staffed and providers are burned out. The author says it appears to be a combination of factors, including emotional fatigue, understaffing, a high turnover of staffing and a constant and unending stream of patients. Many vets and vet techs are burned out and some pet owners are frustrated.

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"I personally have had owners scream and holler at us," says Stern. "You take this home at night about how you can't help every patient and it's wearing and it's mentally exhausting."

Elaine Pardi and Jean Caples, both of Rochester, are the co-founders of "Animals Connect Everyone."

"We're a pro bono team that's here to promote social good in the world and to explore the benefits of human and animal bonds," says Caples. "We want to emphasize how important the medical field that takes care of our fur babies is to us and we need to address their stress."

Pardi adds that while researching the vet medicine situation they were shocked by the depth of the problem.

"We found some statistics and information about the stress that the veterinarian world is under, and we decided to develop tools that might help them," says Pardi.

Pardi and Caples teamed up with Michael O'Brien, a New Jersey-based life coach and meditation expert, to create a mindfulness meditation video that vets, vet techs and pet owners can do with their animals. The video, which can be found on the meditation app Insight Timer, is titled, "Loving Kindness Meditation for our Animals/Pets." You can search for Michael O'Brien on the app and his videos, including this one, will pop up.

"Mindfulness can be that key to help slow everything down, and help us see what we still have and it also helps us let go of the things we need to let go of," says O'Brien. "I like to say it sort of unpacks the rocks in our backpack that we carry around. So all the icky, hard moments in life are like rocks we put in our backpacks. And after a while that backpack gets really really heavy. It's not only in the vet world, but it's everywhere in society. I think this is a moment to unpack our backpacks and get them a little bit lighter."

A quick Google search of mindfulness brings up article after article on the health benefits of this type of meditation, including lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, better sleep, reduced perception of pain and reduced stress. Caples and Pardi agree that veterinarians and vets are facing complicated challenges in their profession. They say their creation of a meditation tool to help ease the burden for pet providers may also help the community move toward solutions.

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Look to the Health Fusion podcast that drops Friday, Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. on our website. It features Stern, Caples, Pari and O'Brien as they talk about the veterinarian stress and burnout issue. And hear a clip of O'Brien's mindfulness video for people and pets.

On Apple , Spotify , and Google Podcasts.

Vivien Williams is a video content producer for NewsMD and the host of "Health Fusion." She can be reached at vwilliams@newsmd.com.

Related Topics: NEWSMDHEALTH FUSION
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