This surprising finding was carried out in a study for the Vétos-Entraide association and the National Council of the Order of Veterinarians (CNOV). Managed with 3,244 practitioners (almost 18% of veterinarians), it is led by Didier Truchot, professor of social psychology at the University of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.
This work has identified among veterinarians a rate of emotional exhaustion – a state of constant physical and emotional exhaustion – higher than that of farmers, whose discomfort has been documented many times, explained in academic. The researcher said that he was surprised by these numbers, because they differ from the positive image of the profession among children and animal lovers.
Within the profession, “it did not surprise anyone”, says Corinne Bisbarre, veterinarian in Gradignan (Gironde) and member of CNOV. “We all have in our promotions, in our direct professional entourage, colleagues who commit suicide,” he breathed. “Eight vets I knew committed suicide”, including “three classmates”.
These individual dramas remain little discussed outside the profession, but have a strong impact within it, he points out: “It’s a small environment, it’s like a family”.
“The Medicine Drawer”
This prevalence of movement is explained in particular by “the fact that there is medicine in the drawer”, says Didier Truchot. Veterinarians euthanize living creatures, and therefore have the skills and equipment available to end their lives.
“It’s like farmers with a shotgun or rope in the barn,” he said, pointing out other similarities between the two backgrounds: “These are historically masculine professions where we don’t ask for help when there is you are in trouble”.
“I have euthanized 2,500 chickens alone. You better be strong that day”
Likewise, the emotional burden is minimized as veterinarians are exposed to the suffering of animals and owners. Another reason cited by veterinarians: the practice of euthanasia, which can be very different (from the family dog that is suffering and from which there is no hope of recovery, to herds of animals for health reasons) . “I don’t know a veterinarian who is not important,” explained David Quint, vice-president of the national union of liberal practicing veterinarians and who practices in Corrèze.
“A few years ago, I euthanized a herd of cattle that had been poisoned by fire. The breeder was next to me crying a lot,” David Quint recalled. “You are marked for life in these circumstances”. “If there is an epidemic of avian flu, you will kill all the animals you treat and there will be a psychological effect”, says Hélène Esqurial, veterinarian specializing in poultry in Landes. “I have euthanized 2,500 chickens alone. You better be strong that day.”
They quit work
Other stress factors play a role in the burnout and suicidal thoughts of veterinarians: overwork, work addiction, confrontation with mistreatment by animal owners, fear of error, Didier Truchot lists.
Vets also suffer from the “money pump” image, laments David Quint. They are criticized for their prices because customers “don’t know what the surgery or MRI really costs”, he points out.
All these elements contribute to the strong gap between expectations and the reality of the profession, for which aspiring veterinarians are not sufficiently prepared, judge all the veterinarians in question. “We must know everything, do everything and with the least possible means”, summarizes William Addey, veterinarian of Buchy (Seine-Maritime) and member of the Veto-Entraides association, which was created to respond to the discomfort of veterinarians.