They’re the first call you make when your horse is laying down and won’t get up. They’re the only ones who can fix a painful bout of colic at 1 a.m., on Christmas, in the pouring rain. They help horse owners make life-changing decisions for their equine partners on a daily basis.

If you asked 100 riders how important their horse’s veterinarian is, you’d get the same answer 100 times. Large animal and equine veterinarians are absolutely critical to the well-being and performance of our horses, and yet, studies are revealing that the average veterinarian is likely suffering.

A well-publicized study conducted in 2014 by the Center for Disease control found that one in six American veterinarians have considered suicide. Another study in 2004 in the United Kingdom found that veterinarian suicide rates are four times that of the general population, and double that of other healthcare professionals. These eye-opening studies have even been covered by a variety of media outlets worldwide.

Now, a more recent study conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Assn. and Merck Animal Health revealed that younger veterinarians and female veterinarians are more likely to experience psychological distress than the general population. Additionally, only 27% of veterinarians age 45 and under would recommend the profession to a friend or family member.

“Based on the survey results, we are particularly concerned about younger veterinarians as they are the future of our profession,” said study investigator Linda Lord, Ph.D., D.V.M., in a press release.

According to the same study, for which the findings were released this month, depression (94%), burnout (88%) and anxiety (83%) are the most frequently reported conditions from veterinarians experiencing psychological distress. Excessive work hours, poor work-life balance and soaring student debt are major stressors. 

“The health and wellness challenges we face in veterinary medicine are real, they are serious, and they require a united and decisive response,” said veterinarian and CEO of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, Andrew T. Maccabe, in this statement regarding the Summit.

Not only is the well-being of current veterinarians a major concern, but younger generations may be swayed away from considering the profession. The topic is on the agenda for discussion at the 2018 Veterinary Wellbeing Summit, and companies like Merck are generating scholarships to ease the financial burdens of four years of expensive veterinary school and low starting salaries. But will it be enough to make a meaningful change for the men and women that give our horses – and us – so much?

Photo Tori Repole for NF Style.