Feelings of inferiority ‘fuelling sector’s mental health crisis’
Vets feeling inferior to their co-workers when it comes to diagnosing and solving a case is fuelling the sector’s mental health crisis, according to new research.
The study, published in Vet Record, also suggests that encouraging a mindset that client-oriented behaviour is an attribute of a being a ‘good vet’ will help other vets improve their mental wellbeing.
Dr Elizabeth Armitage-Chan, a reader in veterinary education at the RVC, found examples of new graduates who value their client-oriented skills but couldn’t shake the feeling that a ‘better vet’ would offer a more academic or specialist approach to cases.
Her study revealed that, even when these graduates adapted a plan to fit their clients’ needs (such as being unable to afford advanced diagnostic tests), it conflicted with their beliefs that by reaching a specific diagnosis they would be doing a better job.
As such, Armitage argues, these vets chronically feel like a ‘bad vet’, even though they have demonstrated a high level of communication and clinical problem-solving skills.
Chan’s paper maintains that learning to form positive client relationships in difficult situations leads to vets who are more resilient and have greater mental wellbeing. However, further analysis of colleagues discussions and social media revealed a clear opinion of ‘the client is the enemy’.
She notes that, during a case with complex conflicting pet and pet owner needs, vets who choose to emphasise the client as difficult and unreasonable can receive temporary solace when talking to similarly-minded peers or by accessing social media. However, this thinking prevents them from developing client empathy, impacting their mental health negatively in the long-term.
Armitage-Chan therefore believes everyone in the profession has a responsibility to frame the strengths of the ‘good vet’ as being as much about the pet owner as of the pet.
She said: “It’s really important not to think of this as a message that we must all be ‘nicer’ to our clients. I have heard vets say clients’ limited finances or not wanting to put their pet through treatment have forced them to go against their ‘professional code’. This simply isn’t true: the RCVS Code of Conduct emphasises a need to work alongside clients to problem-solve these complex situations.
“Animal welfare can be supported through palliative or symptomatic treatments, which may be offered after difficult negotiations with very upset pet owners. This should therefore be a skill that is celebrated, rather than being considered not ‘gold standard’.”
She continued: “Being able to work with a client who is highly troubled by their financial limitations or the impending loss of a pet is difficult, particularly when these anxieties manifest as anger and accusation. The social media message of the client as the enemy obstructs this skill, as it becomes easier to rant about the ‘difficult client’.
“Unfortunately, where this becomes embedded, it prevents the career satisfaction that comes from working with clients.”