An open letter to my veterinary colleagues:

Today, for (what seems like) the 1,347,481st time…I had a pet owner tell me, “your job stinks.”

This is a variation of the phrase, “I don’t know how you do what you do.”

Which is also a variation of the phrase, “You have a terrible job.”

As you may imagine, these are all phrases I hear when euthanizing a patient. As an emergency and critical care specialist, I euthanize more than most. I am not alone. Most veterinary professionals have and will euthanize a patient at some point in their careers (yes…even the veterinary dermatologists).

While mental health in veterinary medicine has become more open and public, there is still an overwhelming concern for compassion fatigue and burnout, along with suicide ideation in veterinary medicine.

Phrases like this, “Your job stinks,” do not help. They are not often not said to elicit a response. They are said out of sadness or fear, not malicious.

Unfortunately, they still sting.

Here are 3 tips that I hope will help you, my colleagues, cope with these potentially hurtful words:

1) Replace the hurtful phrase with a positive thought. Case in point, the impetus for me to write this blog was the phrase, “your job stinks.” The owner said this to me while I was discussing the differentials for a non-coagulopathic, non-traumatic hemoabdomen in an older Labrador. Yes, it does stink that I have to euthanize a patient. On a positive note, my education, experience, and compassionate conversation allowed the owners to make an informed decision without spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on diagnostics and hours (or days) waiting for results.

2) Redirect the owners. These hurtful words are said out of sadness and fear. They are not directed at us individually. The owners may not even know how these words hurt us. How do I redirect the owners? A phrase or reply I often use, “I know these are very difficult decisions, but I am thankful I am able to provide you this information and help you make a difficult decision.” Owners then often realize that their words were misguided.

3) Believe in yourself. A phrase I have not yet mentioned is the common phrase, “I wanted to be a veterinarian but I could never do this (euthanize).” I assume most veterinary professionals did not enter veterinary medicine with a love for euthanasia. We entered this profession with a love for medicine, a love for science, and a love for animals. We are strong, educated and resilient. We have the strength and compassion to put our patients first…even if euthanasia may be the most compassionate option for that pet.

The next time a client tells you…”Your job stinks.” Remember, your job does not stink. Your job is amazing. You are amazing. You save lives and improve the quality of life in pets.

(…and following the euthanasia before the owners of the hemoabdomen left the room, they turned to me letting me know how much they appreciated my compassion, time, and information in helping them make the decision for their dog.)

Dr. Garret Pachtinger, DACVECC
COO, Co-Founder, VETgirl