Every veterinarian experiences occasional complications, sad outcomes, or patient deaths, but some have developed coping skills and strategies that help them manage the emotional impact and learn and grow from these events, according to a study authored by Sara White, DVM, MSc. The study will appear in the February 2018 issue of the journal Anthrozoös.
The study questioned 32 shelter and spay-neuter veterinarians about their experiences, thoughts, and reactions as they coped with life-threatening complications or death related to spay-neuter. Qualitative thematic analysis was used to identify themes and patterns in the responses of veterinarians who were successful in coping with these adverse events.
In the aftermath of a patient death or serious complication, veterinarians who were surveyed described feelings of guilt, sadness, anxiety, and self-doubt, and felt deep empathy for their clients. Some said they never recovered from the trauma of these events, while others were able to transform the incidents into learning experiences and opportunities for growth in their technical and emotional skills. The veterinarians who coped most effectively were those who were able to talk openly with colleagues about the events, and who were able to learn and improve protocols. Further, successful veterinarians had learned to place the loss into perspective, and had developed expertise in how to handle and support themselves through the event’s aftermath.
“Successfully coping with adverse events is important not just for the mental health and peace of mind of individual vets, but for their future patients as well,” said Dr. White. “The more comfortable vets can be thinking about dealing with things that don’t go as planned, the better they will be at evaluating, refining, and updating the way they care for patients.”
Veterinarian wellness and mental health have received an increasing amount of attention recently within the profession, and recent studies have indicated a high risk of suicide among veterinarians.
“This study gives veterinarians a language to think and talk about their responses to complications and patient deaths, as well as steps that they can take when they’re trying to recover from these events,” said Jen Brandt, LISW-S, Ph.D., AVMA director of wellbeing and diversity initiatives.
“Helping veterinarians understand that they are not alone in their feelings and reactions to unanticipated events may help decrease the negative impact of these reactions and allow veterinarians to respond and cope more effectively.”
White, SC. Veterinarians’ Emotional Reactions and Coping Strategies for Adverse Events in Spay-Neuter Surgical Practice. Anthrozoös. 1997;31(1)117-131. doi: 10.1080/08927936.2018.1406205.
This article is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2018.1406205.