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Staying safe amid mobile mayhem
Stress, fatigue, disenfranchisement, faulty machines and chemicals pose serious occupational hazards for large animal practitioners


These same researchers looked at 531 veterinarians and found 64 percent had experienced some type of serious work related trauma. More than 90 percent of female veterinarians studied had been exposed to prostaglandins, and 23 percent of practitioners in the study had been contaminated by Brucella abortus vaccine. Another study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) involved 1,182 veterinarians in Illinois and found that "833 had experienced an accident or zoonotic exposure or both." Brucellosis abortus vaccine exposure and animal trauma were the principal injuries reported, and interestingly, this study showed 50 percent of the veterinarians who responded with one incident had a history of three or more injury incidents, leading the researchers to conclude: "Certain veterinarians are accident/injury/zoonosis prone."

Animal-related trauma is understandably very high among large animal practitioners. Drs. Landercasper, Cogbill and Strutt of the Department of Surgery at LaCrosse Lutheran Hospital surveyed 995 veterinarians in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Almost 65 percent had suffered animal-related injuries with 17 percent of those requiring hospitalization. Hand injuries were most commonly seen followed by injuries to the arm, head, thorax and genitalia. Scalpel injuries to the hand were reported highly. Lacerations were seen in 35 percent of the injuries, and fractures/dislocations accounted for 10 percent of the problems. Dental work was needed in 5 percent of the injuries. Cattle were much more likely (46.5 percent) to injure veterinarians than horses (15.2 percent), but donkeys and mules received special note because they were responsible for many of the injuries to genitalia. Dr. Landercasper and his colleagues also recorded the method of injury and noted that animal kicks accounted for 35.5 percent of the injuries. Veterinarians were crushed in 11.7 percent of the injuries suffered and bitten (3 percent) or scratched (3.8 percent) as well. These researchers also added a category called "other interesting causes" which accounted for 14 percent of injuries. Included in this category were cases of gouging, goring, pushing, head butting, ramming, running over or flattening the veterinarian.

As serious as these animal-related injuries can be, they are no match for another developing cause of increasing mortality in veterinarians: stress. This cause is probably a "sign of the times" as it is also significantly reported in human physicians and among younger professionals under stress in many other types of work. Unfortunately, suicide is occurring at a higher rate among veterinarians than ever before. The increased economic and time-related pressures of the profession are often offered up as possible reasons. Burn-out is a well-recognized entity among veterinarians, and it affects numerous practitioners each year as they struggle to find a balance between job demands and personal life. Many overworked young practitioners on the edge of crisis report feeling that the job they are doing is of little importance. Increasingly large, multi-doctor practices and emergency clinics provide better service to clients but can also reduce the bonding between practitioners and individual clients and pets.

Veterinarians become "interchangeable"; clients move from one year's intern to the next, and the sense of community that existed in the veterinary profession is sometimes diluted. This loss of social support can leave some veterinarians feeling overworked, under-appreciated and alone.

Suicide rates are much higher for veterinarians who have been in practice for less than 20 years. Older practitioners respond that they have ties to their jobs that go far beyond the actual practice of veterinary medicine.

"Many of my clients have become friends over the years," says a Georgia practitioner with almost 33 years of service, "and I still enjoy making my rounds to the farms and catching up on their lives."

This ability to become invested in clients and their pets is seen as protective by some researchers and can lead to higher job satisfaction and possibly lower suicide rates. Interestingly, too, this bonding of practitioner to client/pet translates into more loyal clients, repeat business and a more successful practice. Older practitioners generally enjoy more financial stability and potentially less stressful personal situations, so these statistics might be somewhat biased. Still, it can only be advisable for veterinarians to follow the old adage that encourages one to stop and smell the roses. Developing ties to clients, their animals and the community fosters a feeling of worth and belonging, which can be strong protection against burn-out and suicide.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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