MightyVet initiative targets veterinarians' well-being
Queenie, a 6-month-old cattle dog, was probably going to die. And not because treatment for rodenticide poisoning had failed. No, Queenie’s owner wasn’t going to opt to spend the money for treatment at all. And that was a moment in practice that hit hard for Barry Kipperman, DVM, DACVIM. Describing a solitary and isolating moment when the client refused to pay for treatment to Western Veterinary Conference (WVC) attendees, Dr. Kipperman said, “I walked out of the room, and I went to my office. And I turned off the lights, and I took off my glasses and I buried my face in the palms of my hands.”
Dr. Kipperman, a practice owner and ethics lecturer at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, was one of four presenters at a March 5 WVC event brought to the veterinary community by partners that included Trupanion and Not One More Vet, a Facebook support group for veterinary professionals. The event was designed to bring awareness to issues of burnout, compassion fatigue, ethics exhaustion and suicide prevention—and to introduce the online network mightyvet.org. MightyVet was recently launched with the goal of supporting well-being for veterinary professionals through free services that include mentorship by industry experts, online resources and RACE-approved continuing education on mental health and wellness topics hosted on vetmedteam.com.
During the event Dr. Kipperman spoke about his own experience with the emotional toll of convenience euthanasia.
“I particularly remember a visit where I was crying in front of my therapist, trying to reconcile what kind of doctor and what kind of person I was to treat a dog with multicentric lymphoma at 9 a.m. and kill a dog with multicentric lymphoma at 11 a.m. simply because of different resources,” Dr. Kipperman said.
Queenie, he said, was the tipping point for him, leading him down a path to conduct research on the topics of economic euthanasia and the moral stress it causes for veterinarians. Data from his research was published in the April 2017 issue of Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (Read the abstract here.) Forty-three percent of respondents reported seeing multiple patients a day where economic constraints were an issue in their cases. And about half of respondents said clients’ economic limitations could have had a moderate impact on their professional burnout, while about 25 percent cited it as a possible leading cause of burnout.
The event also focused on suicide awareness, with a video honoring Dr. Sophia Yin, a leading behavior expert whose death by suicide in 2014 brought increased attention to issues of mental health and suicide in the veterinary profession.
To put a personal note on suicide prevention, a tearful and triumphant Kimberly Pope-Robinson, DVM, CCFP, founder of 1 Life Connected Consulting, shared her own journey down a path to an authentic and sustainable career in veterinary medicine. Brandishing the pill bottle she’d held the day she contemplated suicide, Dr. Pope-Robinson revealed those intimate moments to the audience.
“The day I almost took my life started like any other day,” she told attendees. “I got up, I fed the dog, brushed my teeth—maybe not in that order. But at the end of the day, I had no idea I was going to end up on the edge of my bed, sitting on my bench, with this pill bottle—this exact pill bottle—in my hand, full of Vicodin. … When I hold this pill bottle, the emotions that come over me are incredibly intense. It contains so much of that moment, when I wanted to end it.
“I’m here today because that day I chose life,” she continued. “It wasn’t like a thing went off in my head and all of the sudden everything was rainbows and unicorns. In the world that’s not how it works. It’s a fight. It’s a fight I continue on to this day.”
Dr. Pope-Robinson described the strategies she developed to keep herself from falling into the abyss, which included accepting that she was not broken, embracing the bad with the good and identifying her “sinkers,” or the things that drag her down in life. Through her own transparency and vulnerability, she says she hopes to let others who’ve been in that same place know they’re not alone.
Other speakers included Sonnya Dennis, DVM, DABVP, a practice owner and president of the Association for Veterinary Informatics, who spoke on ethics exhaustion, and Carrie Jurney, DVM, DACVIM (neurology), board member of Not One More Vet, who spoke about the epidemic of suicide in the veterinary profession.
MightyVet’s continuing efforts will include ongoing CE modules and MightyVet Office Hours, where academics from veterinary and veterinary technology schools will hold online question-and-answer sessions for the veterinary community to form connections in real time.
“MightyVet is an industry-wide movement that offers access to information not otherwise taught as universal core curriculum in veterinary school,” said Steve Weinrauch, BVMS, MRCVS, founder of MightyVet and chief veterinary officer at Trupanion in a press release announcing the event. “Our profession can be physically and emotionally demanding, and despite the best efforts of so many, nothing has ever truly made a sustained and comprehensive difference. From veterinarian or tech student to retiree, these issues remain closer to us than most realize.”