This alarming finding was drawn up by a study on behalf of the Vétos-Entraide association and the National Council of the Order of Veterinarians (CNOV). Conducted with 3,244 practitioners (nearly 18% of veterinarians), it was led by Didier Truchot, professor of social psychology at the University of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.
This work has identified among veterinarians a rate of emotional exhaustion – a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion – higher than that of farmers, whose discomfort has been documented many times, explains the academic. The researcher said he was surprised by these figures, as they contrast with the positive image of the profession among children and animal lovers.
Within the profession, “this did not surprise anyone”, says Corinne Bisbarre, veterinarian in Gradignan (Gironde) and member of the CNOV. “We all have in our promotions, in our direct professional entourage, colleagues who have committed suicide,” she breathes. “Eight veterinarians I knew committed suicide”, including “three classmates”.
These individual dramas remain little mentioned outside the profession, but have a strong impact within it, she points out: “It’s a very small environment, it’s like a family”.
“The medicine in the drawer”
This prevalence of acting out is explained in particular by “the fact of having the drug in the drawer”, notes Didier Truchot. Veterinarians euthanize living beings, and therefore have the skills and equipment available to end their lives.
“It’s like the farmers who have the shotgun or the rope in the barn,” he notes, identifying other parallels between the two backgrounds: “These are historically masculine professions where we don’t seek help when you are in trouble”.
“I have already euthanized 2,500 hens alone. You better be strong that day”
Likewise, the emotional burden is underestimated while veterinarians are exposed to the suffering of animals and owners. Another factor cited by veterinarians: the practice of euthanasia, which can be very varied (from the family dog which is suffering and for which there is no hope of recovery, to herds of animals for health reasons). “I don’t know a veterinarian to whom it doesn’t matter,” explains David Quint, vice-president of the national union of liberal practicing veterinarians and who practices in Corrèze.
“A few years ago, I euthanized a herd of cows poisoned by fire. I had next to me the breeder who was crying bitterly,” recalls David Quint. “You are marked for life by these situations”. “When there is an epidemic of avian flu, you kill all the animals you treat and that has a psychological impact”, abounds Hélène Esqurial, veterinarian specializing in poultry in the Landes. “I have already euthanized 2,500 hens alone. You better be strong that day.”
They quit the job
Other stress factors come into play in burnouts and suicidal thoughts among veterinarians: work overload, addiction to work, confrontation with mistreatment by animal owners, fear of error, lists Didier Truchot.
Veterinarians also suffer from a “money pump” image, regrets David Quint. They are criticized for their prices because customers “don’t know what surgery or an MRI really costs”, he points out.
All these elements contribute to the strong gap between expectations and the reality of the profession, for which aspiring veterinarians are not sufficiently prepared, judge all the veterinarians questioned. “We are supposed to know everything, do everything and with the least possible means”, summarizes William Addey, veterinarian in Buchy (Seine-Maritime) and member of the Veto-Entraides association, created to respond to the discomfort of veterinarians.