Like all doctors, veterinarians work tireless to save lives, but a recent report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said veterinarian lives are also in danger.
According to the report, veterinarians are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average person. It is a trend that has spanned three decades, but many people have no idea veterinarian suicide rates were so high, according to the CDC.
Experts said talking about it in the open is the first step to help combating the problem.
Dr. Will McCauley knew from an early age he wanted to be a veterinarian, but not long after starting his career, pressure started building.
"Some of the worst times were when you had the best owner and the best patient. You do everything right and the owner is on board – you do the procedure, and everything goes great and the patient still dies,” he said.
It got so bad, Dr. McCauley contemplated suicide. One week later he quit his job.
“I don’t know why I did not do it. I would have killed myself if I stayed in clinical practice for any length of time,” he said.
In the field of veterinary medicine, Dr. McCauley’s story is not uncommon.
According to the CDC, the suicide rate among veterinarians is three times higher than the rest of the population. Between 1979 and 2015, 398 veterinarians took their own lives.
Dr. Keith de la Cruz was one of them. Dr. Chris Miller worked alongside him.
“I miss him. I miss him a lot. He was a good buddy,” said Dr. Miller.
Experts said there are several contributing factors. For starters, veterinarians carry a lot of debt. In 2016, student debt averaged $143,00 with salaries starting at $56,000.
San Diego based psychiatrist and University of California San Diego associate professor, Dr. Michael Lardon said other issues include dealing with upset clients and seeing death daily.
"Coming out of school, having that kind of big debt is very, very stressful. Many veterinarians put animals to sleep and so that's very difficult because the families the families have sorrow at the time. Putting animals to sleep desensitizes the veterinarians to death," he said.
For those in the field, it is a difficult reality to face but one they believe has to be addressed head-on.