First-of-its-Kind Study Reveals Concern about the Future of the Veterinary Profession


February 6, 2018 5:30 pm ET

Results Presented at 2018 Veterinary Meeting & Expo (VMX)

Merck Animal Health (known as MSD Animal Health outside the United
States and Canada) today announced the results of a large,
well-controlled study with veterinarians designed to definitively
quantify the prevalence of mental illness and stress in the veterinary
profession and compare the findings to previous studies and the general
U.S. population. Conducted in collaboration with the American Veterinary
Medical Association (AVMA) and Merck Animal Health, the study found
veterinarians age 45 and younger are more likely to experience serious
psychological distress and only 27 percent of them would endorse the
profession to a friend or family member.

“This survey is unique in that, for the first time, a nationally
representative sample of veterinarians in the U.S. were asked about
their wellbeing, which is a broader measure of happiness and life
satisfaction than mental health alone,” said study investigator Linda
Lord, Ph.D., D.V.M., academic and allied industry liaison lead, Merck
Animal Health. “Based on the survey results, we are particularly
concerned about younger veterinarians as they are the future of our
profession. We must work together to promote a healthy lifestyle,
including work/life balance, access to wellness resources and debt

According to the Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study, about 1
in 20 veterinarians are suffering from serious psychological distress,
which is in line with the general population. However, when segmenting
the data by age, younger veterinarians are more impacted by the
financial and emotional stresses of professional veterinary life,
compared to both older male veterinarians and individuals in the general
population. Depression (94%), burnout (88%) and anxiety (83%) are the
most frequently reported conditions.

Veterinarians are feeling overstressed and undervalued

Among veterinarians, high student debt was the top concern voiced, with
67 percent rating it as a critically important issue. In 2017, the
average veterinary student graduated with more than $138,000 in student
debt, according to AVMA, which is nearly twice the average starting
salary for a veterinarian, creating a significant strain on the future
of the profession. Following student debt, respondents reported the
other most serious issues facing young professionals today are stress
levels, reported by 53 percent and suicides rates reported by 52
percent. Poor mental health is closely associated with the stresses of
professional life –excessive work hours, poor work-life balance and
student debt.

Treatment gap: Awareness about resources for mental health and
wellbeing is low

Only half of veterinarians with serious psychological distress are
seeking help – creating a big mental health treatment gap. This is
compounded by the fact that only few employers offer employee assistance
programs. In addition, only 16 percent had ever accessed resources
regarding wellbeing and mental health through national or state
veterinary organizations.

“Veterinarians today cope with a physically and emotionally demanding
occupation that is undergoing changes from increased competition to the
declining ability of clients to pay for veterinary care. Moreover,
veterinarians often find themselves giving up the things that improve
wellbeing and provide a healthy balance in life, such as family, friends
and time for self-care,” said Jen Brandt, LISW-S, Ph.D., director,
wellbeing and diversity initiatives AVMA. “As an organization that
serves veterinarians, our mission is to protect the health and welfare
of our members and the future of the profession. As part of these
efforts we continuously work to identify accessible resources and
assistance related to wellbeing and mental health. Studies such as the
Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study provide helpful guidance on the
types of resources and education that may be most beneficial.”

Concern for the future: Only 24 percent of veterinarians age 34 and
younger would recommend a career in veterinary medicine

The survey showed veterinarians today do not strongly endorse their
profession. Only 41 percent of veterinarians overall would recommend the
profession to a friend or family member; even large numbers of those
that score high in wellbeing and mental health do not recommend the
profession. The endorsement rate drops to 24 percent for those 34 years
old and younger. In contrast, 62 percent of veterinarians age 65 and
older would recommend the profession.

“Merck Animal Health is proud to partner with AVMA to conduct this
important study to better understand the challenges facing the
veterinary profession,” said Scott Bormann, vice president, U.S.
commercial operations, Merck Animal Health. “We are committed to working
with AVMA and others to support veterinarians by raising awareness and
offering assistance and resources, including close to $3 million in
scholarships over the last three years, and will continue to look for
ways to positively impact the well-being of practicing veterinarians,
and enrich the possibilities for the future of this profession.”

Survey Methodology

The online survey was conducted by Brakke Consulting in November 2017
among 3,540 of a sample of 20,000 randomly-selected veterinarians in the
U.S. For mental health, the study used the Kessler Psychological
Distress Scale to identify veterinarians suffering from serious
psychological distress. For wellbeing, a customized index was created
based on three widely recognized measures. Data were weighted based on
age, gender and region of the U.S. All data were tested for statistical
significance at the 95 percent confidence level. For the sample as a
whole, the maximum margin of error is +/- 1.62 percent.

The study also compared results from respondents to employed adults in
the University of Michigan Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), the
longest-running longitudinal household study in the world. A key
strength of the approaches leveraged in this research is the ability to
benchmark findings from the veterinary population against those found in
other studies examining veterinarians, as well as the general public.

About Merck Animal Health

For more than a century, Merck, a leading global biopharmaceutical
company, has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and
vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases. Merck Animal
Health, known as MSD Animal Health outside the United States and Canada,
is the global animal health business unit of Merck. Through its
commitment to the Science of Healthier Animals™, Merck Animal Health
offers veterinarians, farmers, pet owners and governments one of the
widest range of veterinary pharmaceuticals, vaccines and health
management solutions and services. Merck Animal Health is dedicated to
preserving and improving the health, wellbeing and performance of
animals. It invests extensively in dynamic and comprehensive R&D
resources and a modern, global supply chain. Merck Animal Health is
present in more than 50 countries, while its products are available in
some 150 markets. For more information, visit or
connect with us on LinkedIn,
and Twitter at @MerckAH.

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Merck Animal Health
Kate Vossen, 732-675-8448
Pamela Eisele, 267-305-3558
Michael DeCarbo, 908-740-1807

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