Authors: Karen L. McGlothlin, DVM, PhD (Lawndale Veterinary Hospital, Greensboro, NC) and Heather Garland, DVM (Brevard Animal Hospital, Brevard, NC)

Since the first of June, we here at Lawndale Veterinary Hospital have been welcoming clients back into our lobby and exam rooms (one human per appointment, please, except under extenuating circumstances such as euthanasia… see updated guidelines on our website for more details). This past year-plus has been a long, strange trip – for ALL of us. Providing high quality veterinary medicine via curbside service and telephone has been challenging in ways that we did not anticipate; but through it all, each member of our staff has done his or her very best to maintain the poise, professionalism, and courtesy expected of an individual in a medical profession.

At times, clients have been frustrated because of delays: delays in scheduling appointments and being able to see their pets in what they consider a timely manner; delays in getting their pets into the building, when the parking lot is full; and delays simply because we did not have enough phone lines to be able to handle the increased phone demand during these unprecedented times. Some have been frustrated by our COVID-related policies, including our previous requirement for curbside service only, our current request for only one human in an exam room per appointment, and our current requirement that masks be worn while in our building. Our policies have been adopted after much research and reading into current, and constantly evolving, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and from the state government guidelines, among others. These policies have enabled us to provide medical care to an increasing number of pets without once having to close our hospital during the pandemic.

While the majority of our clients have been gracious and accommodating, some have expressed their disappointment and disdain in person, in private, and sometimes in very public forums. We do offer our apologies to any who have been disappointed with how your experience has gone while we have adjusted our course multiple times to navigate through difficult waters. We also must emphasize that it is imperative that ALL members of our staff are treated with the kindness and respect that they so deserve. Every member of the Lawndale Veterinary Hospital Team has worked, and continues to work, tirelessly to make sure that every pet has the best possible experience while here – for everything from a nail trim and bath all the way to major surgeries.

The thing that you should know about people who are called to careers in the veterinary medical field is that, as Dr. Andy Roark (who hosts a popular podcast called “The Cone of Shame”) puts it, they all possess empathy to a fault. Veterinary medical staff members are genuinely invested in their careers on an emotional level – most will tell you that going into a career at any level of veterinary medical care was truly a calling for them. You may not realize it, but it is not uncommon for veterinary team members to wake up in the middle of the night thinking about particular cases and pets that they’ve seen during the course of their day. It is not uncommon for them to spend their days off and their vacations thinking about cases and communicating back and forth with colleagues at the veterinary hospital via text, email, or phone while taking time away to recharge.

This devotion to the field, this calling so many feel compelled to answer, is likely a contributing factor to the high rate of suicide that plagues our profession. The American Veterinary Medical Association notes that veterinarians are 2.7 times more likely to commit suicide than the general public and 1 in 6 veterinary professionals has contemplated suicide. If you consider that there are only around 100,000 veterinarians in the US (about the number of people that would fill a large college football stadium, such as Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, AL), that number becomes startling.  Other contributing factors include crushing student loan debt, compassion fatigue, cyber- or other types of bullying, and grueling work schedules. Most veterinary professionals can point to a colleague who has stood on the edge of this cliff and many more who have left the profession altogether. More than a handful of us have had the alarming experience of losing a colleague to suicide. The veterinary profession has been struggling with this sad reality for more than a decade now and the way through this crisis remains unclear.

Many pets found new homes during the pandemic and we couldn’t be more happy for them. But the reality is, the increase in pet ownership has led to an increase in demand for veterinary care all across the country. We have felt it and you, in turn, have likely felt it. We are handling the additional load as best we can, and we won’t stop striving to provide you and your pets with the best care possible. Our Mission Statement is clear on this – all of us at Lawndale Veterinary Hospital are:

“Committed to building lifelong partnerships with pets and owners by focusing on the highest quality veterinary medicine, compassion, education, and prevention.”

Welcome back, and if you are new to our hospital, WELCOME! We promise to do all we can to help you and your pets have long, happy, healthy relationships. All we ask is that you respect our team; respect our policies as we try to keep both our staff and our clients safe; and, above all, be kind.