Open Letter to the AVMA: Enough with the Band-Aids!


Dear American Veterinary Medical Association,


tearing ropeIt sounds like you’re all fired up about burnout in the profession, based on the amount of press you’ve put out of late. This includes your summary from Merck, showing that less than a quarter of younger vets would recommend the veterinary profession to others. And, many of us undergo serious psychological distress, including depression, burnout, and anxiety.


In response, you’ve taken the reins and established a position called the “Director of Member Wellbeing and Diversity Initiatives” to tackle pressing problems like suicide and factors leading up to it. Your appointee, Dr. Jennifer Brandt, with her Ph.D. in social work, is taking on the task of enhancing the wellbeing of AVMA members and protecting the future of the profession.


Toward this end, your “Wellbeing” website, it would seem, should make people well with ways to assess one’s wellbeing, to protect one’s wellbeing, and work with wellbeing. To feed our need for achievement, you even tantalize us with a workplace wellbeing certificate that we could hang on our wall.


Despite all your efforts, I’m puzzled. I just cannot see how the Caring for Yourself pocket card will empower me to cope with the pressures from corporate. You see, one of the biggest causes of burnout – for both veterinary and human health care professionals – is the demise of autonomy, accelerated by the ever-growing corporatization of medicine.


buyout road sign​It’s happening all over. Workers that are happy in their privately-owned practices see their satisfaction evaporate after a buyout. Patient care sinks, standards tank, and doctors head for the exit.  It’s not about a lack of resilience or time off as much as it is about the moral distress concerning ethical lapses and perfunctory practices.


After purchasing a practice, some companies start by assuring workers that, “Nothing will change,” except that it does, usually be year-end. Despondent and disillusioned, veterinarians look for a change. As you state in your January JAVMAnews column, “Self-care can only do so much for individuals in a toxic environment.”


Fortunately, those that find their way to a science-based integrative medicine practice soon recognize that the acupuncture needle can actually heal at both ends. That is, acupuncture not only improves clinical outcomes (check your own journal, JAVMA), but it also has the potential to prevent or alleviate burnout in its providers by restoring connection and satisfaction to the practice of medicine.


In contrast to the acupuncturist’s needle, however, the surgeon’s scalpel does not appear to offer similar benefits. For surgeons, a systematic review from 2016 claims that “burnout is especially prevalent in surgical specialties [and is] increasing at an alarming rate.”


So, you might want to consider adding integrative medicine, like the kind we teach at CuraCore VET, to your Wellbeing website – both as a treatment and even more as a calling.


It’s for those that rebel against the diminution of standards.


It’s for those who insist on practicing good medicine, not compromising in order to conform to corporate protocols.


It’s about maintaining autonomy and spending more time with patients, to make meaningful improvements in their lives and their outcomes.


With our style of medicine, there’s no question whose side we are on.


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