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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Why Are Female Veterinarians Killing Themselves?

By Gary Evans, Medical Writer

The high-pressure environment of healthcare has been linked to suicide in physicians, and has been established as a risk to male veterinarians. Concerning the latter field, a disturbing trend was recently reported by public health investigators: female veterinarians have a suicide rate that is four times higher than their male colleagues.

The finding is all the more concerning because female vets are the rising demographic in the field, currently comprising some 80% of veterinary medical students, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. As described at the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service conference in Atlanta, female vets appear to be at particular risk of suicide for reasons that are not completely understood.

CDC investigators looked at death certificates and life insurance databases for veterinarians who died from 1979 to 2015 to obtain underlying causes of death. Of the 11,620 people analyzed, 11,047 (95%) were male and 573 (5%) were female. A total of 398 (3%) deaths were attributable to suicide. Of those, 326 (82%) suicide deaths occurred among males and 72 (18%) among females.

That translates to a 12% suicide rate for female vets, which is fourfold higher than the 3% rate for men. It could be that women are more susceptible to the contributing factors that lead to depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in veterinary medicine, CDC investigators reported. It’s also possible that because men have dominated the field over the years, more of their deaths may have been ascribed to causes other than suicide.

Another factor being considered is that animal euthanasia is standard in veterinary medicine, making ending life to stop pain an accepted practice in the profession.

For more on this story, see the June 2018 issue of Hospital Employee Health.