Understanding financial health and mental well-being in veterinary medicine

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Content submitted by MentorVet and Synchrony

Mental health and wellness are critical issues in the veterinary profession, as practicing professionals attempt to balance everything from providing essential care to pets to building strong teams to having effective financial conversations with pet owners. Providing veterinary professionals with helpful, readily accessible resources and support can help them successfully navigate these challenges.

In recent years, tremendous progress has been made to uplift those in the profession as evidenced by Merck’s 2023 Veterinary Wellbeing Study, which identifies significant improvement in access and use of mental health resources that are available to veterinary teams.1 However, burnout remains prevalent across the profession due to staffing shortages, work-life balance issues and financial stressors. Young professionals are particularly vulnerable to these negative experiences—and in the most need of support.

Financial management and communication regarding finances can feel stressful to early-career professionals as many of them receive little training in financial literacy during a busy veterinary curriculum. This lack of financial preparedness can negatively affect their mental wellbeing and satisfaction as they try to navigate the business side of practice and financial discussions with clients. This stress can compound when clients are unable to afford the recommended treatment options and can result in moral distress.

Added to this anxiety related to the complexities of practice management and holding financial discussions with pet owners around cost of care is the financial stress that stems from their personal student debt which is significant.

Debt management and long-term financial planning

Many first-year veterinarians hold a high amount of debt upon exiting their schooling. New graduate veterinarian debt averages $179,505.2 Creating a feasible repayment plan that works within a young professional’s personal expenses is key for supporting long-term financial success, while providing emotional peace of mind. By understanding the repayment process and setting clear financial goals, veterinary professionals can cultivate a sense of purpose with their finances, alleviating the overwhelming burden of debt.

Financial coaching and education can empower veterinary professionals to gain confidence and competence around financial literacy, communication long-term goal setting. Two mentorship and professional development programs from MentorVet—MentorVet Leap and MentorVet Tech—provide access to mentorship opportunities, professional development, mental health coaching, and financial preparedness training to help them successfully navigate this multi-layered, financial landscape.

Client payment experience

Adopting a proactive approach to financial conversations can help veterinary teams—from veterinarians to veterinary technicians to front desk staff—avoid the stressful moment when emotions and economics meet in the exam room. Synchrony’s Lifetime of Care Study found that a treatment costing $250 can cause stress for pet owners, amplifying tensions in the exam room at a time when decisions need to be made about care.3 And, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Language of Care study, pet owners value transparency regarding the cost of care and want to see their veterinary professionals express a desire to make treatments more affordable. This makes it critical for veterinary teams to have upfront and open conversations with clients about cost of care and payment solutions.4

Sharing available solutions, like pet health insurance options or a health and wellness credit card, can empower pet owners to be financially prepared to pay for their animals’ lifelong health care needs as well as the humans in their families. This type of credit card can provide flexible financing options for all types of veterinary services, treatments and diagnostics.

Practice financial management

Another area that can lead to financial sustainability and ongoing team well-being is identifying solutions, technology and financial practices that help streamline business workflows and payment processes, accelerate cash flow, build healthy accounts receivables and reduce back-office paperwork. Proactively managing accounts payable and receivable can help veterinary practices maintain financial stability and operational efficiency.

A multipronged approach

Despite the deficiency in current veterinary school curricula, we can make a difference as young professionals start this journey. We can continue to develop and deliver financial programs and resources that positively impact the mental wellbeing and personal and professional financial health of those early in their veterinary career, leading to a trajectory that is positive and purposeful. We have found that providing them with real-time guidance and relationships with experienced veterinary mentors does wonders in helping them navigate the complex financial issues and personal challenges they face.

On top of specific programs, the broader veterinary community can collectively encourage open communication and knowledge sharing to foster continuous improvement and adaptation that inform best practices. The advice and lessons learned by one practice could save another from making major financial errors or help them provide better care for pet owners.

Finally, new veterinary professionals should consider a long-term financial planner to manage both individual and practice cost from the start. According to Merck Animal Health, 57% of men and 45% of women in veterinary professions have a personal finance planner or advisor.

Prioritizing the mental health and financial well-being of those in our profession is essential to the sustainability of the veterinary profession and should remain at the forefront of our strategies and initiatives moving forward. Together, we can cultivate a culture of support and empowerment that helps ensure the future prosperity of the veterinary industry as well as the passionate professionals caring for pets each and every day.

To learn more about mentor and financial support for veterinary professionals, visit MentorVet. If you want to speak with other veterinary professionals seeking support, consider joining Not One More Vet’s Lifeboat. If you or someone you know is in a mental health crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988.

Addie Reinhard, DVM, MS, is the cofounder and CEO of MentorVet.

Boo Larsen is a senior vice president and general manager of veterinary and pet care at Synchrony.

References

  1. Merck Animal Health’s fourth veterinary wellbeing study indicates progress in addressing mental health challenges among veterinary teams. News release. Merck Animal Health. January 15, 2024. Accessed June 12, 2024. https://www.merck-animal-health.com/blog/2024/01/15/4th-veterinary-wellbeing-study/
  2. Chart of the month: good news on student debt. American Veterinary Medical Association. May 25, 2023. Accessed June 12, 2024.https://www.avma.org/blog/chart-month-good-news-student-debt
  3. Lifetime of care study. Synchrony. January 2022. Accessed June 12, 2024.https://petlifetimeofcare.com/
  4. Communicating with clients: using the right language to improve care. American Veterinary Medical Association. Accessed June 12, 2024.https://www.dvm360.com/view/synchrony-study-unveils-staggering-findings-surrounding-lifetime-cost-of-pet-ownership
  5. Improving wellbeing and mental health. Merck Animal Health and Brakke Consulting. 2024. Accessed June 12, 2024.https://www.merck-animal-health-usa.com/offload-downloads/2023-vet-wellbeing-presentation
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