Aim: To investigate sources of work-related stress in the veterinary profession in New Zealand, perceptions of levels of stress being experienced, and the social support that veterinarians are using to manage work-related stress.
Methods: A postal survey was distributed to 1,907 veterinarians registered with the Veterinary Council of New Zealand (VCNZ). The survey collected information on respondents' age, gender, type and number of people in the workplace, stress levels, depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, causes of stress and sources of support.
Results: Nine hundred and twenty-seven (48.6%) veterinarians returned useable responses. Veterinarians who were retired, working overseas or did not provide information about their type of work were excluded from the analysis, leaving data from 849 (44.5%) veterinarians. Women experienced more work-related stress and depression than men, veterinarians in small animal/mixed practice reported more stress and depression than those in other types of work, and younger veterinarians experienced higher levels of stress than older veterinarians. The main sources of stress were hours worked, client expectations, and unexpected outcomes. Respondents were also stressed by the need to keep up their knowledge and technical skills, and by personal relationships, finances and their expectations of themselves. Most respondents reported that they had good networks of family and friends to help them deal with stress. In general, respondents tended to rely on informal networks such as family and friends, other veterinarians and workmates to provide support. The small proportion of respondents who reported clinical depression or suicidal thoughts or attempts were more likely than respondents in general to have used health professionals, counselling, pastoral/spiritual support and the Vets in Stress phone line, but less likely to have sought support from employers and workmates.
Conclusions: There is a need for a wide range of strategies to manage work-related stress among veterinarians. Sources of stress in the workplace must be identified and strategies developed to control those which present a significant hazard. Strategies may include attention to workloads and working hours, design of work processes, and increasing social support. Training in work-related skills such as communication, conflict management and stress management may be helpful where lack of these skills is contributing to stress. Support services such as help lines and mentor schemes are also available and information about these needs to be more accessible.