The Impact of Unusually Distressing Events on Veterinary Professionals
Type of DegreeMaster's Thesis
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Previous studies have catalogued safety hazards and frequency of workers’ compensation claims in the veterinary workplace. However, distressing events other than workplace injuries have not been collected and analyzed, and the psychological consequences of these events have not previously been studied. First, in this study of 359 veterinary professionals, we determined that 62.2% (n=224) reported exposure to an unusually distressing event at work. Using grounded theory analysis to code the event narratives, we determined that the events mentioned most frequently were procedure-related complications, difficult interactions with clients, being bitten, and exposure to pain and suffering of animals. Second, we determined that 21.1% (n = 76) of the sample reported exposure to a work-related event that qualified as traumatic according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5); a larger proportion (39.3%; n = 141) qualified if the DSM-5 definition were expanded to include animals as victims. Next, we estimated that between 3.6% (n=13) and 13.9% (n=50) of veterinary professionals screened positive for PTSD on the Primary Care PTSD screener (PC-PTSD), using different methods of interpreting the criteria for PTSD. Last, we determined that exposure to distressing events at work was correlated with suicidal ideation, distress, and burnout as well as decreased job satisfaction, and that the number of exposures reported by respondents was positively correlated with depression, suicidal ideation, distress, and burnout. In conclusion, our study suggests that veterinary professionals are commonly exposed to distressing events at work that are associated with a variety of negative mental health outcomes. Future research should consider strategies to prevent exposure to these events and mitigate their negative consequences when exposure is unavoidable.