Being a veterinarian is not merely an occupation for me, it is my passion.
But as much as I love the job, it is just as important for me to look after my mental well-being. Every day is an emotional rollercoaster.
Unlike in the United States, where pet owners bring their pets to the vet two to three times a year for checkups, many in Singapore only do so when their pets fall ill or are injured.
They do so perhaps unknowingly, or maybe it is also because of the accessibility of veterinary care.
In my opinion, this is a grave deficiency of pet care.
Many owners prefer to seek Dr Google instead of bringing their pets to a vet clinic. It comes down to a lack of knowledge and the assumption that their pet will get better on their own
In one case I’ve seen, I was presented with a female dog who was suffering from a vaginal discharge for two weeks before the owner came to us.
Her womb was so filled with pus that it ruptured, leaking pus into the entire abdomen, causing sepsis and ultimately, her death.
It is for these reasons that my brother and I founded Pawlyclinic, a digital platform where veterinarians can connect with their clients online.
Having grown up with a “mini zoo” at home with no less than 10 pets in our household, this endeavour has been our calling.
We believe technology and innovation can systematically address the various pain points in veterinarian care, and also allow physical clinics to focus on complex cases in-person.
For pet parents, instead of struggling to get expert advice and turning to the internet for misinformation, they can now simply consult a veterinarian online anytime, anywhere.
When their pets’ condition is unsuitable for telemedicine, they are seamlessly referred to a clinic for a physical consultation.
DEALING WITH THE POWER TO END LIFE
As with many other careers, there are still parts of the job that only humans can do, and technology has little part in.
In most countries including Singapore, veterinarians are likely the only profession that is legalised to perform euthanasia.
Euthanasia is the practice of ending the life of a patient to relieve pain and suffering, and there are strict rules to only carry this out for end-stage animals under our care.
I recall having to perform four of such operations in a single day some years back.
By the end of that day, I found myself too emotionally drained to speak to anyone at the end of that day.
Even though euthanasia is done only for humane reasons, the emotional effects and grief for the vet is profound.
For many of my peers, I know that this can be a mental struggle.
Sometimes, it’s best to avoid thinking about it and know that at least I only resorted to euthanasia as a last resort, when all treatment fails and the pet is truly suffering.
I also cope with this through a healthy dose of Netflix, good food, and spending time with family and my dog.
But I know that for others in my trade, such options may not be enough. Indeed, many people get burnt out and end up leaving the industry altogether.
A survey last year by the Animal & Veterinary Service and the Singapore Veterinary Association found a lack of recognition and poor career progression, among other things.
For me, despite the challenges involved, being a vet is a passion and not just a job.
When I am able to give a sick pet a better quality of life or save a dying pet, it gives me a lot of emotional satisfaction. I can’t see myself in any other occupation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Rachel Tong is the co-founder of Pawlyclinic, a digital veterinarian platform.
WHERE TO GET HELP
National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service: eC2.sg website (Mon to Fri, 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 5pm)Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24 hours)Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 (24 hours) / 1-767 (24 hours)Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6386-1928 / 6509-0271 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (Mon to Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)Touchline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)