At over 35,000 members, Not One More Vet (NOMV) is the largest veterinary peer-to-peer support group in the field. And with this being the organization’s mission statement, it is easy to understand why: “NOMV will transform the status of mental wellness within the profession so veterinary professionals can survive and thrive through education, resources, and support.”
There’s a crisis within the veterinary profession. And with 91% of veterinarians facing a moral/ethical dilemma every week,to say it is a stressful occupation is an understatement. Add to that the pressure of heavy student loan debt, cyberbullying and the demands of communicating with panicked pet parents, it’s not surprising that those in the profession face high rates of stress and burnout.
NOMV offers veterinarians and vet techs support and resources to help them find comfort and connection. Heading up the organization is the current president, Dr. Carrie Jurney, who is also a California-based neurologist with her own company, Jurney Veterinary Neurology. Dr. Jurney continues to pursue education in mental health and suicide prevention so she can better understand and be a part of the solution for veterinary suicide.
She says, “We support over 35,000 veterinarians. We offer peer support through a Facebook support forum and Lifeboat, which is completely anonymous. It’s not a crisis model. It’s peer-to-peer support.”
As a neurologist, Dr. Jurney spends her days in surgery. “When most people think about a veterinarian, they think about someone who gives vaccines to puppies and kittens and spays dogs. I don’t do any of that. My patients have pretty serious diseases, and one of the most common things we see is paralysis,” she shares.
Remembering her early days as a veterinarian, Dr. Jurney says, “Vet school is great at teaching hard skills, but there’s less emphasis on the softer skills. Like many veterinarians, I struggled in my early career with those soft skills, and I struggled with burnout and depression. I think my experience was pretty common.”
Fortunately, a friend invited her to join a Facebook support group for veterinarians.
“Along the point where I was very near the worst burnout I’ve ever had, I was invited to join this Facebook group called ‘Not One More Vet.’ It seemed like a great group of people,” Dr. Jurney continues. “They really understood me, and we talked about stuff that really mattered to me. I hung out there quite a bit.”
Skilled at administering online forums, Dr. Jurney offered to help the founder, Dr. Nicole MacArthur, manage the group. Around the same time, one of Dr. Jurney’s employees told her she was considering suicide.
“One day, we were in surgery together, and she told me that she was seriously considering killing herself that night. And I didn’t know what to do. I have worked in emergency medicine for animals since I was 18 years old, but this was a person emergency. I did my best. I called her family. I’m happy to say she’s doing much better,” she shared.
Dr. Jurney says that was when the veterinarian mental health crisis became personal for her. “That moment made it real. Before I never paid attention to all those articles about compassion fatigue and burnout, but that moment made it real. It also made me seriously look at my own life and wellness and prioritize it.”
Seven years later, NOMV is the largest wellbeing charity for veterinary professionals in the world. It has touched veterinarians on every continent, even Antarctica.
“A lot of veterinarians are pretty isolated. If you’re the only veterinarian for 300 miles, you can’t exactly go have a beer with somebody and talk about the realities of being a veterinarian. So the online space has made it really easy to be part of the global community,” Dr. Jurney remarks.
As people share experiences, stories, advice and commiseration, veterinarians and vet techs feel part of a larger community and find comfort in the support that it brings. It also helps that there’s less stigma around mental health. In addition, people can share and suggest different productive ways of managing stress. Dr. Jurney shared that she sculpts and forges metal as a blacksmith to destress.
“People who work in medical fields are some of the most giving and kind souls that I’ve ever met. And often our stress response is to try to help someone else because that’s been very rewarding to us. But the very first person you need to help is yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup,” she advises.
A 2020 study conducted by the American Veterinary Medicine Association and Merck Animal Health shows veterinarians and vet techs have higher than average rates of suicide.2 In fact, a study of California veterinarians conducted from 1960-1992 found that this group was 2.6 times more likely to die by suicide than the general public. Those are shocking statistics.
When world-renowned veterinarian Dr. Sophia Yin died of suicide, it rocked the veterinarian community. Dr. Yin was accomplished as a veterinarian and an animal behaviorist. Passionate about helping pet parents have the best relationship possible with their pets, she encouraged people to train their dogs with positive stimulation, and would sometimes sit on the floor with her patients.
This tragedy inspired Dr. Nicole McArthur to do something to help. So in 2015, she created NOMV. As a 501(c) nonprofit organization, NOMV has three ways to help:
1. Support.There’s peer support through the Facebook Group and an anonymous program called “Lifeboat.” The Facebook Group offers community and connection for veterinarians, but Lifeboat volunteers are trained in trauma support, so it goes a step beyond.
2. Grants. In 2021, NOMV gave out $150,000 in grants. Dr. Jurney says, “Our average grant is about $800. These are not huge grants, but they are absolutely lifesavers. Suicide prevention isn’t just talking someone down through a crisis. If what’s impacting your wellbeing is that your transmission in your car just broke, and you can’t afford to get to work to afford the rest of your life, then fixing that transmission for that person is a huge leg up.”
3. Education. “We give a lot of lectures, we do a lot of seminars on self-care techniques. We talk about the origins of wellbeing problems in veterinary medicine. We also have a research division, we partner with several great learning institutions like the University of Tennessee. We believe knowledge is power,” Dr. Jurney shares.
There’s long been a stigma among doctors about getting mental health care. Yet, research shows as many as one in six veterinarians have considered suicide.1 So it’s clear something needs to change, and getting people to acknowledge when they’re struggling is a big win.
If you’d like to get involved with NOMV, you can join the Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/NOMVet to start connecting with over 28,000 veterinary professionals around the world.
“We’re always looking for volunteers. We’ll train you in trauma support and get you talking with people who need a kind ear. Or, maybe you’d want to work with outreach to pet owners. We can find something for you to do,” Dr. Jurney concludes.
You can reach out to NOMV as a volunteer or get help by going to their website, www.nomv.org +
1. Veterinary Wellbeing Study II. 2020. Merck Animal Health. https://www.merck-animal-health-usa.com/about-us/veterinary-wellbeing-study