Survey of the frequency and perceived stressfulness of ethical dilemmas encountered in UK veterinary practice

The scale of the ethical challenges faced by veterinary surgeons and their perceived stressful consequences were investigated via a short questionnaire, completed by 58 practising veterinary surgeons.

Respondents were asked to report how frequently they faced ethical dilemmas, and to rate on a simple numerical scale (zero to 10) how stressful they found three common scenarios.

Fifty seven per cent of respondents reported that they faced one to two dilemmas per week, while 34 per cent stated they typically faced three to five dilemmas per week.The three scenarios provided were all rated as highly stressful with ‘client wishing to continue treatment despite poor animal welfare’ rated as the most stressful (median 9). The female veterinary surgeons gave two of the scenarios significantly higher stress ratings than the male veterinary surgeons.

Stress ratings were not influenced by number of years in practice (which ranged from one to more than 25 years).

The results show that veterinary surgeons regularly face ethical dilemmas and that they find these stressful. This has implications for the wellbeing of veterinary surgeons and supports the case for increased provision of training and support, especially for those who entered the profession before undergraduate ethics teaching was widely available.

The study is from the College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK.

Batchelor CE, McKeegan DE. Vet Rec 2011 Nov 17 [Epub ahead of print].