A Call for Progress: Updating Veterinary Professional Oaths

vet oath

Burnout in the veterinary profession is becoming increasingly widespread. Last year, our study revealed an alarmingly high burnout level, which increased by 9.4% when reevaluated this year¹. According to the AVMA, 44% of veterinarians have considered leaving the profession, up from 38% last year2.

Worse, one in six veterinarians has contemplated suicide. Compared with the U.S. population, female veterinarians were 3.5 times as likely to die by suicide, while male veterinarians were 2.1 times as likely3. For veterinary technicians (nurses), the statistics are more shocking. Male and female veterinary technicians are also more likely to take their lives compared with the general population — 5 and 2.3 times more likely, respectively4.

Serious psychological distress and moral injuries, combined with poor work-life balance, work overload, low compensation, and toxic workplace culture, are huge contributors to burnout and compassion fatigue. These industry challenges are increasingly being discussed, and many individuals who went through burnout and suicide ideation — including me — are sharing their stories. Bringing to light these previously unconsidered, under-reported and taboo topics is helping others to identify, cope with, and destigmatize mental illnesses. 

Similar problems are depleting human healthcare. This led the World Medical Association to recognize the importance of physicians’ individual needs and revise5 the Declaration of Geneva, or The “Modern Hippocratic Oath,” and insert the following:

I WILL ATTEND TO my own health, wellbeing, and abilities in order to provide care of the highest standard.

Veterinary medical organizations are doing tremendous work, advancing our profession and promoting emotional wellbeing. Our professional oath should start promoting it as well.

Adopted in 1954, the Veterinarian’s Oath was last revised over a decade ago to more clearly identify animal welfare as a veterinary profession priority. The current version reads as follows:

Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.

I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.

I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence6.

The Veterinary Technician Oath reads as follows:

I solemnly dedicate myself to aiding animals and society by providing excellent care and services for animals, by alleviating animal suffering, and by promoting public health. I accept my obligations to practice my profession conscientiously and with sensitivity, adhering to the profession’s Code of Ethics, and furthering my knowledge and competence through a commitment to lifelong learning7.

Given the current workforce crisis, the commitment of veterinarians and technicians needs to be reevaluated. While the pledges reflect the core values that initially drove us into the field, such as helping animals, these oaths cannot be complete without considering the mental health challenges that modern veterinary professionals face, and the potentially adverse effects these factors can have on their health and their ability to provide high-quality care for their patients.

Professional oaths are deeply meaningful and solemn vows. They represent a set of ethical standards and guiding principles that indoctrinate new veterinary graduates into the profession, which they then practice daily. A pledge that has such emotional power should reflect the critical importance of an individual’s own health, wellbeing, and work-life balance as basic premises to achieve the professional commitments laid out in the oath. 

While I strongly believe that burnout and job-stress prevention should be a management-level strategy — since they largely stem from external factors — the importance of self-care should also stay focused at the individual level. We need to create a strategy to maintain the balance between realizing the altruistic and noble calling of helping animals, and fostering our own needs as human beings.

Join me in calling for the AVMA, NAVTA, and the other regulatory authorities in the veterinary domain in the U.S. and across the world to revise the language of their professional oaths to include a commitment to attend to personal health and mental wellbeing. If we commit to good self-care alongside good patient care, we can combat increasingly prevalent burnout and suicide among our passionate professionals.

Dr. Ivan Zak and Galaxy Vets’ HealthCare Team

DVM, MBA, CEO at Galaxy Vets 


  1. https://vetintegrations.com/insights/burnout2021/ 
  2. https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2021-12-01/fierce-competition-over-veterinary-labor 
  3. https://avmajournals.avma.org/view/journals/javma/254/1/javma.254.1.104.xml 
  4. https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/special-report-auburn-cdc-study-examines-frequency-and-means-suicide-among 
  5. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2658261 
  6. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/avma-policies/veterinarians-oath 
  7. https://www.navta.net/veterinary-technician-oath/ 
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