Letters to the Editor

Life expectancy in female veterinarians

In their recent study, Tomasi et al1 found that the proportionate mortality ratio (PMR) for suicide among veterinarians, whether in clinical or nonclinical positions, was higher than the ratio for the general population in the United States and was higher for female veterinarians than for male veterinarians. Although more than two-thirds of the 398 veterinarians in their database who died by suicide were < 65 years of age, 45 of the 72 (63%) female veterinarians were between 25 and 44 years of age, compared with 74 of the 326 (23%) male veterinarians. The authors recommended periodic analyses of AVMA obituary and life insurance policy data to monitor suicide rates and evaluate the effects of suicide prevention interventions among US veterinarians.

In the summer of 2018, I conducted a pilot study of obituaries published in JAVMA to determine the mean or average age at death (AAD) of veterinarians and factors associated with veterinarian AAD. Previous studies based on obituary listings published in JAVMA have been published, but these earlier studies were based only on white male veterinarian deaths2,3 or were limited in geographic scope.4

In my pilot study, I found that from January 2012 to July 2018, 2,161 obituaries were published in JAVMA. Of these, 1,998 represented male veterinarians and 163 represented female veterinarians. The AAD (± SD) for all 2,161 veterinarians was 78.5 ± 14.4 years. However, the AAD for males (80.3 years) was significantly different from that for females (55.7 years). This was likely due, at least in part, to the more recent entry of larger numbers of females into the profession. However, when AADs for male and female veterinarians were compared only for individuals who had graduated in 1977 or later (or were scheduled to graduate, in the case of veterinary students), female AAD (50.0 years) was still significantly lower than male AAD (55.7 years).

These findings suggested that the biological advantage women worldwide have over men in life expectancy may be reversed in the veterinarian population in the United States. This could suggest that unique social or other risk factors are at play among female veterinarians in the United States that are worthy of further study. I join Tomasi et al1 in suggesting that the AVMA database be further used to its full potential to systematically and efficiently study not only suicide deaths in veterinarians but also all-cause mortality patterns, especially for female veterinarians.

Malathi Raghavan, DVM, PhD

Director, Outcomes Assessment and Data Management; Clinical Associate Professor; College of Veterinary Medicine; Purdue University; West Lafayette, Ind

  • 1. Tomasi SE, Fechter-Leggett ED, Edwards NT, et al. Suicide among veterinarians in the United States from 1979 through 2015. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2019;254:104112.

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  • 2. Blair A, Hayes HM Jr. Cancer and other causes of death among US veterinarians, 1966–1977. Int J Cancer 1980;25:181185.

  • 3. Blair A, Hayes HM Jr. Mortality patterns among US veterinarians, 1947–1977: an expanded study. Int J Epidemiol 1982;11:391397.

  • 4. Miller JM, Beaumont JJ. Suicide, cancer, and other causes of death among California veterinarians, 1960–1992. Am J Ind Med 1995;27:3749.

The transition to canine community blood banks

Veterinarians and the public are becoming increasingly concerned about animal welfare and the status of animals in society. These changes have impacted most areas of veterinary practice and veterinary-related business, including the canine blood-banking industry, where confining colonies of dogs in kennels for the sole purpose of blood collection used to be the norm. Fortunately, in a move that respects the essential rights of these dogs, many blood banks have transitioned in recent years from closed-colony programs to community-based programs that collect blood from prescreened, healthy pets living in private homes with their owners. Protocols for screening donors in community-based programs and for blood handling and testing have been established and proven successful at safeguarding both blood product safety and donor health and welfare.

During my fellowship in veterinary transfusion medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, I worked with the Penn Animal Blood Bank's mobile canine community blood donor program, through which owners volunteer to bring their dogs to mobile blood drives for donations. A few years later, I transformed the canine blood donor program at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine into an entirely volunteer-based community donor blood bank. Since then, it has grown into a thriving and reliable program with > 600 donation appointments each year.

At the University of California-Davis, the health and welfare of donor and recipient dogs are our top priorities. Dogs are examined both physically and behaviorally and are prescreened for infectious diseases to determine whether they qualify as blood donors. We have adapted the standards set by the American Association of Blood Banks to our veterinary blood donor program and adhere to American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine recommendations for donor screening. In addition to routine physical examinations and diagnostic testing, donor animals receive flea, tick, and heartworm medication at no cost. Therefore, this program not only safeguards animal health but also helps alleviate financial constraints that make it challenging for owners to provide optimal preventative health care for their pets.

I strongly believe that community blood banks are safe, ethical, practical, and beneficial to animal blood donors and their owners alike. In fact, over the past 13 years that the University of California-Davis community blood bank has been operating, we have performed thousands of transfusions and have seen not a single case of infectious disease transmission. My hope is that we can all work together as a profession to make community blood banks the standard of care for canine blood donors. This will include transitioning the remaining closed-colony blood banks to community models, opening new community blood banks in areas of shortage, ensuring that local and federal regulations support community programs, and providing guidance to blood bank operators and veterinarians to facilitate best practices and maximize animal health and wellness across this important industry.

Sean Owens, DVM

Medical Director, Veterinary Blood Bank; William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital; School of Veterinary Medicine; University of California-Davis; Davis, Calif

  • 1. Tomasi SE, Fechter-Leggett ED, Edwards NT, et al. Suicide among veterinarians in the United States from 1979 through 2015. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2019;254:104112.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 2. Blair A, Hayes HM Jr. Cancer and other causes of death among US veterinarians, 1966–1977. Int J Cancer 1980;25:181185.

  • 3. Blair A, Hayes HM Jr. Mortality patterns among US veterinarians, 1947–1977: an expanded study. Int J Epidemiol 1982;11:391397.

  • 4. Miller JM, Beaumont JJ. Suicide, cancer, and other causes of death among California veterinarians, 1960–1992. Am J Ind Med 1995;27:3749.

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