Dealing with life, death, and human suffering


Veterinarians assist patients with many challenges and one of the most difficult challenges for many health care providers is providing care for patients who are dying or suffering. Veterinary professionals often feel a sense of hopelessness that they can no longer “do anything” for patients when they are unable to provide a cure. Dealing with these emotions may be especially challenging for veterinary students.

Reactions to these types of scenarios vary widely. Some feel numb and detached from their patients while others may become sad and distraught. Some desire to support the patient and family as much as possible while others prefer to avoid too much contact.

Veterinary professionals may fill the role of helping others through the end of their lives and must develop the skills to do so compassionately, while maintaining our own emotional and spiritual well-being.


  • Remember that there will be times when it’s more important to care than to cure.
  • Caring for a patient is a process—dealing with suffering and illness takes time but what you do on a daily basis may have great value to your patient.
  • When patients who you are caring for die or are euthanized, talk to other members of your team (interns, residents, etc.) about what happened and support each other.
  • When a cure is no longer possible and a patient’s passing is imminent, find your victories in helping them achieve a painless or “good” death. Avoid focusing on death as a defeat. Instead find solace in providing good palliative care.
  • Identify resources for your clients and their family members. Being able to help them find solace can be a way to feel more useful. At the UMN, explore CALMM and use our Social work services group as a source of great advice.

People I Can Talk to

  • Crisis hot line (for yourself or someone else): (612)-301-4673
  • Text “UMN” to 61222
  • Student counseling services: (612) 624-3323
  • Boynton Mental health clinic: (612) 624-1444
  • Athena Diesch-Chham, 612-625-4168,
  • Dr. Erin Malone, 612-625-4762,
  • GOALe mentor(s)
  • Any faculty you feel you can approach
  •        Anyone in Academic and Student Affairs
  • Your spiritual advisor
  • Classmates, family or friends

Final Thoughts

“We are faced with a situation that the classroom cannot prepare you for. It is so important to recognize this and not be afraid to take time to get your thoughts and emotions together. No one will ever fault you for being compassionate and feeling badly for your patient. It is a normal and necessary process to go through on the way to becoming a physician.”

Daniel Egan, Emergency Medicine Resident and Medscape Columnist

My advice is doing physical activity you like. It is not about health or building muscle. It is just therapy. If we only needed to worry about school stuff, it was actually the easiest. But we are adults. Everyone has to face other life difficulties besides school. I have been through an extremely hard time because of relationship. After crying every day for one month, I decided to take action to heal myself. I signed up for a week of yoga class. I went to yoga class at 6am for one week. Doing yoga and being in that atmosphere made me feel relax and better. I didn’t sign up for the whole year classes because of lacking of money. After that week, I started to use online yoga classes which are much cheaper. I can keep doing it because I do feel relax afterwards and I really enjoy it. Meanwhile, I read articles about how to move on stuff like that.

UMN CVM Student, Class of 2019


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Well-being Handbook Copyright © 2019 by Erin Malone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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