"I hated the sound of the phone." What life is really like for our rural and regional vets.

Long hours, being continually on call and tough emotional challenges are just some of the relentless difficulties faced by our vets who work in regional and rural environments.

They are also some of the main factors behind the high level of mental health issues affecting the profession.

The Australian Veterinary Association says that vets at a “significantly higher risk of suicide than the general population. In everyday terms, most veterinarians know a colleague or know of a fellow veterinarian who has committed suicide”.

“While other healthcare professionals such as doctors, pharmacists, dentists and nurses are around twice as likely to commit suicide than the general population, veterinarians have been shown to be up to four times more likely to fall victim to suicide.”

David Gray, a veterinarian of almost 50 years, says the life of a regional or rural vet is hard and most definitely plays a part on their mental health.

“The average suburban vet doesn’t do after hours work. Regional and rural vets do, and it is the biggest drain on your sanity and on your family life,” he tells Mamamia.

vet mental health
David had to leave his daughter's 21st birthday for a job. Image: Supplied.

David began his work in the regional area of the NSW Central Coast and then at his own practice in nearby Nowra which he established in 1976. Throughout his time there, David spent most of it caring for dairy cows and horses as well as some smaller animals.

Although he loves his work, David does concede there are many elements of the profession that directly impact mental health and that makes it a demanding pathway to choose.

“Nothing was sacred. I was on call all the time, all hours of the day and night the phone would ring. I hated the sound of the phone,” he said.

Being in a regional or rural setting meant there was no one else to assist. It was the duty of the local vet, which meant sometimes being called out at very inopportune times. For David, this included his daughter’s 21st birthday where he was called out to assist an ill dog.


“It has a psychological impact, you just can’t ever relax."

Along with being on call all day, every day, rural and regional vets are also expected and required to “do it all.”

vet mental health
"Although he loves his work, David does concede there are many elements of the profession that directly impact your mental health." Image: Supplied.

“There are some specialisations but generally a regional or rural vet will look after all animals from birds, sheep, pigs to cattle."

As well working within Australia, David has volunteered his services to the Australian organisation Vets Beyond Borders, who help animals and vets in developing countries around the word.

“My journey with Vets Beyond Borders (VBB) began after a tourist trip to India in 2006, when confronted by the state of the street dogs, I decided to do something about it."

Through this volunteering, David has worked all around the world: from India to Timor-Leste, Indonesia and Thailand where he has helped hundreds of animals and assisted in the training of local vets.

“I have seen all sorts of animals from deer, to donkeys, to yaks."

vet mental health
"Through this volunteering David has worked all round the world." Image: Supplied.

David also volunteered his time in the UK through the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic of the country’s cloven-hoofed animals such as cows, pigs and sheep.

The disease saw over 6.5 million animals euthanised and for David, this was one of the hardest challenges he has had to endure as a vet.

“Euthanising a whole farm of cows, it was soul destroying."

Although there are definite hardships within the vet profession, David’s love and passion for animals wins out. Especially when he can help a beloved family pet.

“Pets are much more a part of the family now than when I first started out. Being able to help a family pet is very satisfying," he said.

“The most important thing a pet needs is love. They need love just like everybody else."

Today is World Veterinarian Day. Who is a vet you have to thank? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below. 

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer from Victoria. Shona is usually busy writing and raising her children: three goats, two cats and two humans. You can follow her on Instagram @shonamarion.