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The Veterinary FIVE Freedoms: Empowering Veterinarians

The Veterinary Five Freedoms

DH DeForge, VMD- Co-Chair The Veterinary Genesis Initiative

FDR's Four Freedoms Speech:

On January 6, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his eighth State of the Union address, now known as the Four Freedoms speech. The speech was intended to rally the American people against the Axis threat and to shift favor in support of assisting British and Allied troops. Roosevelt’s words came at a time of extreme American isolationism; since World War I, many Americans sought to distance themselves from foreign entanglements, including foreign wars. Policies to curb immigration quotas and increase tariffs on imported goods were implemented, and a series of Neutrality Acts passed in the 1930s limited American arms and munitions assistance abroad.

In his address, Roosevelt called for the immediate increase in American arms production, and asked Americans to support his “Lend-Lease” program, which gave Allies cash-free access to US munitions. Most importantly, Roosevelt announced his vision for the world, “a world attainable in our own time and generation,” and founded upon four essential human freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.  

The Veterinary Five Freedoms

A Vocation of Compassion and Concern

I--Freedom from Fear -  Atychiphobia: The fear of failureFailure FEAR can be addressed and conquered with the correct mentoring system in place.

This is the Number ONE fear of practicing veterinarians. It starts in medical school or in an internship-residency program! Anything less than top grades is considered a failure by most students who will go on to become doctors. As a result, physicians spend their lives trying to fulfill difficult (if not impossible) expectations.

As the pace and pressures of being a veterinarian increase each year, so do the fears of making a mistake. Doctors fret over errors all the time and worry their patients will be hurt by something they failed to do.

The result: growing reports of depression, burnout, and suicide among physicians. These now-common side effects have had an unexpected consequence. Half of all doctors wouldn’t encourage their children to follow in their footsteps. Because of pressure within and outside the profession veterinarians feel as though they’re swimming upstream, in rapids, paddling as fast as they can just to stay in place. Fear must be eliminated!

II--Freedom from Want-

Doctors know they could’ve made more money in venture capital or investment banking. Instead, they dedicate their lives to helping those in need. That fulfillment is now eroding under the weight of intense financial demands and growing time constraints.

Burn out, compassion fatigue, managing panic attacks, how to communicate with both supervisors, colleagues and clients when you're under extreme deadlines or very intense stress can lead to chaos in a veterinarian's life.  Veterinarians ask-do I want this?  They ask-why am I so unhappy doing what I wished I could become since being a young child.  The "Want Factor" leads to a total breakdown or leaving the profession.

III-Freedom of Worship-

This is a very complex topic in 2023!  Here is what one veterinarian states:

At the end of the day, I know that we are rapidly headed towards a day when perfect is coming and we will know fully. Right now, however, I have more questions than I have answers, but I refuse to let my questions compromise the Truth that God has implanted in my heart. We have just a small window of opportunity to give God something now that we will never have the opportunity to give in Heaven: worship in the middle of pain, answers in the middle of questions, through loss, through not knowing, and through lack of goal achievement. So, that’s what we’re doing, praying that our worship rises before God as something sweet, even though in the moment it feels so bitter.  No matter what faith or no faith that you carry with you each day you have to bring to that day compassion; empathy, and love.  Some do not feel this is about God or about worship.  Call it what you wish but never stop believing how important your role is to the patient and the patient advocate.  It is your gift to the world.

IV---Freedom of Speech and Self-Expression-

Freedom of Speech is the greatest gift of the veterinarian practicing in democratic republics!

It is important to note that physicians do not have a specific right to free speech as a professional group. Yet, while there is no constitutionally articulated right, the contours of professional speech have been carved out – in often limiting ways – by the prevailing jurisprudence. Examining the prevailing jurisprudence reveals two broad categories that apply to the state interest in regulating clinician speech: False Speech and Professional Speech. While there are limitations on falsities, such as a physician misinforming a patient, the Supreme Court has stated that there must be some additive factor, such as malice or perjury, to validate government sanctions on professional speech. And, while the Supreme Court has not yet articulated a clear professional speech doctrine, physicians do not have an unfettered ability to practice medicine without limitation on their speech. Claudia Haupt has indicated that the courts have molded professional speech – a category of speech that Haupt describes as “insights through the professional to the client, within a professional-client relationship” — by either compelling or prohibiting a clinician’s speech, depending on the nature of the communication.

V---Freedom from the Fear of Self Compassion

When we are mindful of our struggles, and respond to ourselves with compassion, kindness, and support in times of difficulty, things start to change. We can learn to embrace ourselves and our lives, despite inner and outer imperfections, and provide ourselves with the strength needed to thrive.

What Is Self-Compassion?  Self-compassion involves treating yourself the way you would treat a friend who is having a hard time—even if your friend blew it or is feeling inadequate, or is just facing a tough life challenge. 

With the Five Veterinary Freedoms well embedded, the challenges of the veterinary profession can and will be met with subsequent personal and professional problems being resolved.

Dr. Patty Kuhly comments one such challenge. It involves finding the resolution to conquer the divide between rich and poor pet owners. Dr. Khuly finds it heartbreaking when poor clients offer her $40 and inquire how much service that will buy. She notes that “this glorious standard of care we’re so proud of is leaving the majority of pet owners behind” and suggests that the profession should be working with municipal governments to allocate more funds to enhancement of animal shelters and veterinary care within the shelters. I consider this to be a big challenge, the dimensions of which are likely to increase as the gap between rich and poor increases and the requirements of new standards of care become more expensive. A related matter is the provision of veterinary services to remote areas and areas with low-animal population density.

Never Forget!

The Five Freedoms for Animals

The Five Freedoms are internationally accepted standards of care that affirm every living being's right to humane treatment. These standards were developed by Britain's Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1965 and adapted by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians for companion animals in shelters. 

The Five Freedoms ensure that we meet the mental and physical needs of animals in our care:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor. This must be specific to the animal. For example, puppies, adult dogs, pregnant cats, and senior cats all need different types of food provided on different schedules.
  2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area. This means you should provide soft bedding and an area with appropriate temperature, noise levels, and access to natural light. If an animal is outside, it must have shelter from the elements as well as appropriate food and water bowls that will not freeze or tip over.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury, or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment. This includes vaccinating animals, monitoring animals, physical health, treating any injuries and providing appropriate medications.
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and company of the animal's own kind. Animals need to be able to interact with — or avoid — others of their own kind as desired. They must be able to stretch every part of their body (from nose to tail), and run, jump, and play. This can be particularly challenging when animals are housed in individual kennels.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering. The mental health of an animal is just as important as its physical health — as psychological stress can quickly transition into physical illness. These conditions can be achieved by preventing overcrowding and providing sufficient enrichment and safe hiding spaces.

Embracing the Five Freedoms supports the health and welfare of the animals in our care and provides adopters with the best possible insight into their personalities. That ultimately leads to more animals successfully placed in loving homes. 

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