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It Won’t Kill You: Social Work’s Role in End-of-Life Communication

Sarah O'Brien


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Veterinary practices regularly encounter pet death and play an integral role in end-of-life decision making. However, most veterinary personnel have not been trained to assist clients by communicating a conscious transition from curing a sick pet to caring for a dying one. This talk will demonstrate that discussions involving a conscious transition to the end-of-life phase have largely been overlooked in veterinary training and education. By considering what the mental health profession has to offer the field of veterinary medicine as alternatives to this oversight, this talk will seek to carve out a role for the mental health professional that informs future research in end-of-life communication in the veterinary education setting. This paper advances mental health professionals as one delivery method to contribute to expanding education, training and research on conscious end-of-life communication in veterinary medicine for the health and well-being of the pet owner.
Learning Objectives:
1. Understand how mental health professionals can contribute to educating veterinary personnel on compassionate and necessary end-of-life communication.
2. Construction of strategies for assisting veterinarians in talking to clients about an impending pet death or terminal diagnosis that provides a supportive environment and positions the veterinarian as a resource and ally to the pet owner.
3. Identification of the importance of understanding the individual veterinarian’s relationship with death and pet loss in the helping environment.

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