UNCW Student Named Wilmington's First Social Worker in Veterinary Medicine

March 2022 - UNCW Master of Social Work student, Charity Moorhous, has made history as Wilmington’s first social worker in veterinary medicine. Since last summer, she has worked as an intern at the Animal Emergency & Trauma Hospital, Wilmington’s only emergency veterinary clinic. While the veterinary profession lacks social work positions throughout the country, Moorhous’s new employment is paving the way for a whole new outlet of social work jobs and careers.

Charity Moorhous writes in a patient's chart.Veterinary clinicians have long needed the resources social workers provide, operating in a settings of extreme burnout and stress. Veterinary medicine providers deal with a number of challenges that take a toll on their psychological health such as long work hours, exposure to death and suffering, poor work cultures, and high emotional demands. (1) According to research, around three-fourths of veterinary professionals are very or quite worried about stress and burnout. (2) Veterinarians are even listed as the occupation with the fourth highest suicide rate.(3)

Dr. Gina Scarzella is an ER veterinarian in Wilmington who after witnessing the mental health crisis afflicting her employees and colleagues, decided to take action and suggest that the practice hire an in-house social worker. Scarzella believes that Moorhous’ employment will have a lasting impact on both the mental health of vets and their clients.

“Our end goal is to be able to put veterinary social workers in practices to help decrease fatigue, raise more mental health awareness and give staff the tools to stay in practice because we see a lot of turnover just because it is a complicated field to work in,” Scarzella said.

Moorhous indicates that this position is unique to the Social Work profession in the sheer scope of support. “You aren’t just helping your clients; you’re helping your coworkers. A position like this is forcing the social work profession to grow into non-traditional fields,” she says.

Throughout her internship, Moorhous’ typical work with clients includes offering emotional support during traumatic and emotionally compromising conditions and reviewing financial assistance options with pet owners. “I always wanted to make an impact and that's why I chose social work,” she says. “I'm very passionate about advocating for people who can't do that for themselves, or don't know how to. This is needed here and they need somebody to really bring awareness to how much support is needed for the veterinary field.”

Ashton Andrews is a social worker and Moorhous’ UNCW field supervisor. She has viewed firsthand just how unhealthy a veterinary clinician’s work environment can be.

“What people don't realize is that while similar to doctors, although in a much less, much lower pay scale, these veterinarians are working 60 to 70 hours. They're working through lunches. They're dealing with people who are constantly mad, worried, scared, or have been to three vets already. And no one can give them an answer,” she says. Andrews is committed to expanding social work into a major component of veterinary medicine and believes that Moorhous is only the beginning.

“Mental health is being recognized and Charity is honoring that. It’s being seen as something that is valid and important. I’m just really proud because Charity has brought this to fruition,” Andrews said.

(1) Why depression is such a problem in veterinary medicine. VetX International. (2022, January 6). Retrieved March 25, 2022, from https://www.vetxinternational.com/why-depression-is-such-a-problem-in-veterinary-medicine/
(2) Why depression is such a problem in veterinary medicine. VetX International. (2022, January 6). Retrieved March 25, 2022, from https://www.vetxinternational.com/why-depression-is-such-a-problem-in-veterinary-medicine/
(3) Highest suicide rate by profession. New Health Guide. (2013, November 25). Retrieved March 25, 2022, from https://www.newhealthguide.org/Highest-Suicide-Rate-By-Profession.html