December 15, 2014


 Progress in action

Posted Dec. 3, 2014

A number of veterinary colleges have already started providing more support for student health and wellness.

The University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College has a peer helpers program. The peer helpers are veterinary students who have experience with counseling or wellness activities and—after some training—assist their fellow students with both academic and personal matters, such as workload management, life balance, and time management.

Peer helpers also have been responsible for heightening awareness of available resources, such as counseling services and student health resources, as well as assisting in the creation of new programs and resources, from examination review sessions and study skills for first- and second-year students to yoga classes and a stress-busting dodgeball tournament.

“They are our face in the classes. It’s the message that we have this program and we do care about health and well-being. They are approachable and approach people, and they are our feelers. Not all of us can be everywhere every time. We get good feedback on the value of the program from students. They are made generally available, not assigned to people necessarily,” said Dr. Peter Conlon, associate dean of students at OVC.

The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine started a peer-to-peer support group in October that encourages students to talk about issues with which they’re struggling. In addition, Jennifer Brandt, PhD, a counselor with the college, offers mediation sessions and is an integral part of the professional development curriculum, teaching about compassion fatigue, self-care, and how to give constructive feedback.

Last year for the first time, the veterinary college hosted the De-Stress Fest Spring Wellness Event to encourage students to eat healthy, exercise, meditate, and engage in other wellness activities. Mental health screenings and fun activities were part of the festivities.

Elizabeth Strand, PhD, director of veterinary social work at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, has helped to implement a four-year course to address the human side of veterinary medicine. The current model has five subject areas: leadership, communication skills, ethics, business management, and success and wellness. Baseline wellness data have been collected and will be tracked as the course is rolled out to determine its impact.

Tennessee also has a veterinary social work program—a long-standing partnership with the UT College of Social Work. Each veterinary student receives five free sessions of counseling from Dr. Strand per year through the program. The program also facilitates and supports wellness activities such as exercise, meditation, wellness workshops, and activities such as massage and emotional support during examinations.

And Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine has begun to focus on helping its interns and residents. This year, it hosted its first in a series of well-being dinners for interns and residents, who were given time off to attend and talk about health and wellness issues.

K-State also has implemented six-week-long small group sessions limited to 10 students on stress and relationships. There’s a 10-minute educational piece followed by discussion of that session’s topic, which is usually focused on sharing experiences so students understand they’re not alone.

“We’ve tracked from a research standpoint that these groups result in a clinically and statistically significant drop in depression and a clinically significant drop in anxiety,” said McArthur Hafen Jr., PhD, director of counseling services at the K-State veterinary college.

Dr. Lonnie J. King, dean of OSU’s veterinary college, said he’s pleased that Ohio State has shown leadership with the summit to help push the issue of health and wellness forward at the academic level, but he said it is a problem the entire profession needs to get together on and address.

“We identify these problems in veterinary schools and potential solutions, and we know to address them isn’t easy. Most schools have safety nets with counselors. We really worry about what happens when they leave the academic environment when they go into private practice or jobs outside of school. Are there the same support systems? Who do they turn to? Do they have good mentors? Will this continue to be a supportive community outside of academics? I think it will be, but I think colleges are way ahead, relative to the rest of the profession, which doesn’t have the same sense of eagerness,” he said.