May 15, 2016


 Students taking wellness seriously

​SAVMA symposium encourages attendees to relax, have fun

Posted May 2, 2016 

Wellness remains top-of-mind for many veterinary students, as evidenced by the focus on the topic during the 47th annual Student AVMA Symposium, held March 17-19 at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine. 

The symposium featured “Treat yo’self Thursday” with a coffee bar, boot camp, and yoga or Pilates in the morning. The afternoon offered presentations on nutrition, stress management, efficient sleeping, and professional etiquette. Matt Holland, SAVMA president, said Dr. Derralyn Rennix’s talk on the “Mindful Veterinary Practitioner” was helpful in teaching how to practice mindful meditation while simultaneously practicing veterinary medicine.

The keynote speakers during the opening ceremony were Drs. Frank Cerfogli, director of the new ISU CVM clinical skills laboratory, and Jennifer Schleining, associate professor in veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine at the college. Together, they have four children and are owners and operators of Four Charm Farm. They spoke about how they balance it all. 

Attendees of the 47th annual Student AVMA Symposium had a chance to take part in the first “Veterinary Feud” competition (left), modeled off the TV show “Family Feud”; the MacGyver Challenge (center), which had teams solve time-sensitive crises with limited supplies; and a suture derby (right). In all, nearly 1,200 attended the SAVMA symposium at Iowa State University. (Photos courtesy of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach)

At the Student AVMA House of Delegates meeting, the Mental Health & Wellness Task Force, created last year to address these issues among veterinary students, presented its deliverables.

As reported May 1 in JAVMA, the task force had sent a survey to SAVMA’s nearly 14,000 members to gauge their mental health and well-being. Of the 3,888 who responded, 67 percent had experienced a period of depression, and of those, 37 percent said the period lasted longer than two weeks, which meets the clinical definition of depression. In addition, 47 percent had a personal history of depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Twenty-five percent were taking medication for diagnosed depression or anxiety. 

Veterinary colleges’ specific aggregate results have been sent to administrators at each institution as well as to the state VMAs that have veterinary schools in their borders.

The task force also created a series of videos titled “It’s OK” to shed light on the state of mental health in the veterinary profession. They feature veterinary students, faculty members, clinicians, veterinary technicians, and school counselors discussing their struggles with mental health and wellness. The full playlist is available here.

Holland said, as of the end of March, SAVMA’s Facebook post about the videos had reached 65,000 people.

Because the task force had achieved its goals, it was sunset at the symposium. However, SAVMA HOD members unanimously approved forming a Wellness Committee. They are working on developing the committee charge and description, to be discussed and voted on at their next meeting, in August during the AVMA Convention 2016 in San Antonio.

“We currently have seven committees in the HOD, and we tentatively agreed to start an eighth, which means a significant internal reorganization. It’s a lot of extra work for a lot of students who are already incredibly busy. Big changes are usually uncomfortable and met with some resistance. The fact that the House unanimously approved the motion is inspiring,” Holland said. “It is a huge issue. It’s what people want to focus and spend time on now. Everybody is really excited about the Wellness Committee.”

Other action items

In other SAVMA HOD and SAVMA Executive Board news, a recommendation was passed that students enrolled in cooperative programs, also known as 2+2 programs, are now eligible to run for an executive office. All of the AVMA Council on Education–accredited veterinary colleges in the U.S. are full members in the SAVMA HOD, but partner programs are not. As Iowa State’s 2+2 partner, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is represented in the SAVMA HOD; however, its representatives are nonvoting members and were not previously eligible to run for the SAVMA board. One of Nebraska’s delegates introduced the motion at last year’s symposium to change the Student AVMA Bylaws to allow partner programs’ representatives to do so.

Calling all veterinary entrepreneurs

Veterinary students with novel ideas on how to improve the profession are wanted for a new competition that was announced at the Student AVMA Symposium in March. 

“The Idea” is a yearlong veterinary student innovation competition sponsored by the online study tool VetPrep in collaboration with the Veterinary Business Management Association and SAVMA.

Entries can be projects at any stage, from initial concept to working prototype. The goal of the competition is to help teams of students create a plan that could lead to the development of their innovation.

Registration officially began at the symposium; submissions will be accepted through July. Then, the judges and organizers will determine the semifinalists. Those teams will participate in phone interviews so that the judges and mentors can choose the final teams. The finalists and their mentors will be announced in August at the next SAVMA House of Delegates meeting.

After months of team meetings and development, the final teams will deliver a live pitch and presentation to the judges and panel at the 2017 SAVMA Symposium. The top three teams will take home a combined $15,000-plus in cash prizes, while the winners will also receive a boost toward making their idea a reality. 

For more information, go here.

The Prospective SAVMA Member Benefits Education Task Force, which Holland co-chairs, created a presentation that it debuted at the meeting. It’s available here. The task force is in the process of creating a video with AVMA staff featuring students “discussing what SAVMA and the AVMA mean to us and what we get out of being members,” he said. The plan is to premiere the video at the AVMA convention in August and distribute it to SAVMA chapters.

“The first action of the task force was environmental scanning. What we found is students couldn’t really articulate what SAVMA membership did for them, or sometimes even tell you what SAVMA stands for. There’s an awareness gap, and we want to close it,” Holland said. “We hope this transparency helps improve the lives of every veterinary student and, ultimately, the profession.”

One additional thing the SAVMA HOD did this year was to change its meeting structure from two full days to three half days to allow the student delegates and board members to partake in more of the general attendee events.

The symposium offered approximately 80 lectures and 30 wet labs in addition to day trips to the Science Center of Iowa; Hawkeye Breeders Service, a state-of-the art cattle breeding facility; Blank Park Zoo; and the Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Disease Center. An entire day was devoted to diversity, with a poster-viewing session, discussion panel, and lectures on discriminatory language and bias. Attendees also took part in a veterinary trivia contest; a suture derby; the first “Veterinary Feud” competition, modeled off the TV show “Family Feud”; and the MacGyver Challenge, which had teams solve time-sensitive crises with limited supplies.

In all, nearly 1,200 attended the SAVMA symposium this year.

Coming and going

Outgoing 2015-2016 SAVMA officers are Jessica L. Carie, Colorado State University, president; Ilana Yablonovich, University of Pennsylvania, secretary; Eric Nickerson, University of California-Davis, treasurer; Mikaela D.O. Vetters, Kansas State University, international exchange officer; Takashi “Kirk” Kasuya, St. George’s University, information technology officer; Stephen Marsh, Texas A&M University, editor of The Vet Gazette; Maria G. Romano, Virginia Tech, global and public health officer; and Elizabeth C. Johnson, University of Tennessee, veterinary economics officer.

Incoming 2016-2017 SAVMA officers are Matt Holland, University of Illinois, president; Meghana Pendurthi, University of Pennsylvania, secretary; Shawn Wharrey, The Ohio State University, treasurer; Brian Jochems, University of Missouri, international exchange officer; Michael McEntire, Texas A&M University, information technology officer; Alexandria Schauer, University of Minnesota, editor of The Vet Gazette; Melissa Feldman, University of Florida, global and public health officer; and Peter Czajkowski, Oklahoma State University, veterinary economics officer.

Planning is already underway for next year as veterinary students at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences gear up for the 2017 Student AVMA Symposium, March 16-18.  

Related JAVMA content:


National Dog Bite Prevention Week 2016 is May 15-21. Resources for the weeklong educational event and for year-round prevention of dog bites are available at