October 15, 2016


 Future Leaders champion wellness at work

Posted Sept. 28, 2016

“As veterinarians, we are always focused on the wellness of our patients,” Dr. Sarah Allison of the AVMA Future Leaders class of 2015-2016 said at an Aug. 6 press conference during AVMA Convention 2016 in San Antonio.

“However, we need to focus on making ourselves and our colleagues well. We know the statistics of our profession, such as increased risks of depression, psychological distress, and burnout.”

The 2015-2016 class focused on wellness in the workplace for veterinarians and paraprofessional staff, building on the previous class’s work on individual wellness.

At the press conference and an Aug. 7 continuing education session in the Professional Development track, the class illustrated the resources it has created to help veterinarians implement wellness practices in the workplace.

Members of the 2016-2017 class were also announced at the press conference. Each year, the AVMA receives numerous nominations for the Future Leaders program. Now entering its sixth year, the program promotes leadership in organized veterinary medicine to benefit the veterinary workplace, society, and especially the profession. Zoetis is the sponsor.

The Future Leaders class of 2016-2017 comprises Drs. Joshua Ames, companion animal practitioner, Spartanburg, South Carolina; Jennifer Bornkamp, clinical instructor in anesthesiology, Ames, Iowa; Kirk Brueniger, corporate veterinary medicine practitioner, Vancouver, Washington; Tracey Hlede, companion animal practitioner, Chicago; Christina Larson, comparative medicine practitioner, Minneapolis; Jessica Larson, industrial practitioner, Nashville, Tennessee; Katie Rohrig, companion animal practitioner, Chatham, Virginia; Ian Rubinoff, poultry medicine practitioner, Wakefield, Rhode Island; Nicki Wise, associate professor in large animal medicine and surgery, Grenada, West Indies; and Jennifer Wishnie, food animal industry practitioner, Seattle.

The 2015-2016 class addressed workplace wellness issues by creating a five-step wellness toolkit. The kit includes a short video stressing the profession’s increased risk of depression, suicide, and substance abuse; ideas for creating a culture of wellness; work-team discussion points; a game plan for work group “huddles”; and guidance on appointing a workplace wellness champion.

“We know the benefits of implementing wellness: improved morale, increased productivity, lower turnover,” Dr. Allison said. “More importantly, though, when we are well, we are better able to serve.”

The outgoing class has invited key leaders throughout the profession to make wellness a priority and sign the AVMA Future Leaders Wellness Pledge. Dr. Joe Kinnarney, 2015-2016 AVMA president, and Dr. Christine Jenkins, chief veterinary medical officer for Zoetis, on Aug. 6 became the first to sign the document, followed by other leaders attending the press conference. 

AVMA President (2015-2016) Joe Kinnarney signs the wellness pledge as Dr. Christine Jenkins of Zoetis looks on. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

The class also wrote a commentary on implementing wellness in the veterinary workplace. Dr. Allison is corresponding author of the commentary, which appears in this issue.

Dr. Corinn Hardy of the 2015- 2016 class shared her own wellness story at the CE session. Looking back, she saw that her addiction to living at a fast pace began in her final year of veterinary school. Later, in practice, she began eliminating lunch from her workday, consciously not hydrating, and reluctantly leaving work. “In veterinary terms, I had become that renal insufficiency cat,” she said.

Even after realizing she was living in a chronically dehydrated state, Dr. Hardy needed support to change her behavior, and she began to do so only after coming to the realization that change was necessary for the sake of the whole team. Another point: “By not being willing to talk about wellness issues, we are creating a culture of secrecy and shame,” she said.

Future Leader Dr. Will Sander walked attendees through the five steps in the toolkit, and Dr. Cyndie Courtney underscored the toolkit’s step of identifying a workplace wellness champion, who could be a veterinarian or a member of the support staff.

In closing, Dr. Courtney said, “We cannot wait to see the ripple effect of every single person in this room implementing wellness in your workplace.”