Momentum keeps building for well-being initiatives

Published on January 04, 2017
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Perhaps just as important as the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges’ Veterinary Health and Wellness Summit, Nov. 4-6, 2016, at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, were meetings that took place before and after the event.

Prior to the summit, the Veterinary Mental Health Profes­sionals Group got together. The group comprises about two dozen members who deal with veterinarian well-being, most of whom are based at veterinary colleges, and had its first meeting this past June. These individuals have come together to provide a stronger voice and relevant expertise to help inform decisions being made by veterinary colleges and the profession.

Kathleen Ruby, PhD, a licensed professional counselor at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine and a leader of the group, said, “We find veterinarians jumping into the field to do wellness talks, which is wonderful, but it dawned on us that no one knew we were the cardholders of a lot of information because we were so scattered. ... Hopefully we can offer support, so as programs come out, we can say whether we think they are the best uses of time and money. Offerings and programs may sound good, but they may not work, based on how veterinarians and schools operate.”

Members have formed working groups looking at developing a comprehensive list of veterinary mental health professionals and their job responsibilities, analyzing research needs, and developing best practices for wellness programs and therapy options at veterinary colleges. The group’s hope is to become a committee within the AAVMC.

In addition, the Veterinary Wellness Steering Committee gathered at the conclusion of the summit. The committee formed following the AVMA Wellness Roundtable that took place in March 2016. It has since established the Veterinary Wellness and Well-being Coalition, whose mission is to focus united efforts to advance the well-being of all veterinary professionals. Already, it has four projects underway with assigned working groups.

The first action underway by the coalition is to create a road map for access to resources that veterinary professionals need, to assist their pursuit for information and support. As part of this, this project’s working group, which includes a few mental health professionals, will assess wellness resources currently available. Members will also look at state laws regarding the impact on wellness-related issues and then advocate for improvement in any states where there are barriers for seeking help. Yet to be determined is where these resources will be housed.

Plus, this working group will look at the potential for collaboration with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in the U.K. and emulating its Mind Matters Initiative. Launched in December 2014, the initiative seeks to increase the accessibility and acceptance of support, encouraging a culture that is better equipped to talk and deal with stress and related mental health issues, and, ultimately, helping to reduce such triggers within the profession. Mind Matters is supported by a task force comprising eight veterinary organizations that represent students, schools, veterinarians, veterinary nurses, and practice managers in the U.K.

Its main activities are research, a communications program to increase awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues, financial and other support for existing services such as the Vet Helpline and Veterinary Surgeons’ Health Support Programme, training and guidance for those who may be working or living with someone who needs assistance, and identifying aspects of the profession’s structure and activities—from veterinary education to retirement—that exacerbate stress and mental health problems and consider how they may be addressed.

The coalition’s second project is to look into creating a helpline or other member assistance programs to develop a sustainable model for 24/7 assistance, accessible by veterinary professionals. Right now, this working group is researching the cost and feasibility of providing these programs on a national level.

The third project involves developing model language for implementing effective and barrier-free peer assistance programs. This will require legal research into wellness and peer assistance programs across all states in addition to research into state laws, regulations, and policies relating to confidentiality issues. Initial research was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016, with continued verification to occur throughout this year.

And finally, the fourth working group’s project is to assess existing continuing education opportunities. The group also plans to develop a working list of offerings that state and national organizations can access for wellness programming.

Further updates will be distributed when available or after the next meeting of the Veterinary Wellness Steering Committee, in March during the Western Veterinary Conference. The Veterinary Mental Health Profes­sionals Group plans to meet early this summer.  

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