JAVMA News logo

January 15, 2020

Culture shift needed to enhance veterinary well-being

Summit explores individual, group efforts to achieve this shift, as well as suicide prevention
Published on
information-circle This article is more than 3 years old

Well-being isn’t just an individual effort—it takes a village. Workplaces can play a substantial role in promoting health and well-being by reducing barriers to emotional and physical health (see story).

In addition, a collaborative and inclusive approach is essential for promoting healthy work environments that welcome all members of the team—not just those within the majority group (see story). All individuals need to be accepted for who they are versus how well they fit in, said Jen Brandt, PhD, director of well-being and diversity initiatives at the AVMA.

“It’s up to teams, practices, and organizations to actively create space for individuals and groups who have traditionally been marginalized,” she said. “Creating inclusive environments requires intentional organizational commitment. It can no longer be the sole burden of the individual who has been marginalized to attempt to carve out a space where they can be accepted.”

Illustration: Raised hands

These were the central themes that came out of the 2019 Veterinary Wellbeing Summit, held Nov. 17-19 in Rosemont, Illinois. The event attracted 263 attendees, who heard from industry experts and colleagues how to make individual and organizational well-being an everyday part of their personal life and professional practice.

The event, now in its sixth year, was hosted by the AVMA, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and Zoetis, with additional support from Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Banfield Pet Hospital. The first four years of the well-being summits were aimed primarily at those who work in academic settings. For the 2018 and 2019 summits, the AVMA expanded the scope to include practitioners as well. The summit brings together veterinarians, veterinary students, educators, and mental health professionals to explore and identify individual, community, and systemic actions that can be taken to foster well-being and inclusivity in the workplace.

A number of sessions also focused on best practices in suicide prevention or post-vention, including a talk from Christine Moutier, MD, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

She mentioned that stigma reduction is a core component of any successful suicide prevention program, with a particular focus on vulnerable populations.

“You might be in the most enlightened school or practice, where you’re shedding stigma and talking about mental health, but when you become distressed, your perception changes,” Dr. Moutier said. “Whether it’s cognitive distortion or shame or fear or primal instinct of withdrawal, when we’re not feeling ourselves or are weakened in some way, we have to keep in mind that it’s OK to seek help.”

The summit builds on the AVMA’s Workplace Wellbeing Certificate Program, which comprises five modules that connect veterinary team members with critical resources for group and individual problem-solving focused on creating a culture of well-being.

Participants in the certificate program must complete the first module—“Creating a Culture of Wellbeing”—before moving on to the remaining modules, which may be completed in any order. Participants who complete all modules will earn an AVMA Workplace Wellbeing Certificate of Completion in addition to four continuing education credit hours. The certificate program is free to all AVMA and Student AVMA members; the cost for other veterinary professionals to register is $75. See the AVMA’s other well-being resources