WSAVA publishes global guidelines for professional wellness

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) published its much anticipated Global Guidelines on Professional Wellness early this year. They were posted online in January in the Journal of Small Animal Practice following a global survey to define the extent of mental health challenges facing the global veterinary community.

The results indicated that mental health challenges, including stress and diminished wellbeing, affect large portions of the global veterinary family, and not only individuals, but also entire veterinary teams. The findings also indicated that the most seriously affected appear to be women, younger professionals, and veterinary technicians. The survey was conducted by WSAVA’s Professional Wellness Group, which was formed to improve the health and well-being of veterinarians and their teams.

“Numerous studies, including a survey of WSAVA members in 2018, confirm that that the veterinary profession is challenged by problems with staff retention and low morale as a result of factors including burnout, stress and compassion fatigue,” said Dr. Nienke Endenburg, co-chair of the WSAVA’s Professional Wellness Group.

Two veterinarians posing together
The veterinary profession has become a significant focus for mental health research because of the incidence of psychological challenges. Mental health is a spectrum, and a person can move in either direction along it. It is influenced by a combination of personal and environmental factors.

Recognizing that stress and compassion fatigue, along with a demanding workplace environment are negatively affecting the mental and physical health of veterinarians, the Global Guidelines on Professional Wellness were launched during the WSAVA World Congress 2023, held September 27-29, 2023, in Lisbon, Portugal.

“Our global guidelines offer an evidence-based overview of the elements that contribute to the crisis around health and wellbeing in the companion animal veterinary sector,” Dr. Endenburg said. “They explore, for instance, how the mental health of individuals is impacted by genetic traits, psychological and biological factors and previous life experiences. They were created to form an evidence-based, accessible set of tools and other resources to support veterinary wellness, which embrace the differing regional, economic, and cultural needs of WSAVA members.”

These guidelines are just one of a series of new and updated peer-reviewed global guidelines created by experts on WSAVA’s committees to highlight best practices and set minimum standards in key areas of veterinary practice.

The WSAVA wellbeing guidelines aim to:

  • Support the wellbeing and wellness of individual, team, and association members of the global veterinary community.
  • Increase awareness of mental health and its importance within the global veterinary community.
  • Identify and assist with the implementation of appropriate remedies and programs to improve mental health in the global veterinary community.

Veterinary medicine is full of potential stressors that can hinder wellness, including factors in the environment and social interactions. Financial concerns, client conflict in the workplace, heavy workload, and ethical challenges are just a few of the stressors the guidelines identify.

Chart: Mental health continuum
(Image courtesy of World Small Animal Veterinary Association/Journal of Small Animal Practice)

Wellbeing solutions and resources for veterinary professionals, including mentoring programs, workplace enhancement programs, and wellness support and intervention programs are included in the guidelines for those seeking assistance managing their mental and physical health.

“We then look towards solutions, highlighting resources already available for veterinary leaders, team members, and students. We hope that by sharing existing programs, tools and experiences through our guidelines, we will help to disseminate the latest thinking in this area more widely among our members and, in so doing, support the implementation of appropriate remedies and programs to improve mental health within the veterinary community globally,” Dr. Endenburg explained.

Each chapter of the guidelines includes a checklist of questions as a reminder to individuals or teams to enhance their wellness strategies.

“All parts of the veterinary profession–the veterinary education sector, professional associations, academic institutions and veterinary businesses–have a role to play in improving general levels of wellbeing,” stated the authors of the guidelines.


WSAVA professional wellness group top tips

Happiness or wellbeing

  • Investigate self-awareness resources and become familiar with your core strengths.
  • Enjoy your job–develop your role into areas that motivate you and that you excel at.
  • Cultivate hobbies–activities that completely engage your mind.
  • Show gratitude as often as possible. Tell your team how much you appreciate them or something they have done for you.

Personal approaches to improve wellness

  • Talk to someone you trust and discuss your fears and hopes as to how you would like things to be.
  • Overcome negative self-talk by replacing it with positive things drawn from the strategies above.
  • Reduce your workload–the ideal workload should keep you interested, challenged, entertained, and busy but not overwhelmed.
  • If you feel you are not improving, seek professional help.

Organizational approach to improve staff wellness

  • Teach your staff to recognize the signs of stress and effective ways of mitigating stress.
  • Provide support or mentorship and opportunities for your team to discuss cases and difficult client interactions. Schedule regular check-ins as a safe space for open discussions.
  • Encourage professional growth–regularly discuss opportunities for professional development, taking on different roles within the workplace and becoming mentors with your team.
  • Promote a good work-life balance–encourage open discussions with your team about scheduling, workflow, flexibility, and community engagement.