By Katheryn L. Sullivan Kutil on January 04, 2018

Dr. Chandra Grabill, assistant dean for Student Wellness and Engagement at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, has been named chair for the Veterinary Mental Health Practitioners (VMHP) group. 

The VMHP was officially established by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) under the Academic Affairs Committee in June 2017. The VMHP includes all licensed mental health practitioners working within colleges of veterinary medicine. This core group is preparing veterinary students to graduate with competencies necessary to be healthy, successful professionals in veterinary medicine. The VMHP works with colleges of veterinary medicine and veterinary leadership to increase awareness of the personal, social, educational, mental health, and career needs of veterinary students.

Our goal is to focus on the needs of the students

Though Grabill is the chair of the group, she doesn’t lead alone—her colleagues, Stephanie Johnson, licensed clinical social worker from Louisiana State University, and Bethany Colaprete, education specialist from Washington State University, also support the VMHP’s work. After its official establishment this past summer, Grabill, Johnson, and Colaprete have been busy organizing the group, setting formalities, and determining an agenda for their next meeting in April 2018.

“Our goal is to focus on the needs of the students,” says Grabill. “By sharing resources, ideas, and insight, the VMHP group is enhancing and building wellness and support programs at colleges of veterinary medicine, developing best practices in veterinary counseling and wellness agendas within colleges, and providing counsel and expertise to veterinary leadership.”

Resource expansion is a priority for the VMHP. Priorities of the group were identified in an effort to help colleges of veterinary medicine determine how to best educate their students in practical, sustainable, and effective ways. “We help students address how to handle educational and professional situations that serve the patient, their owners, and themselves,” says Grabill. 

Educating veterinary medical students on self-care practices is a large part of the work that the VMHP group does. Research and anecdotal reports suggest that veterinarians experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health difficulties, including suicidality, at a higher rate than the general population and those in other health professions. “There’s an emphasis on teaching students to have an awareness to know when they’re getting burned out and developing self-care practices that are sustaining,” says Grabill.

The College is one of the first veterinary medical schools to employ mental health professionals. “The presence has been growing throughout the past 10 years,” says Grabill. According to Grabill, the VMHP and the College are looking forward to further connecting and sharing experiences with the growing population of mental health professionals in the veterinary medical education community. “The VMHP wants to be able to educate new, old, and changing mental health programs at veterinary medical institutions,” says Grabill.

Educational programming through wellness-focused workshops and programs, course development, and crisis management and therapy are examples of the areas of expertise that the VMHP shares within its team and the veterinary medical education community. “We want to teach students how to implement self-care and wellness practices as students so that when they’re practicing professionally, they have those skills and models to reference,” says Grabill. “Helping them figure out what they need to be really good veterinary medical students and professionals is what we do.”