In the veterinary profession, mental health has been a critical topic for years; 8 years have passed since the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 10 veterinarians have experienced “serious psychological distress” and 1 in 6 had contemplated suicide. That same year, Not One More Vet was founded to provide resources and support to the profession.
Today, the wellness discussion seems more pronounced than ever. In the face of heightened levels of burnout, devastating staffing shortages, serious misunderstanding and abuse from some clients, and student loan debts that skyrocket above those of previous generations, the professional community has taken long strides to name and identify what has become a profound crisis.
Many professional organizations aim to support their members by implementing health, wellness, and balance into their practices. The American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges notes wellbeing as a priority in its strategic plan, the American Veterinary Medical Association publishes frequent and thorough looks at wellness issues faced by veterinary professionals, and the wellness conversation is well underway in veterinary magazines, podcasts, websites, and on social media.
Wellness in veterinary medicine has to start at the beginning, however, and that would be at the student level.
The Veterinary Wellness Initiative, a student-founded-and-led organization at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, aims to build a healthy wellness culture at the first stage of the veterinary professional’s career.
“The goals we have for our club are to invite conversation about the topics that might seem sensitive or taboo at the moment,” says Melanie Chabin (DVM Class of 2024), co-president of the student organization. “We want to create a safe space for the current students, faculty, and staff to feel like they can ask the questions they need to and to feel that they are not alone with what they are dealing with.”
Chabin and co-president, Uzma Manzoor (DVM Class of 2024), coordinate events with speakers and hands-on activities for students, staff, and faculty at the College. Events include talks during which experts offer advice, healthy activities to help participants instill wellness habits in their daily lives, and opportunities to open dialogue about pressing issues.
Uzma Manzoor, DVM Class of 2024: Learn to prioritize yourself and advocate for your own wellness, even if you believe you don’t need to. Self-care is not selfish and should not be considered a luxury.
Melanie Chabin, DVM Class of 2024: You cannot expect to give the best care to your patients if you don’t care for yourself first. Please take the time to reset from work. Find hobbies, desires, and interests outside of your work setting, and see the improvement it makes in your everyday life.
“The goal of the Veterinary Wellness Initiative is to engage students in authentic dialogues regarding mental health, burnout, self-care, compassionate communication, and overall wellness,” explains Manzoor, who co-founded the organization in 2021 with Dr. Hilary Thompson (DVM Class of 2022). “We believe that the more we learn from each other, the more prepared we can be for our work environments. And this allows us to start thinking about our personal motivation to stay in the field and how we can go about prioritizing ourselves while staying true to our profession.”
The organization, which boasts 60 members at the College, has hosted several prominent speakers, including Dr. Melanie Bowden, whose highly watched TEDx Talk “What Being a Veterinarian Really Takes” illuminated the challenges faced by veterinary professionals to a wider audience. Bowden and other speakers have presented on topics, such as prioritizing self-care, mindfulness, health and fitness, overcoming perfectionism, compassionate communication, and more. The group also has supported Not One More Vet through fundraising and other activities and invites all members of the College to its events, regardless of whether they are members or not.
By providing helpful events to all, the Veterinary Wellness Initiative hopes to plant the seeds for a healthier culture in the future. “We strive to offer a foundational toolbox for our fellow classmates to take with them into their professional lives and, hopefully, help to mitigate the alarming statistics surrounding our veterinary professionals,” says Chabin.
Veterinary Wellness Initiative is mentored by Dr. Marie Hopfensperger, assistant professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. Learn more about the group at its public Instagram account, @msuvetwellness.