The AVMA continues to provide timely and relevant resources in its ongoing commitment to improve the personal and professional well-being of all veterinary professionals. Dr. Marci Kirk, assistant director for recent graduate initiatives, and Dr. Anna Reddish, assistant director for student initiatives, shared with us some insights on why this is such an important issue and what the AVMA is doing to address it.
How prevalent are well-being issues among veterinary professionals?
A 2014 mental health survey of U.S. veterinarians found that one-sixth of respondents had considered suicide at some point since graduation, and one in 10 experienced serious psychological distress. There have also been a number of high-profile suicides among veterinary professionals. This has prompted the profession to take steps to get to the heart of the issue.
Is this problem limited to veterinarians?
While the study referenced above was specific to veterinarians, they are certainly not the only veterinary professionals who have experienced wellness issues. All members of the veterinary team, as well as veterinary students, are exposed to high levels of stress and can benefit from learning strategies to take control of their well-being.
Are there well-being resources available specifically for veterinarians and veterinary team members?
The AVMA maintains a broad range of wellness resources at avma.org/wellness, addressing a variety of topics that are important to personal well-being for veterinary team members. These include stress management, compassion fatigue, workplace well-being, physical health and financial health. There also are resources that help guide you through developing a self-care plan and finding the right work-life balance.
Well-being is definitely not a one-size-fits-all issue, and everyone must craft their own plan that best meets their needs. This is why many of the AVMA’s resources take on different forms. There are printable documents, quizzes, videos, podcasts and links to additional websites.
Another useful resource is the University of Tennessee veterinary social work dedicated helpline at 1-865-755-8839. This will connect you with a mental health professional experienced in working with veterinarians and veterinary professionals. The helpline is available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is a wonderful place to start if you are just looking for some advice or help on your way toward better well-being.
Is there a suicide or crisis hotline available to help the veterinary profession?
Suicide is a growing concern across the country, and while veterinarians and other members of the veterinary team are at increased risk, national resources are available to anyone who may be in need of urgent help. One of the first resources is the suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273- 8255). You also can reach crisis counselors through an anonymous texting program simply by texting CONNECT to 741741. These resources are extremely important to have in your back pocket if you or someone you know may be experiencing suicidal thoughts.
What specific resources are available for workplace well-being initiatives?
The AVMA wellness resources at avma.org/wellness include information and plans to help develop a culture of well-being within the clinical practice setting. This is extremely important. When everyone becomes involved, and provides support to each other, it becomes easier for individuals to reach their goals.
What other wellness-related resources are available for AVMA members?
The AVMA and our insurance trusts, AVMA LIFE and AVMA PLIT, have joined together to offer gatekeeper suicide-prevention training to a limited number of AVMA and Student AVMA members on a first-come, first-served basis at no cost. Called QPR training (an acronym for “Question, Persuade, Refer”), this training teaches people without professional mental health backgrounds how to recognize the signs that someone may be considering suicide, intervene to start a dialogue with them, and guide the person to seek professional help. The training isn’t a substitute for professional assistance, but instead provides what can be a critical tool to save lives. There is still space available in this pilot program; interested AVMA and SAVMA members can sign up at avma.org/QPR.
The AVMA also has started a new LinkedIn group where AVMA and SAVMA members can connect to discuss well-being issues and share resources. The AVMA Veterinary Wellness & Well-being Community also includes experts from the mental health profession, who provide advice and ideas to help veterinarians improve our mental well-being. The group connects colleagues with similar concerns and provides a place for conversation, personal support and sharing of resources.
The AVMA also offers resources that help our members combat cyberbullying and take charge of their online reputations. Our Online Reputation Management primer includes best practices, reputation monitoring advice, and tools to help veterinarians respond to online criticism and cyberbullying. The AVMA also has teamed with Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., to provide a cyberbullying hotline for AVMA members who are being cyberbullied and need immediate help. This service provides 30 minutes of actionable crisis consultation at no charge to AVMA members – enough to stem the tide of attack in most cases. In cases where additional consultation or followup is needed, AVMA members receive significantly discounted rates. We’ve also added a new reputation monitoring service, DVM Reputation Guard, as part of the AVMA Advantage member benefits program. This subscription service tracks, analyzes and notifies participants of reputation threats before they become overwhelming, and then helps the participants respond.
Will AVMA Convention 2017 include topics that address veterinary wellness?
Yes. Several sessions at AVMA Convention 2017 will highlight the importance of well-being. The topics range from “How to Be Happy in Veterinary Medicine” to “Martyrdom and More: 7 Horrible Habits That Make You Miserable”. All of the wellness-related continuing education topics will be found under the Professional Development track.
Are there specific wellness initiatives to help veterinary students?
Yes. In addition to the resources mentioned above, AVMA staff also help support the Student AVMA wellness committee that was formed last March. It serves to promote physical, mental, and emotional wellness at veterinary schools, and is working to provide timely and relevant resources to students. The committee also provides funding for students to develop wellness events at their school.
SAVMA Symposium 2017, which just ended, featured a day of programming focused on well-being and diversity. It included roundtable conversations with a variety of well-being experts, where students had honest discussions about making a plan to tackle their well-being.
With well-being such an important issue right now, are any efforts being made to collaborate across the industry?
Yes. A Wellness Steering Committee was formed after the AVMA’s wellness roundtable last March. This committee includes representatives from across the profession and is working to expand online wellness resources vetted by appropriate professionals. The panel also is researching and advocating for state laws that protect veterinarians who seek wellness assistance. While the national hotlines are excellent resources, the committee also has undertaken research to determine if it is feasible to offer a hotline that is specific to veterinary professionals.