In this blog RCVS Senior Vice-President and Chair of the Mind Matters Initiative Dr Kate Richards MRCVS writes about how best to conquer the Winter Blues.
For some the phrase ‘Winter Blues’ may conjure up memories of Dr Feelgood and The Animals, for others it describes their feelings at this time of year.
It’s important to acknowledge it is perfectly normal to feel a bit down just now with the lack of sunlight, chill and post-festive slump. This combination can leave us low, tired and sapped of energy and motivation.
This year we have another stress due to financial challenges and uncertainty for the year ahead as well as professional pressures arising from pandemic pet purchases, the lingering impact of Covid and the workforce challenges across the sector.
However, there are a variety of things you can do to help yourself, and it is something the Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) is promoting to all members of the veterinary team. Have a look at our Working Through Winter webpage to find out more.
Sustaining our emotional and mental health enables us to manage what life throws at us, both personally and professionally, and helps prevent anxiety and depression. The work of the MMI extends to veterinary students as it is vital to embed this awareness and knowledge of resources in our undergraduates.
The MMI team visited each of the veterinary schools in Freshers /Welcome Week to talk about the resources available through MMI and answer questions about the project. At the school I visited, I gave the MMI talk on a Sunday afternoon, followed by final years telling the group about the various societies they could join. ‘I wish I’d known about Mind Matters when I was in first year,’ a final year student whispered to me afterwards.
Launching this year are a number of MMI courses and webinars on Sustaining Emotional Health, Psychological Safety and Civility Training and Mental Health First Aid with newly developed sessions on Rural Mental Health First Aid coming soon. You can find out more about the Mind Matters training programme on our dedicated webpage.
Remember, these resources are available to all the veterinary team, including vet nurses and students. Please have a browse through the resources which include a Neurodiversity Hub, webinars and videos from research symposia.
Over to You
It does not have to be a webinar, a course, a conference or a book, little things can make a big difference. Take one step at a time to keep it manageable for you.
Being at a low ebb in winter is perfectly natural and accepting this is helpful.
Social interactions help us feel connected and supported.
Feel fresh air on your skin, get outside for even a walk around the block, car park, field. I find this really helps me if I can get outside first thing.
Eat what makes you feel good. A healthy balanced diet will increase mood, energy and motivation.
Accepting that shift work happens, think about sleep hygiene. Is there more you can do to help a better night’s sleep?
Focus on the positive, being grateful and doing something for someone else can be incredibly powerful.
Interested in Mental Health Research?
If so, MMI is now accepting applications for the Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grants are now open for the fifth year running. The Grant was founded in 2019, in memory of RCVS Council member Sarah Brown who passed away in 2017, and this year we will once more be awarding a £20,000 grant to those who are conducting all important research into veterinary mental health and wellbeing.
https://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/kate-richards.jpg300299MMI Press Officehttps://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/mm-sphere-logo.pngMMI Press Office2023-02-13 16:15:462023-02-13 16:15:51Dealing with those Winter Blues
When I first joined the RCVS as the Mind Matters Initiative Officer in June 2021, I, like many others found myself thrust into a new job and a new industry in a primarily virtual world.
The pandemic was still rife and finding that all important connection was more important than ever before. People had slowly started going back into workplaces, but everything was still very unpredictable. Everyone still had to be hugely cautious and making any in person connections was somewhat challenging.
That’s why I was delighted when I first heard about the Mind Matters Campfire Chats, which took off in January 2021 as a way of bringing the veterinary community together to speak about important topics that mattered most to them. I was even more excited (if not somewhat nervous as an industry newbie!) to hear that as part of my role I would be heading them up. I would be able to choose the content, the panellists and coordinate the whole of the upcoming series. We have now run a total of four Campfire Chat series and have had nearly 20 chats!
The great thing about the Campfire Chats, is that I can honestly say I have left every single chat feeling more positive than I did when joining the call. All the panellists and attendees have been so open and honest that each and every chat has become a really positive shared experience of learning and growing together.
Mental health has always been something extremely close to my heart, and whilst there are undoubtedly some wellbeing challenges that are more specific to the veterinary professions, mental wellbeing is something that unites us all. No matter who we are, where we’re from, or which sector we work in, we must all learn to look after our mental wellbeing. No wellbeing challenge is unique to one specific person or one specific profession.
This is why we were really eager to have a wide range of voices included in these conversations, from both within and outside of the veterinary world. It is all too easy for us to make assumptions about the thoughts, feelings and opinions of others, which is why it is so important to gain a range of perspectives on a number of different issues.
None of our Campfire Chats are ever recorded as we like to keep them as intimate as possible – people often feel less comfortable opening up if they know they are being recorded. We want the conversations to be authentic – as if we really are all sat round a real campfire having a genuine chat. The information shared is often really useful as we regularly invite experts to come and share their knowledge on a specific topic, but more often than not it’s just as interesting to see how people from different backgrounds perceive things in different ways. Varying human perspectives and experiences are fascinating and often provide value beyond knowledge alone. Learning to view things from others’ perspectives can teach us invaluable lessons.
Over the past year and a half, we have run sessions on a huge variety of topics, some summaries for which can be viewed on our Campfire Chats resource page. No matter what the topic, there are always valuable messages to take away from every chat. Some of my favourite takeaways from our panellists are as follows:
“Comparison is the thief of joy – there is no hierarchy when it comes to creativity so do whatever you want to do for you. Not for anyone else. It’s about the process and doing something that you find meaningful. Keep going until you find something that works for you.” – The Joy of Creativity
“Being anxious, fearful, or worried is never a good thing, but it means you care. Caring makes you a bigger part of the solution than those who remain disinterested.” – Combatting Climate Change Anxiety
“When we talk about differences amongst individuals, the focus is often on the challenges people face and the specific label which marks them as different. Not only is this degrading, but completely misses the point about how we as humans relate to one another.
If we turn the tables, there are so many positives to be found in difference. For example, those living with a disability are hugely resourceful and fantastic problem solvers because of the challenges they have had to learn to navigate in order to lead their lives.” – Celebrating Diversity
“When you feel like you’re lacking confidence and everyone else appears self-assured, remember that everyone is feeling the same inside. Appearing confident and feeling confident are not the same thing.” – Navigating Change
Despite being online, there is something distinctly different about the MMI Campfire Chats – they’re not just there to provide information but, as the above quotes show, to appeal to people on a real human level. Having recently moved into the RCVS communications team, I am no longer involved in organising the chats but still attend to take notes to share after the events. I even ended up chairing a couple of the sessions which is something I had never done before! I couldn’t imagine a more welcoming or rewarding environment in which to host an event for the first time. I was initially worried that, as a junior member of staff, I wouldn’t be senior enough to lead, but that’s part of what makes the campfire chats so brilliant – they’re for everyone as human beings, and that comes before any job title or self-imposed idea of status.
To come full circle, the Campfire Chats are all about pausing to share, learn, and grow together. This is something that is all too often forgotten in our busy hectic lives, but something that is essential in forging a collective sense of wellbeing. When we stop and listen for a while, it gives us the space to realise that we are all more similar than we might think. The Campfire Chats have proven that even when we haven’t been able to be together physically, we can always find common ground. Meaningful connection is a fundamental part of being human and speaking authentically about topics which impact each and every one of us, is something that will always unite us.
https://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/abi-hanson.jpg400400Abi Hansonhttps://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/mm-sphere-logo.pngAbi Hanson2022-12-14 17:29:102023-02-13 16:17:33My Mind Matters Campfire Chats Reflections
This week (9 – 15 May) marks the UK’s Mental Health Awareness Week – an annual opportunity for us all to come together to talk about mental health and to help break down the stigma surrounding it.
The theme for this year’s Awareness Week is loneliness.
Loneliness impacts many of us at one time or another in our lives and is a key driver of poor mental health. It affects millions of people in the UK every year and, according to The Mental Health Foundation’s Pandemic research, levels of loneliness have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
It is easy to confuse being alone with loneliness. You can choose to be alone and be very happy in your own company. You can also be surrounded by lots of people and feel lonely. Loneliness is personal and it is important to understand that people’s experiences will differ. Mental health charity, Mind, describes it as ‘the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met.’
So this Mental Health Awareness Week, we are focussing on the importance of connection and what we can do to help ourselves and others to overcome feelings of loneliness.
As part of this, we’ve been asking our team and people from across the professions about what connection means to them in our ‘Let’s Get Connected’ blog series. We will be adding new entries to this throughout the week so do keep an eye out!
https://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/mental-health-awareness-week-2022-400x400-1.png400400MMI Press Officehttps://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/mm-sphere-logo.pngMMI Press Office2022-05-10 16:20:532022-05-12 15:32:34Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 blog series…Let’s Get Connected!
Macauly Gatenby is a third-year SVN who is serving on the Mind Matters Taskforce as the British Veterinary Nursing Association’s student representative. He has a strong passion for all aspects of mental health and wellbeing and hopes to use this opportunity to support and give a voice to all SVNs and RVNs.
Towards the end of 2021 Mind Matters Initiative held a Student Veterinary Nurses Wellbeing Discussion Forum. MMI has recently published the highlights and key outcomes following this event. Firstly, I wanted to highlight how empowering the Mind Matters Initiative Student Symposium was. I walked away feeling inspired and motivated knowing others were in the same situation and mindset as myself. I strongly recommend to anyone who is able to find the time to attend any of the events hosted by MMI, as you will certainly walk away with a stronger sense of community and obtain fundamental tools to equip you both professionally and personally.
What really resonated with me is the mindset of taking an hour out of your day to celebrate all the small victories. In practice this can be as simple as taking your break on time, something so insignificant in our day that should be celebrated as a big success, and let’s not shy away from our own individual achievements regardless of what they may be. I feel this mindset could and should have a ripple effect throughout our industry.
We are still going through tough times socio-economically. I feel that we need to own the current situation as our new temporary permanent, otherwise we will let the inevitable negativity and burnout consume us, meaning when we do take back control we can pull together to permeate positivity throughout all aspects of our lives. I know, I eye-rolled at that sentence too, but I feel it is important to think like this when experiencing difficulties, especially during an unusual situation such as our shared experience of the pandemic, otherwise we will be stuck in an endless cycle of negativity which will take a toll beyond our professional lives. And it is important to remind ourselves as students, but also as registered veterinary nurses, that we are extremely valuable and more than competent enough to continue making positive, essential differences in our industry. However, this requires us to make or highlight the necessity of change.
I say this in the most positive way to everyone, including myself, because as a student I feel it is increasingly important not to succumb to self-doubt, because we are more than capable individuals who are the future of the profession. And this is something that I am only beginning to learn myself. By attending this event I have developed such a sense of pride and hopefulness by being surrounded by like-minded and dedicated individuals who have allowed themselves the opportunity to show the compassion and care amongst one another. Sadly we sometimes need reminding of this in our industry.
What was apparent, and made abundantly clear, is that sometimes students face the brunt of many issues, and sometimes we can all be made to feel like spare cogs in the machine, especially whilst juggling all our demands such as working, studying, socialising whilst trying to somehow fit in some level of self-care. However, now more than ever, we should feel the sense of being an important component of the machine, after all, we have the opportunity to absorb and spearhead powerful changes not only in individual practices but across the profession and industry. So I urge all students to take 20 minutes in your day to highlight all your victories and to remember them with pride, because this might just be the reminder of why we chose this profession and why our struggles throughout studying will be worthwhile.
https://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/macauly-gatenby.jpg400400MMI Press Officehttps://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/mm-sphere-logo.pngMMI Press Office2022-01-25 16:40:012022-03-18 15:53:44A student vet nurse’s reflections on the recent wellbeing forum
We often talk about career routes and every time it brings a smile to my face imagining what younger Lacey would think if she could see me now.
I’d been a good student in school, worked hard and got on well with everyone often driving projects; yet growing up in the Valleys I’d been told “not to aim too high”. Reflecting now fills me with pride and frustration in equal measure. Why should little girls be expected not to dream? To me, dreams were merely plans we had yet to figure out a roadmap for.
I subsequently spent the following years feeling like a square peg in a round hole. Not quite fitting the ideals of what career growth should look like and often feeling there were no seats at the table. What if I were too bold, too curious, too passionate and too ambitious? What if the careers advisors had been right?
The years that followed were full of grit. More rollercoaster than mono-rail. I pinballed around the system via 3 different nursing colleges finally obtaining my precious green uniform and wearing it with pride. I WAS a Registered Veterinary Nurse. Everything I had dreamed of, and yet when I got there I realised that to me I had only scratched the surface. I wanted to experience all corners of the profession and to explore the potentials once again of asking “what if”. I enjoyed meeting and joining new teams, adored teaching and mentoring, the range of clinical settings. The community. Instead of asking for seats at tables, I began to ask why not?
Why can’t RVN’s define their own roadmaps and decide where and how they want to get there? In truth, I realised the option was there all along, but we didn’t talk about squiggly careers. As I began to sit in boardrooms full of brilliant people, I realised they were exactly that. People. Each with their own road maps, some destination undefined. Each measuring success in different ways and that is absolutely ok. Better than ok, it should be championed.
RVNs have such a wealth of transferrable skills that it’s time to delve into how we can use them and utilise them for the better and so, in a career pivot, here I am. Working for the RCVS in a more formal role that young Lacey would never have imagined. In a role that meets my values and marries up my passion of Veterinary medicine and nursing with interest of improving mental wellness and care of the profession that nurtured me as I grew. One that challenges the image of how socio-economic diversity should limit how we approach that glass ceiling and smashes through preconceived ideas of what neurodiversity limits.
I am Lacey Pitcher. I am not a square peg in a round hole.
I am a round peg in a square hole with room to grow. Boundaries undefined. Potential uncapped. Squiggly career and destination unknown. I am proud to say young Lacey would now grin, but I am even more excited to explore the possibilities of what could be if curious minds were nurtured and empowered to drag their own seat to the table. Better still, to be invited as equals. A table where we may ask, why not?
Back in May 2021, MMI launched a photo competition on the theme of the links between the natural world, and our mental health and wellbeing. Retired veterinary surgeon Ralph Slaughter was crowned the winner for his collection of photographs called ‘Why I Am a Gardener’ in which he highlighted some of his proudest horticultural achievements and the impact that gardening has on his physical and mental health.
We received so many fantastic entries and would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who entered and shared their personal nature and wellbeing stories with us. They were truly inspiring, and we are delighted to be sharing some more entries with you. Here are our runners up:
Abi Hanson started working as the Mind Matters Initiative Officer in June 2021. She graduated from The University of Bristol in 2018 with a 2:1 in French and Italian before taking a year out to see the world. In 2019, she landed an internship at a public relations agency and later moved on to work in international corporate events. Mental health, animal welfare and conservation have always been close to Abi’s heart and, before landing her role at the RCVS, she started writing her own blog to encourage others to be more open about their experiences with mental health. Abi is delighted to be working as a part of the Mind Matters team and is determined to use her combined passion for people, animals and wellbeing to drive positive change within the veterinary profession.
On Tuesday 6th July 2021, I had the privilege of attending the Courageous Conversations Conference run by the University of Surrey School of Veterinary Medicine in collaboration with the British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society (BVEDS). The conference was launched last year to provide a platform for students and colleagues championing equality and diversity within veterinary education. As the new Mind Matters Initiative Officer, I was keen to learn as much as possible about the challenges facing minority groups within the veterinary profession, and what is being done to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
The conference was opened by Issa Robson of BVEDS, who warmly welcomed each and every one of us. It was clear from the start that this was going to be a safe space free of judgment where everyone could feel comfortable speaking honestly and openly about their experiences. She introduced the programme which included topics such as Neurodiversity, Decolonising the curriculum, GRT (Gypsy, Roma, Traveller) Inclusivity in Veterinary Education, and student facilitated workshops for ADHD, Autism & Dyslexia. There were also interactive workshops run by British Chronic Illness Society (BCVIS) and British Veterinary LGBT+ (BVLGBT+).
Progress…one year on
After Issa’s welcome speech, attention then shifted to the panel, who shared just some of the fantastic work which had been achieved since last year’s Courageous Conversations Conference.
First to reflect was Kate Oliver from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) who helped create the Widening Participation (WP) Vet School Network after meeting likeminded professionals at last year’s conference. WP aims to make the veterinary world more accessible to students from underrepresented backgrounds who may not otherwise consider applying to vet school.
WP are currently running several successful projects, including a scholarship programme and summer school programme, which provides in depth courses for underrepresented groups on how to get into vet school. These programmes have proven to be highly successful, with almost 80% of recent participants reporting an increase in confidence in becoming a vet.
BVA good workplaces:
Next up was Daniela Dos Santos from the BVA who introduced us to the findings of the BVA Good Workplaces Report. This work was a joint venture from the BVA and VetFutures who recognised that people need to feel valued, accepted and have access to role models if they are likely to stay in the profession. Creating an inclusive, supportive working environment where people feel comfortable to be themselves is hugely important when it comes to staff retention.
The BVA are asking practices to commit to their Good Veterinary Workplaces Voluntary Code which aims to address the challenges encountered in veterinary workplaces. The code includes 64 practical recommendations for employers on how to create a more supportive working environment. There is also a workbook which employers and employees can look through together to see how they can work towards a becoming a better workplace.
Then it was over to Claire Hodgson from BVCIS who spoke about her work supporting those with chronic illnesses. The BVCIS is in the final stages of becoming a registered charity and has already done lots of amazing work to help those suffering with chronic illnesses feel more supported in the profession.
Over the past year, the BVCIS ran two community groups allowing likeminded people to come together to discuss the barriers facing those with chronic illness in the veterinary world. Key themes included feeling like an outsider, the inability to attend social events due to the assumption that everyone is able-bodied, the expectation and pressure of working long hours, and the need for greater understanding of what support is available to chronically ill students.
Claire also ran a panel session and workshop at this year’s Courageous Conversations Conference on how to navigate university, knowing your rights and what resources are available to you as a chronically ill student and how to apply for your first job.
Despite not having attended any of the workshops (these were more student-focussed), I attended two panel discussions which were thoroughly insightful. The first was ‘Neurodiversity and Disability: from class to clinic’, and the second the ‘BCVIS Chronic Illness and Disability Panel’. Both sessions were delivered by both colleagues and students. This was a particularly effective set-up as it allowed the audience to become fully engaged in the topics being discussed – everyone felt represented. The students were willing to speak out and give first-hand accounts of the difficulties they had experienced at university and the colleagues were there to listen and discuss ways in which to make vet student life more inclusive (many of the colleagues themselves had also had to overcome similar challenges whilst at university which made the whole event much more relatable). It was an open collaborative learning experience which was highly productive for everyone involved.
I personally found demystifying the disability assessment process and student disability allowance particularly useful. Having been diagnosed with ADHD myself during my final year of university, I could relate to how difficult it can be when it comes to the difficulties in knowing what support is available to you and how to access it. Then there’s the stigma…the voice in your head saying “what if people think I’m just trying to cheat?” “What if I just need to work harder and I’m not worthy of the extra support?” “How do I access support in the first place?” “What forms of support am I eligible for?” This can be stressful for anyone, let alone for those who are already vulnerable and slowly drowning in the immense workload of being a veterinary student! (It’s worth noting that I didn’t study veterinary, so I can only imagine how tough it must be for those with chronic illnesses to try to keep up with the physical demands of the training along with all the studying). The panel offered practical advice on how to access support and opened the floor to questions.
Across all discussions, there was one common theme that kept arising: the need to break down stigmas. Many students expressed they hadn’t previously wanted to seek support because they were afraid of being perceived as incapable. They therefore had no idea about the kind of resources they could access. As one student rightly pointed out, it ultimately all comes down to clear communication. People need to feel confident enough to communicate their needs and learn not to be ashamed of the things they can’t do, but rather celebrate the things they’re brilliant at. The profession needs to make it clear that they will be heard without judgement.
Life would be boring if we all acted in the same way, saw things in the same way and had the same ideas which is exactly why diversity should be celebrated. We cannot hope to advance the profession or society without it. We all have value, and all bring something different to the table. Courageous Conversations has provided the perfect launchpad for change. There were so many people involved in the conference from so many different backgrounds, but everyone was working towards the same goal. There is strength in being “different” and that should always be celebrated.
Final thoughts moving forward…
My main takeaway from my first ever veterinary event is that there is still a lot of work to be done to make the veterinary world a more inclusive, accessible and diverse place. However, so much more can be achieved when we work together and that’s exactly what is being done with the students, colleagues and organisations involved in Courageous Conversations. We have to support each other as change can’t be created alone.
As the Mind Matters Initiative Officer, I’m working more specifically on improving mental health in the profession, but that alone isn’t enough to make lasting positive change. It’s essential that we all gain a solid understanding of the interconnectedness and complexity of creating a happy, healthy and productive community. Mental health, physical health, diversity, and inclusivity may seem like separate entities, but we cannot hope to move forward unless we work together to abolish the stigma that being so-called “different” is bad…because “different” isn’t bad. It’s essential. “Different” drives positive change.
https://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/abi-hanson.jpg400400MMI Press Officehttps://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/mm-sphere-logo.pngMMI Press Office2021-07-23 16:09:122021-08-13 16:52:14Courageous Conversations Conference 2021 – personal reflections as the new MMI Officer
I’m Debbie and I’m a second year SVN from Bath. I’m the owner of two cats, one of whom was born without a functioning pituitary gland and so has multiple conditions including pituitary dwarfism. She keeps me very busy with lots of medication and vet trips. Her team of vets and nurses at Bath Vet Group are the best! I love all things feline and have just gained a distinction in the ISFM Certificate in Feline Nursing. I also love wild swimming and can often be found swimming in the local lake! I’m passionate about diversity in the veterinary profession and so felt it was important to write this blog post to raise awareness of how the profession can be more welcoming and supportive.
Being autistic in a neurotypical world presents a number of challenges. Veterinary practices can be very loud, bright and hectic places that come with their own challenges for autistic individuals who work within them or who are clients. With a few simple adjustments, practices can become more accessible for autistic colleagues and clients.
I am currently a second-year student veterinary nurse. I have already faced huge amounts of stigma and discrimination within the profession due to being autistic. My ability to become a veterinary nurse has been questioned a number of times, based solely on my diagnosis. I have come close to quitting many times due to this. The reality, however, is that I have excelled in the theory side of my training, and have now proven that, with some adjustments in place, I can excel in the practical elements of the profession too.
When I am in ‘nurse mode,’ I can do anything that any other nurse can do. I can communicate well with clients, work well under pressure, and give the best nursing possible to the animals in my care. This does come at a cost though. I find ‘masking’ mentally exhausting. I become hypersensitive to the noises around me, to the bright lights in the practice, and can become overwhelmed. This is where practices can step in and support me. Simple adjustments to my working day can really help and prevent me from burning out. Allowing me to have a break mid-way through the day to re-energise without any interaction with other people really helps. An understanding that, during my lunch break, I may want to sit in silence and not join in with social chit chat can be beneficial. This isn’t me being anti-social, but what I need to do to allow me to get through the day.
I struggle with changes to my routine and so letting me know about changes to practice policies or working hours in advance really helps me deal with these changes. I may also need to ask lots of questions in order to understand something new, especially when the instructions that I am given are vague or open to interpretation.
Being autistic can also be very useful in the veterinary profession. I can hyperfocus on what I am doing and will notice tiny changes that others may not notice. This is beneficial when monitoring an anaesthetic for example. I can retain huge amounts of factual information, such as anatomy and physiology, and I excel at maths (my first degree is in maths) and calculations, which is useful when dealing with drugs. I also cannot cope with being late for anything and so will always be reliable and on time.
As well as being a student veterinary nurse, I am also the owner of two cats, one of whom has to regularly visit her referral vet who is based in a busy hospital. My cats are my life and I want to do the absolute best I can for them. Vet visits however can be very stressful for both myself and them. Appointments often run late due to the nature of the job, and can seem rushed, with lots of information and instructions given to the client in a short amount of time. This can be overwhelming for an autistic client.
The practice that my cats attend is fantastic. They know that I am autistic and make adjustments for me. If the vet is running late, the receptionists will keep me updated regularly. If I started to struggle with sensory overload in the busy waiting room (pre-covid), they would let me wait in an empty consult room or in the car until the vet was ready. They also understand that I can struggle with lengthy verbal instructions and so they are more than happy for me to have an email conversation with them after the appointment to confirm what was said and for me to ask any questions that I have. They also understand that sometimes I find phone calls challenging, and so they let me book appointments and order medication by email. These simple adjustments make a huge difference to me and make appointments accessible.
Autistic individuals are diligent owners and skilful colleagues, and with the right understanding and support can be a real asset to a veterinary practice.
https://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/debbie-martin-svn.jpg400400MMI Press Officehttps://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/mm-sphere-logo.pngMMI Press Office2021-03-17 16:16:502021-06-22 10:03:19Autism and the veterinary professions
Charlotte Wood is a newly qualified Registered Veterinary Nurse who qualified with her degree from University Centre Sparsholt in Hampshire. She is a student council member on the British Veterinary Nursing Association’s (BVNA) council and is currently undertaking her BSc top-up degree. Charlotte enjoys spending time with her dog, cat, horse and family in her spare time.
On 21November 2020 VetKind hosted its third annual online wellbeing webinar event designed and created by the Association of Veterinary Students (AVS) and SkillsTree professional development, with support from the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative (MMI). It was a free virtual event for veterinary and veterinary nursing students in the UK and Ireland. On the day there were over 100 participants that attended VetKind.
VetKind is an interactive and student-led programme, looking at positive psychology and neuroscience and how this applies to being a student. They use evidence-based research and information to look at challenges that students face and provide strategies to students to try to cope with these challenges. This event comprised of lectures, as well as tasks and resources; some of which were provided prior to the event. A ‘take-home toolkit’ was also provided after the event, as well as access to the recordings of the sessions and lectures that took place during the event.
The whole event provided key information and guidance to students, whilst also keeping a fun and informal feeling. There was lots of chat from all attendees, who were involved and interactive with the discussions throughout.
This year there were three incredible speakers, Jenny Moffett, Jenny Lynden and Ru Clements, all of which provided with lectures throughout the morning, there were four lectures in total with these talks on: Building emotional agility, Finding your “yes” and “no” voice, Imposter syndrome: a coaching approach and Dealing with conflict.
The afternoon consisted of an interactive online VetKind Escape Room! These entailed students breaking out into small groups to tackle the escape rooms collectively, which enabled them to see if they could escape by working through tasks and exercises. Prior to attempting the escape room, the small groups got to know each other and explained their backgrounds – a great way of networking and getting to know your veterinary professional peers!
The ‘chatter’ throughout the event was lively and buzzing, with comments and ideas from veterinary students and veterinary nursing students combined. Common themes emerged which all students could resonate with and it was clear that many of them were feeling the same. Attendees continued to share their experiences and coping strategies throughout the day, focussing on how to cope with certain feelings and emotions; there was a real sense of community throughout the whole event. At the end of the day all attendees were asked to share the ideas, tips and practical strategies that have got them through 2020 so far. The idea voted as the ‘top tip’ by the AVS team was “Don’t waste valuable energy on people that don’t give you the same energy back”, which is something I am sure we can all relate to and take on board.
Looking ahead, a poll carried out during the event asked what topics students would like to hear from about from Mind Matters, which resulted in 68 of students asking for more about ‘managing balance in your life’. However other themes also included: resilience (44 votes), tools for positive reflection (40 votes) and mental health awareness (27 votes).
There was an abundant sense of support for each other and positivity throughout the day, even with the given circumstances that students are facing in these times. The event was thoroughly enjoyable throughout and from the post-event survey, 100% of participants would recommend VetKind to a friend or colleague. Personally, I could not recommend this event enough and I am very excited for the next VetKind event!
Charlotte Wood RVN, BVNA Representative
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Dr Kate Stephen is a behavioural scientist at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). In 2019 she was the recipient of the inaugural Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant to fund research into mental health in the farm animal veterinary sector with the aim of identifying how to better promote job satisfaction and break the cycle of negative thoughts and poor mental wellbeing identified amongst farm vets. Here she reports on some of her findings from the qualitative research she conducted with farm vets working in rural Scotland.
Just over a year ago, I could be found sitting in a quiet office in the north of Scotland, headphones on, recording telephone conversations with farm vets (with their consent). A year later, I still think about some of the people I spoke to and what they told me.
It was great to hear the ‘best bits of the job’ being described, such as the thrill of seeing a live calf after a complicated calving – which even vets of 40 years’ experience mentioned. It was clear that for many, being a vet was so much more than a job and being a farm vet was a lifestyle choice which provided a sense of purpose, identity and fitted with their preference for spending time outdoors. Some farm vets simply like farmers and love cows!
When your job is such a big part of what defines you and when positive outcomes can bring such joy, the impact of negative outcomes and the undermining effect of difficult times at work have the potential to leave vets vulnerable. Some vets described times when they sank into despair, were stripped bare of their confidence, or where the words and actions of others had squashed any joy they had felt about the job. For some, these were recollections of times past – what they then said about how they coped was inspirational.
How farm vets cope can vary between individuals. There is no silver bullet, more a range of actions and attitudes which they use to avoid or respond to low points. Some talked of light diversions such as songs to sing along to. Some talked more deeply, of their faith and/or their philosophy. Experience was highlighted as having a hugely beneficial effect. Others changed job, specialised, or diversified.
A dead calf is always going to be difficult to a farm vet who cares about their job. The inevitability of death and disease … and difficult farmers … means that coping mechanisms are necessary. And because of this, some of the more experienced vets were keen to encourage new or more recent graduates, not least in coping with negative outcomes, as illustrated by this quote: “When I first graduated I’d think, ‘it’s all my fault, because it’s me’ and it’s only since I’ve gained more experience … realising that these fatalist irrational thoughts are getting me nowhere, and it’s exhausting”.
Clearly, vets of all ages and stages are likely to have times when they struggle. It is normal and to be expected. From personal experience, one vet advised, “at some point you do have to take responsibility for your own mental health, and that’s a way of empowering yourself, and helping yourself a little bit.” There was a consensus about the first step in this process – talking to someone. Whether a family member, friend, work colleague, or a helpline.
One vet emphasised, “It’s not an admission of failure to talk to someone else. You can always find someone, even if you have to go to someone like Vetlife. It’s a failure not to.”
I felt very privileged that so many farm vets talked to me about how they felt when they were struggling … and inspired by the ways they coped. Much of what they said is available on www.howfarmvetscope.co.uk.
For me, the take home message from our study is that throughout the highs and lows of practice as a farm vet and despite the isolation that can come with the job, you are not alone. There are other farm vets out there who know what life is like for you. hey’d like you to talk to them about it.
https://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/kate-stephen.png450450MMI Press Officehttps://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/mm-sphere-logo.pngMMI Press Office2021-01-28 10:07:372021-03-24 17:53:36Listening and learning: an update on the SRUC’s farm vet wellbeing project
Half a year, or so, has passed since I wrote part one of this blog for MMI. It’s safe to say that sunny July feels like a distant memory! But within the whirlwind of a year that 2020 has been, I wrote my dissertation focussing on the importance of exercise for veterinary students’ mental wellbeing. The study was kindly supported by MMI, without whom it would not have been possible to conduct.
For those reading now who were enjoying a lockdown-free(?) summer when the first blog was published, then here is a little summary of what our project at the University of Nottingham consisted of:
We invited first year, female vet students, who self-identified as exercising less than the NHS minimum physical activity guidelines for adults, to participate in the study. We offered the students a free, eight-week exercise programme including three sessions of activity per week.
The three sessions included:
A circuits session led by the same instructor weekly.
An intro to sports session led by individuals from already established sport societies on Sutton Bonington campus (ie netball, badminton, football). The sport changed weekly.
A stretch/ reflect session led by myself and another student.
We had 12 participants and each were given a questionnaire at three stages during the programme. Eleven participants fully completed all three questionnaires. We were only forced to cancel two sessions and a life coaching session was offered too.
Questionnaire 1 (before the programme) consisted of:
14 point Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (c) University of Warwick, 2006, all rights reserved.
Open response questions
5-point Likert Scale Survey focussed on students’ motivations for participation in the programme
Questionnaire 3 (at the end) consisted of:
14 point Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (c) University of Warwick, 2006, all rights reserved.
Open response questions
5-point Likert Scale Surveys focussed on:
Students’ motivations for participation in the programme
Whether the programme met the expectations the students had
The impact of the programme on the students
A final wellbeing questionnaire was used six months after the programme, but this was not included in my dissertation due to time.
I represented the quantitative data graphically, and measured the difference in individual’s WEMWBS* scores from the start to the end of the project. I thematically analysed the open response questions and made a thematic map to represent the findings (see Figure 1).
I’d like to highlight the main findings from the study and have chosen three points to focus on in this blog.
1. Exercise and mental wellbeing are positively linked
Ok… so this statement is not revolutionary and I doubt it will come as a surprise to anyone. However, what this programme reiterated is that exercise is beneficial for mental wellbeing. The majority of the participants’ individual wellbeing scores increased (see Table 1) and five increased unequivocally (in accordance with the WEMWBS guide). The 14 point WEMWBS scores can range from 14 to 70 (higher score = better wellbeing).
We cannot dismiss the fact that changes in wellbeing will have been affected by other factors too. As made clear by some of the open response questions, factors such as academic stress, housing issues and other stresses all contributed to increases or decreases in some participant’s mental wellbeing. Yet many commented on how the exercise programme directly impacted their mental wellbeing positively, supporting the positive changes in WEMWBS scores.
Exercise can come in many forms, as illustrated by our programme. Whether it be fully fledged team sport, individual or group exercise, stretching and yoga, a simple walk or even in a consult room, as suggested by the VetFit team! And that it the great thing about it. There are many options (in normal times) to explore exercise and what suits you best.
The second point is that community was a very important factor for the participants, and it was clear that the exercise programme provided a community for them in which they felt comfortable. Many participants felt as much of an obligation to their peers as they did themselves to complete the programme, demonstrating the importance of the community created.
It is ironic that I’m writing this at a time when community, in its physical form, is very much restricted. However, in the future I believe that it is incredibly important that maximum effort is continued to make the profession a supportive community for all. Initially, as a first-year vet student, due to an array of stresses from academic to transitional, not everyone lands on their feet with a great sense of community. Although it may happen for some, we should continue to focus on how community can play such a vital role in students’ mental wellbeing. Exercise groups are a great way to aid this. However community is not limited to sports teams, classes, running buddies and so on. Any community within the profession or at universities can help the wellbeing of students, even virtual communities too.
One definition of community from the Oxford Dictionary is:
“The condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.”
For me, this definition encapsulates the notion that anything and everything can lead to a community, all that is required is people with commonalities. And that is where the sense of community prevailed in this programme; 12 veterinary students who had a common interest in wanting to participate in an exercise programme and explore how it could impact them.
It is admittedly vague putting the onus on ‘community’ to help achieve better wellbeing, but I believe it is something that should be kept in the back of everyone’s mind as we move forward.
Finally, I wanted to touch on the S word: stress. It is a word bandied about frequently within the profession. In a range of ways it was often referred to by our participants or inferred from their responses when they were asked to comment on their perceived state of wellbeing. Finding a healthy work-life balance, even at such an early stage of a veterinary career, is evidently hard and although this isn’t a new issue, I believe it’s still important to highlight.
The responses from all the questionnaires were submitted before Covid dominated our lives, although it was on the horizon. Therefore, the stresses mentioned do not represent the exacerbated stress reported due to the pandemic. However, on the flipside, despite the many negative effects of the pandemic, there is reason to believe that it may have made us more in-tune with our mental health and what is important to us too. So, we may see a general change in behaviour with regards to wellbeing and mental health on the other side of Covid – but that is purely a hope of mine!!
As a profession we must continue to acknowledge common stresses and continue further research into ways of coping with them. Many participants commented on how the exercise programme gave them structure and a means to combat some of those stresses, which was encouraging to see.
Overall, hopefully my research and two blogs have reiterated the power exercise has to benefit our mental wellbeing. Additionally, I hope they have illustrated the power of community too and as we progress through to the light at the end of the Covid-tunnel, both exercise and community can be of paramount importance for the veterinary profession.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone within the profession who is making and has made the time to focus on wellbeing and mental health. Exercise for me is a great way to help my mind and body, and I hope that the exercise programme at Nottingham helped a few of my peers see the benefits too.
Unfortunately we were unable to run a parallel programme with members of the first-year, April cohort at Nottingham but I hope similar studies will take place at other universities in the future.
Once again, I’d like to extend my thanks and gratitude to the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative team for help with funding and publishing the blogs, the UoN Sports staff for allowing us to use their facilities at a reduced rate, all the sports societies’ presidents and captains for giving up their time. Georgie Bladon, Sabine Tötemeyer and Amy Sansby who were brilliant support and Caroline Quarmby for her volunteering to lead the circuit sessions. A big thank you to the VetFit team for their inspiration and support too. And of course, thank you to all the participants for giving their time and energy to the programme!
Table 1. – Changes in WEMWBS scores of participants from the beginning of the project to the end (Q1-Q3)
*WEMWBS was developed by the Universities of Warwick, Edinburgh and Leeds in conjunction with NHS Health Scotland.
https://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/fergus_mitchell.jpg400400MMI Press Officehttps://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/mm-sphere-logo.pngMMI Press Office2021-01-27 09:15:402022-06-27 16:52:47The power of exercise (*and community) II
Today marks world Mental Health Day, with a theme of ‘mental health for all’. It presents an opportune moment to reflect on the last five years of the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative, and to look ahead at what’s next for us. MMI recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, and although we weren’t able to hold the planned celebration due to the pandemic, we held a webinar hosted by The Webinar Vet to celebrate the milestone and look back on some of our achievements.
Since its launch in 2015, one of the core activities of MMI has been raising awareness of mental health in the professions, giving people the tools to stay well, seek help and look after themselves and others. Our Mental Health Awareness training is central to this, with over 1700 vets, vet nurses and practice staff attending our sessions over the last five years. We’ve also teamed up with the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), whose generous support has allowed us to deliver both mental health awareness training, and a series of successful resilience training sessions, equipping delegates with the tools to successful navigate the challenges of veterinary practice.
With support from experts from inside the veterinary community and beyond, we’ve delivered an array of webinars on a wide number of topics relating to mental health and wellbeing, including mindfulness, sleep, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, self-harm, anxiety, and managing remotely during Covid-19. Following feedback from the professions we’ve got plans for further webinars addressing topics like neurodiversity and men’s mental health.
Working with and for students is a vital part of what MMI does. We want to make sure that our veterinary and veterinary nursing students are well supported, and that they have the skills and resilience to thrive as they move into practice. MMI regularly sponsors student-led activities and research, like the recent study into exercise and wellbeing carried out by students at Nottingham University. We also sponsor students to run the ever-popular Failure Friday events – where they can hear about the less successful moments of more experienced members of the profession, and learn that everybody makes mistakes – it’s how we learn and move on from them that counts.
Last year we ran our first ever student roundtable, which was a fantastic opportunity for veterinary schools and students to come together and learn from each other about what works in student support, and where there are still gaps. This year we will be replicating this event for student nurses – although it will need to be held online due to the ongoing coronavirus situation. We’ve also been delighted to support VetKind, a facilitated online space run in collaboration with the Association of Veterinary Students (AVS) and Jenny Moffett of SkillsTree, where students can learn about and reflect on mental health and wellbeing.
Since our launch we have hosted two successful veterinary mental health research symposiums which have provided opportunities for us to learn from the existing evidence base and think about where there remain gaps to be filled. We have also committed to making an annual research grant in memory of RCVS Council member Sarah Brown, who sadly died in 2017. This year we made not one, but two grants totalling £40,000, which will be looking at moral injury and racism respectively – both timely and important topics for the professions.
Right now is a difficult time for the professions, with the pandemic creating challenges for all of us and affecting everything about how we live, work and socialise. Now, more than ever, it’s so important to look after ourselves and each other. Over the last six months we’ve delivered a number of webinars on topics relating to Covid-19 and have also published a comprehensive A-Z of Help providing tips and resources that will be useful during the pandemic. With many of us working remotely, isolation can be a problem and so have introduced online ‘Reflection Time’ sessions, providing a space for members of the veterinary community to come together and reflect on different topics relating to the emotional aspects of their job. As the pandemic continues, with things remaining uncertain, we’ll be looking at more ways we can support the veterinary community.
Today, to mark World Mental Health Day, I’m delighted to share an animation we have developed in collaboration with British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), which addresses mental health and wellbeing among equine vets. We are also publishing a new &Me story from vet James Glass, who has generously shared his experiences with us. Keep an eye on our Twitter page, where we’ll be using today to highlight some of our resources and achievements.
https://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/susan_dawson.png500500MMI Press Officehttps://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/mm-sphere-logo.pngMMI Press Office2020-10-09 12:11:132021-01-27 09:15:08World Mental Health Day 2020: Reflections on the last five years
I think everyone can agree that lockdown has been a massive shock to the system. But it has also been a steep learning curve. During these rollercoaster times, I have not only learnt more about society and how we can work together to support each other, but also about myself and how to be kind to myself as well as others.
When lockdown was first announced, I (like many of my fellow students) returned home, assuming it would only be for a few weeks. However, what was presumed to be a relatively brief few weeks, was now likely to be closer to months.
Whilst adapting to this new normal brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, many students were still trying to revise for upcoming exams, myself included. This period, saw many exams across universities postponed, while others were moved online. How different would this prove sat at home, perhaps in front of open books? Initially, like many others, I struggled to work out how to revise and adapt my learning in order to best to tackle these changes. Although, I soon realised that these exams, while still stressful and difficult, were no different to the exams I had sat many times before, just under different circumstances and that it was my attitude toward them that needed to change above anything else. It was from this epiphany that I realised I needed to be kinder to myself and give myself a break. Exams, while still important, are not worth disregarding your own mental health and wellbeing. The premise of striving towards the tough task of passing any vet school exam is difficult at the best of times while juggling life. Given we are not in wholly conducive circumstances, amidst uncertain times, the usual standards and benchmarks we set may not be attainable or realistic in our new ‘normal’.
Moreover, we must not disregard the mammoth achievement of the 2020 graduating class for successfully completing vet school, during a pandemic, to become what is likely to be the first in a long line of the most adaptable vets to date. The end of vet school is usually heralded by a day of graduation gowns, champagne and dad’s trying to hide their tears. However, this has had to adapt and change, as with most events this year. Across the UK and Ireland, graduation ceremonies have been held in gardens, on beaches and in forests, with home-made caps and gowns and a virtual ceremony. While many will be disappointed that they were not able to attend the traditional graduation, I see this as a feat of ingenuity of the 2020 graduating class. Not only have they conquered one of the toughest and most demanding university courses, but they have also made a graduation day for themselves that they will never forget, with their friends and family able to sit through the whole thing with them. It is unlikely that any other graduating class will have an experience quite as individual as they have, and that is something that should be cherished, not begrudged.
In these ever-changing times, we must look to the future and think what we can take to improve ourselves from this experience. If nothing else, the past few months have taught me just how resourceful and adaptable we can all be as a profession. It would have been all too easy to stick to the old ways and struggle to stay afloat, but we have adapted and taken this as an opportunity to improve. Realising that it is OK to have a break, to be kind to yourself, to talk to others is as much a survival skill as any. Learning to change our ways of learning and living only proves to hone our problem solving skills as vets. Every situation, even a pandemic, has its positives if you dare to look close enough, and changing to a more positive outlook is the first step to finding these opportunities.
Isobel Arthur, AVS president 2020-21
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Fergus Mitchell (pictured) is a 3rd year veterinary student at Nottingham University. He is the VetSoc’s Welfare Officer this academic year and is passionate about promoting mental health awareness amongst his peers. Combined with his love for sport, this has led him to start his own research into how exercise can positively impact vet students and others within the profession.
is good for us. It’s not rocket science or veterinary science for that matter,
and in most cases it’s hard to argue otherwise. Regular physical exercise is well
documented to benefit our physical and mental health. The recent lockdown in
the UK has highlighted this further. During April and May “one hour of exercise
a day” became a buzz phrase, alongside “stay at home” and “essential travel
only”. Exercise was one of the things we could do, even if it were not
(there is always a catch, or this blog would not be worth your time) do you
wish that you had more regular exercising habits?
intense, demanding work hours vets, nurses, and students all encounter probably
leave us short of time. Coupled with family lives, social lives, and never-ending
to-do lists, we have plenty of reasons to not spend hours in the gym or play
for local sports teams on a weekend.
I am sure
a lot of members of the profession successfully manage to achieve these endeavours,
but then I ask, when times get tough is it exercise that gets dropped?
speak for everyone, however, when it comes to a pressure point in my studies,
for example, during exam time or on a placement, I struggle to exercise. No
matter how much I know it is good for me and would help alleviate any stress,
I fail to don my trainers and get out.
This personal struggle of mine and a passion for championing mental health awareness, led me to an informative talk held in the vet school. Charlie Mays chatted about his and Andy Rose’s work to set up VetFit, a research driven service for the veterinary community, which they founded after carrying out a study at the RVC. Their work led to institutional changes at their university and ignited a spark within me. For more details on their service and excellent work, search @Vetfitinsta on Instagram or visit the VetFit website.
One thing that resonated with me from that evening was this concept:
of the veterinary profession, it is common to identify as a vet/ vet nurse/ vet
student before anything else. Many of us are so passionate about our work, it
is understandably easy to let it identify us. However, does this subconscious mindset
control us when it does come to pressure points (as I shared, in my experience
so far, exams and placements). Do we forget the other things that make us happy
and relaxed, such as exercise and sport?
all, taking 20 minutes out of my day to go for a jog or stretching should not
be an issue, I am not talking marathons or rugby matches here!
intrigued and wondered how we can change our habits for the better as members
of a profession which is sadly, more frequently associated with poor mental
this further, I met with a couple of brilliant staff members here at Nottingham
and planned to carry out our own research. At the time of writing this we have
completed the data collection phase.
invited first year, female vet students, who self-identified as exercising less
than the NHS minimum physical activity guidelines for adults*, to participate
in the project. We offered the students a free, 8-week exercise program comprising
3 sessions of activity per week.
A circuits session led by the same instructor weekly.
An intro to sports session led by individuals from already
established sport societies on Sutton Bonington campus (I.e. netball,
badminton, football). The sport changed weekly.
A stretch/ reflect session led by myself and another student. The
idea being to have a lower intensity session, relaxing the mind and body.
We had 12 participants who measured their well-being at the start, half-way through and at the end of the program, using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales (c) University of Warwick, 2006, all rights reserved (WEMWBS)**. They will take a final well-being measurement 6 months after the program has ended. We aim to analyse how the structured, 8-week exercise program impacted the lives of our participants and if it has had any long-lasting effects.
also asked for the participant’s resting heart rate at the start and end of the
project and once a week during the peak intensity of their circuits session.
we recruited a life coach to deliver a life coaching session during the program,
which hopefully allowed the participants to reflect on their progress made.
we envisaged running an identical program for members of the first year April
Cohort of vet students, starting their course this spring. However, due to the
pandemic, their arrival on campus was postponed and as such we have not been
able to go ahead with that this year.
data collected will be analysed as part of my 3rd year dissertation
at Nottingham University and I hope to share any findings with you in another
like to extend my thanks and gratitude to the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative team
for helping us with funds, the UoN Sports staff for allowing us to use their
facilities at a reduced rate, all the sports societies’ presidents and captains
for giving up their time, Georgie Bladon, Sabine Tötemeyer and Amy Sansby who
were brilliant support and Caroline Quarmby for kindly offering to take the
circuits session each week for free. And of course, thanks to all the
participants for giving their time and energy to the program too!
Without these people the project would not have been possible to run.
*NHS guidelines for adults – do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.
** WEMWBS was developed by the Universities of Warwick, Edinburgh and Leeds in conjunction with NHS Health Scotland.
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When I’m looking at all of this as a calm and rational person, lockdown is a situation in which I can truly take stock of the things I have taken for granted in my professional and personal life. It is also a catalyst for reaffirming just how grateful I am for the good things in my life; for example, the fact that neither my partner nor I have been driven up the wall by the other’s constant presence, typing, or thinking too loudly, the fact that my dog is truly hilarious, and that my shed really did need a good tidy-out. I’ve painted all my kitchen furniture, built the dog and obstacle course, and I’ve also learned to knit, which I think is fascinating, but I can see that people are going to get bored of my enthusiastic creations very soon.
I’ve found that connection and
communication can be both a blessing and a curse in this time. Conversation is
wonderful, but I must be in the mood for it, hence appearing ‘always available’
because we cannot go anywhere can feel a little overwhelming. It has also been
difficult to distance myself from work because my office is about 5 metres from
my bedroom. I’ve had to set firmer boundaries about my ‘free’ time and work
time, because they’re not delineated by a commute anymore. Social media has
also been an absolute riot – I love watching people do kind, community spirited
things, but I also have quickly come to hate watching bored people bitch at
each other or get into verbose competitions about who is doing lockdown better.
I have to take my social media time in short bursts, or I can lose a day to
mindless and frankly depressing chatter about nothing at all. Again, when I’m
being fair and rational, I can see that many people are just scared and looking
to blame someone for their feels, but in the moment, it can be a bit much. But
I have to say, groups such as Vets: Stay Go or Diversify have been really fun,
and my (non-vet) friend has started a venture called ‘Quiz Nights for the
Quarantine’, which has kept me entertained. I have also taken a weird few days
of annual leave, which saw me planted firmly in front of Netflix for eight-hour
long stretches, and I’m not even remotely sorry for that. It was great.
This has not all been a lesson in how
grateful and lucky I am; I’ve had my down times. Sudden restriction on anyone’s
freedom is bound to make them feel things ranging from ‘a bit out of sorts’ to
downright depressed, anxious and insecure and frightened. I recognise that with
a stable home and job, I am one of the lucky ones. Nevertheless, I’ve had days
where I have had a big cry and mourned the (seemingly irrelevant) things I was
looking forward to which have been cancelled. I’ve had a cry solely dedicated
to fear of getting sick myself, or loved ones being ill. I’ve also had days
where I just felt entirely flat, without being able to pinpoint a real reason.
I feel like this fluctuation in mood and hopefulness is normal, at least,
that’s what I am telling myself. Boring as it sounds, I am helped by simply
taking each day as it comes, because I genuinely don’t have any choice but to.
My anxiety generally flares in situations where I can’t make plans or get things done in an agreeable (and potentially unreasonable) timescale. Luckily, from the outset, my company (VetPartners) was incredibly proactive in collating information and providing guidelines to support our daily activities. Thus, I’ve been able to surrender myself to the mysterious inevitability of it all. We had good boundaries in place and fora in which to ask questions. Vets immediately started to work from home, and luckily, we have good enough IT to make remote working very easy. This helped settle me personally, so then I, with the help of the rest of Westpoint’s wellbeing group, decided to create a resource that would help other people adjust to working from home, westpointwellbeing.com. The site is open to contributors, but for the most part I have been posting daily work-from-home workouts, and linking to good procrastination outlets, free CPD, and tips for productive work from home. I started a VetPartners run club on Strava, to coax some running motivation too. We also had some excellent resources disseminated by our wonderful marketing manager, who provides a social round-up every week.
In terms of managing my team, we are incredibly lucky to be a close-knit and team-spirited group. Our Whatsapp game has been upped considerably, and we are using video chats to get together at least once a week to check-in. I’ve had to make our in-office positives board (where we record good feedback and achievements) more of a virtual thing now, but it redoubles my efforts to relay great feedback to the team. I already knew that I worked with a nice group, but being in this difficult situation has truly meant that we have pulled together and every single person has made a demonstrable effort to make other teammates lives easier, the days run more smoothly, and keep the impact on clients as minimal as possible. We may even be communicating with them more than ever now. Clients have also been very helpful in maintaining social distancing – our company policy on this is firm and repeated often to keep us safe. I’ve been dutifully watched from afar when tending to sick animals without their usual handler (sometimes with retrospectively hilarious results). I’ve gotten very good at utilising random objects for safe restraint. Though it can be difficult to safely work around large animals at the best of times, our clients have been kind and thoughtful in their approach to our visits.
In fact, lessons have been learned about
how we can still all connect while apart, and I think we will carry those
forward into the future normality – whatever that looks like.
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On 24 November 2018, over 100 veterinary students from across the country logged into VetKind, the inaugural wellbeing webinar created by the Association of Veterinary Students (AVS) and professional development company SkillsTree, with support from the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative (MMI). Whilst at university, 63% of veterinary students suffer from stress1, which is something AVS is always keen to help combat. Therefore, the VetKind webinar was created to teach well-being strategies from an evidence-based perspective. Alongside the webinar, numerous self-reflection tasks and resources have been made available to vet students including further reading and a wellbeing focused playlist!
The morning seminars kicked
off with a session led by Jenny Moffett, Managing Director of SkillsTree, titled
‘The Science of Happiness’. According to a poll held during the session, 93% of
delegates were aware of the large evidence base linking mindfulness to positive
mental health, but only 15% regularly engaged in tried-and-tested mindfulness
practices. Jenny presented the subtle differences between subjectiveA
and eudaimonicB wellbeing and how – although these may not be in
synch at certain periods of our veterinary studies – working towards goals that
have meaning to us will help us feel happy, more so than working to feel happy
in and of itself. Advice was also given to counteract the ‘I’ll do that when…’
feeling commonly felt amongst students, whether it is through combining tasks
or investing time in mindfulness techniques.
With 95% of delegates
having experienced imposter syndrome, the second seminar on ‘Perfectionism and
Imposter Syndrome’, led by work-based psychologist Jenny Lynden, was one which
was certainly relatable to the delegates. The seminar looked at the fact that,
combined with genetic and social factors, the construct of perfectionism
encompasses excessive concern over making mistakes, high personal standards,
doubting the quality of one’s actions and a preference for order and
organisation. Time was spent discussing the differences between perfectionist
striving, and perfectionist concerns, and which features of these help or
hinder our professional and personal lives. An anonymous attendee summed up
imposter syndrome perfectly, saying ‘I feel like a blobfish in a sea of
dolphins’ and the group chat was full of students echoing this!
‘Empathy: friend or foe
in veterinary wellbeing’, again delivered by Jenny Moffett, explored whether empathy,
despite being good for our patients and clients, is good for veterinary
surgeons as professionals? It considered what leads us to feel empathetic
distress instead of empathetic compassion? Both positives and negatives were
studied in this seminar, as well as the challenges that come alongside the
emotional labour of veterinary work.
The final seminar, ‘Ten
tips for fostering work-life harmony’ by Ru Clements, Head of People and
Performance at Vetled, offered tips such as: practising kindness; pacing
yourself; and balancing one’s goals and expectations. A key tip was the
importance of giving yourself permission to take a break, to make mistakes or
to celebrate your successes. Delegates commented that this was a lightbulb
moment, allowing themselves to relax rather than feeling guilty that they
For the afternoon,
delegates took part in small group online exercises, which allowed individuals
to work through how they would offer support to an overwhelmed friend on extra-mural
studies. Using ideas and strategies learnt earlier in the morning, students discussed
the task and put the theory into context.
Adam Young, a fourth
year Edinburgh student said he “found the VetKind event to be a really great
way to discuss mental health within the veterinary profession. The main thing that
stood out for me was the consistent themes raised by students from all the
universities, outlining that those taking part were not alone in their thoughts
and opinions with regards to completing their degree. The course also touched
upon mindfulness activities to be implemented alongside our often busy
schedules, allowing students to apply a variety of these methods in their own
Throughout the event, an
overwhelming sense of community and positivity shone through. The anonymity
provided by an online setting allowed for engaging question and answer sessions
with the speakers as well as discussion amongst students. There was a realisation
that there is a supportive network of students who can empathise with the
different pressures of veterinary studies, which was a comfort to many.
Written by Hannah Fitzsimmonds, 4th Year University of Bristol student and Bristol AVS Representative. She can be reached for further discussion via firstname.lastname@example.org
VetKind was created by Jenny Moffett (SkillsTree Ltd. Managing
Director), Eleanor Robinson and Hannah Fitzsimmonds (AVS UK&Irl) with
support from Lizzie Lockett (RCVS CEO) and Lisa Quigley (RCVS MMI Manager)
wellbeing, is defined as happiness from maximising pleasure and reducing
negative effects on oneself 
wellbeing is defined as living in accordance with your true self, putting focus
on meaning in life 
Schwartz Rounds provide a safe, reflective forum for clinical and non-clinical staff to come together and discuss the emotional aspects of their job. Following the success of Schwartz Rounds in the NHS, the Mind Matters Initiative is currently developing a pilot to explore their effectiveness in a veterinary context.
Here, Amy Martin (pictured) writes about how a Schwartz Round helped identify and address themes of guilt and anger among colleagues at her veterinary hospital group.
Amy is a Registered Veterinary Nurse with 12 years management experience. Her passion is the wellbeing of staff, it is her belief that happy staff deliver phenomenal patient care.
Addressing the emotional impact of veterinary practice
Back in 2017 we decided that Schwartz Rounds would be useful for our organisation, a veterinary hospital group of three practices. Schwartz Rounds are a unique forum that enables clinical and non-clinical staff to come together to discuss the emotional and psychological impacts of our work. As an organisation focused on the wellbeing of its staff this seemed like a good fit for us.
This Round, our fifth, was called ‘Bad Endings’ – a title that was sure to inspire a powerful Round, but just how powerful was a surprise to me. The stories were very different but it quickly became apparent during the group discussion that many of us had not reflected on our emotions with regards to euthanasia and death in our patients. Operating as we do in a busy first opinion practice, taking both emergencies and referrals, it can be hard to take any time between cases to examine the emotional impact what we have just witnessed has on us as people.
Themes emerged, such as guilt over calling the right time for euthanasia, anger with the situation and ultimately sadness that we had to let another one go. Deep bonds are formed with our patients over many years. We first see them as babies and let them go as (mostly) as old pets. What also emerged was the bonds we also form with the owners of our patients and when we lose a patient this can often mean saying goodbye to old friends.
All our staff, clinical and non-clinical, have been invited to Rounds and we have had good attendance from all disciplines. It has helped us to see our work from one another’s point of view and has already begun to effect change in our organisation as a ripple from the issues discussed during Rounds.
Facilitating is not an easy job and this time I found myself swept away remembering stories from my own clinical practice and shed tears along with a number of other staff members. The great thing about this is that I didn’t feel awkward, I felt as though I was among friends. Hopefully showing my vulnerability has helped to indicate that no matter what your position these feelings are normal, can and should be discussed and acknowledged.
We have noticed during other Rounds, in our short history of running them, that euthanasia is a topic which has been revisited many times and we have a feeling this will continue in future Rounds. It will be important to keep exploring this to enable us to continue to be compassionate caregivers. The support and encouragement from The Point of Care Foundation has been invaluable as we embark on being the first veterinary practice to offer Rounds to its staff.
Amy Martin, August 2018
What are Schwartz Rounds?
Schwartz Rounds are a safe, confidential, voluntary, reflective forum for all staff, both clinical and non-clinical to come together to discuss the emotional and social aspects of their jobs. Rounds follow a standard model determining how they should be run, ensuring that they can be replicated across different settings. They normally take place once a month, for an hour at a time, usually at lunch time with food provided. The basic format of a Round is that a panel of three or four staff members from different disciplines present stories of personal experiences, based on a topic or case. After the stories have been told, two trained facilitators open the discussion to the audience, inviting audience members to reflect on the stories and their own experiences. Rounds are purely reflective, and the intention is that outcomes or solutions are not discussed.
The Rounds are licensed by The Point of Care Foundation who provide assistance and training in embedding Rounds with organisational practice.
https://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Amy-Martin-image2.jpg275275MMI Press Officehttps://vetmindmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/mm-sphere-logo.pngMMI Press Office2018-09-26 16:53:242019-01-07 12:13:17Addressing the emotional impact of veterinary practice
There is something wonderful about watching both sunrises and sunsets. Nature at its best; beautiful, colourful, unique, peaceful and, above all, phenomena that occur on a daily basis.
It is no surprise to me that websites offering mental wellbeing support and coaching often feature gems of nature, particularly those connecting us to a bigger peaceful world and something beyond ourselves.
I am writing this first blog as Chair of the Mind Matters Initiative having just completed a visit to a veterinary school in Australia. As always, the time and date difference in dealing with emails from other parts of the world was a challenge. What date and time here, what date and time there? And with being many hours ahead of life at home, it put me in mind of the question a child might ask: “So if you are in the future; what’s it like?”
To be honest, as a kid I always struggled with the seasonal moving of the clocks – how did the sky/sun move? – and equally with the concept of time zones. And while the world may be debating the utility of the former, for me the issue of people living in different time zones came to be rather comforting. I remember standing in a superstore in Scotland watching, on a huge bank of LED televisions, the arrival of New Year over Sydney Harbour Bridge, some 11 hours ahead – fanfares, singing, cheering and amazing fireworks. “Wow,” thought I, “in 11 hours we get to do the same.” (Albeit without the pyrotechnics or the sky-arching bridge …those folks in the future were certainly having a good time.)
As a consequence, my response to the question from the child in the time zone behind me has always been: “Yep, all good – tomorrow is okay.” It was years later that I came across further evidence: a permanently fixed notice in a bar I once frequented, proudly proclaiming “Free Beer Tomorrow”. Optimism that is recharged daily.
So, whilst I know that there will be challenges and that some days are hard or very hard, the idea of tomorrow being a new day that continually refreshes, that is always new and unique, is one that I carry with me. Enjoy the good days; and for the not so good ones, tomorrow is a new day.
My mother was the eternal optimist and, for all that life threw at her, she lived and died mostly happy. And although she insisted she never led anything – something I might dispute – she had the key attribute of leadership: instilling in others, in this case her kids, that tomorrow could always be better and bigger than today. And that the most important leadership of all was internal – that somewhere deep inside we each have the ability to lead ourselves into tomorrow, with the sun setting on the old and perpetually rising to the new.
Written by Hannah May Fitzsimmonds (pictured left)
Hannah May Fitzsimmonds is a third-year veterinary student and Senior Association of Veterinary Students (AVS) representative at the University of Bristol. She has an interest in both small and farm animals, with a goal of working in a mixed practice. Through her role on the AVS welfare committee she has become passionate about helping students feel supported and excited about their future careers. She spends her spare time at the gym or spoiling her whippet with long walks!
A new initiative, created by the Association of Veterinary Students (AVS) Senior Vice-President Eleanor Robertson, was to develop the ‘CV of Failures’ talk; a project being piloted at Liverpool, Edinburgh and Bristol veterinary schools this year with the aim to roll it out to the remaining vet schools during the next academic year.
What is a ‘CV of Failures’ talk you ask? Read on to find out what happened at Bristol vet school…
On 23 of April around 40 Bristol vet students gathered in the student bar to take part in a question-led talk by speakers Catherine Oxtoby, from the Veterinary Defence Society, and Dr Mickey Tivers, a senior lecturer in small animal surgery. With the theme of reducing stigma around ‘failure’ in the veterinary profession, discussions were had around dealing with mistakes, the difference between negligence and misconduct and suggestions on how to cope with the emotional aftermath of making mistakes.
For example, Mickey did not get accepted into vet school initially, something that at the time was upsetting, frustrating and often deemed as a ‘failure’. However, he has gone on to become one of Bristol’s most inspiring clinicians, reassuring us that it is normal for things not to go to plan and with the right support we can still achieve great things.
Mixed in with the more serious conversation were anecdotal stories from our speakers, alongside other Bristol clinicians who joined us on the evening, about some of their less routine days as vets.
With 63% of vet students suffering from stress at university, any project that promotes discussion about wellbeing is welcomed. In this event Catherine and Mickey did a wonderful job of reassuring us that our academic, personal and professional lives won’t always go to plan but there is plenty of support out there, whether it be professional guidance from companies or chatting with friends.
Catherine said of the evening: “I think that the concept of a CV of Failures and providing a psychological safe space to ask questions about the things that really worry us as vets is an inspired idea. I was very happy to share my own experiences and it felt like a really open and honest, but very down to earth, discussion about some of the tougher aspects of vet practice.”
Event feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with attendees appreciating the informal, relaxed feel to the evening, which enabled lots of questions and discussion. AVS aims to run CV of Failures events at each university next term with each university rep tailoring the template to best suit their students. At Bristol we hope to include the local Young Vet Network at our next event, and involve more clinicians to broaden the experience shared.
Catherine beautifully summarises the event with a take home message of ‘You’re a vet – you’re going to get bitten, kicked and complained at once or twice – and you’re also going to make a mistake or two. It goes with the job but it doesn’t make you a bad vet; it just means you’re human.’
Mind Matters, who kindly provided lovely merchandise for the event, have many resources accessible to students and professionals alike, so do remember if you want to talk to someone either about professional or personal struggles look around the website for more information
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