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 weren’t studying.
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 lives.”
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.
Recordings of all four seminars are now accessible online for every veterinary student and make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the next VetKind!
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)
[A] Subjective wellbeing, is defined as happiness from maximising pleasure and reducing negative effects on oneself 
[B] Eudiamonic wellbeing is defined as living in accordance with your true self, putting focus on meaning in life 
 Bva.co.uk. (2016). BVA/AVS 2016 Survey Results. pg 12. [Online] Available on the BVA website. [Accessed 14 December 2018]
 Albuqueque, B. (2016) What is Subjective Well-Being? Understanding and Measuring Subjective Well-Being [Online] Available at: http://positivepsychology.org.uk/subjective-well-being/ [Accessed 17 Jan. 2019].
Data collected during the event through polls with a total of 111 attendees.