Tag Archive for: mental health

Abi Hanson

My Mind Matters Campfire Chats Reflections

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:

“Make sure you look after yourself and understand that you are more than your job. You are you, and that’s enough.”Overcoming Self-Doubt and Stressing Out

“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.

Graphic illustration of workplace activity with VN Futures and MMI logos

Report released with highlights and key outcomes from the recent Student Veterinary Wellbeing Discussion Forum

Today (19 January) the Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) and VN Futures have released a report which details the key discussions from their recent Student Veterinary Nurse (SVN) Wellbeing Discussion Forum and what next steps the profession needs to take to improve the mental wellbeing of student and recently qualified vet nurses.

The event was organised following the results of an MMI survey of 650 student veterinary nurses, recently qualified veterinary nurses and clinical coaches which revealed that the overwhelming majority of the people surveyed felt that bullying and incivility were serious problems in the profession. The Discussion Forum’s programme was structured around the survey results, which revealed four key areas that were impacting the mental wellbeing of the profession. These four key areas were:

  • Incivility and bullying – The MMI survey results revealed that 96% of respondents felt like incivility and bullying were a problem within the vet nursing profession. The survey also indicated that many of the accounts of bullying were instances of people in senior positions acting poorly towards people in more junior roles.
  • Juggling demands – Many people said the demands of their work were affecting their wellbeing, and some revealed they didn’t even have time to eat or use the toilet when they were at work. 81% said that they found their job stressful.
  • Disability and chronic illness – One in three respondents identified as having a disability or chronic illness and one in five identified as neurodiverse. The survey revealed that respondents with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses were often made to feel like a burden, especially when requesting to shield during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Awareness, recognition and pride – 70% of respondents said that they felt they had chosen the right career and that they were passionate about looking after the animals committed to their care. However, there were recurring issues with the role that came through in the results of the survey, including low pay and lack of respect from the public and vets.

The Discussion Forum was attended by people from across all areas of veterinary nursing, including current students, clinical coaches, recently graduated vet nurses and employers. Throughout the day, attendees heard talks from:

  • Mind Matters Initiative Manager, Lisa Quigley, who confirmed that vet nursing and student mental wellbeing would be crucial streams in the MMI 2022 – 2027 strategy.
  • Dr Claire Hodgson MRCVS, co-founder of the British Veterinary Chronic Illness Support (BVCIS) organisation, and Alexandra Taylor RVN, current President of the BVNA, who outlined the challenges people with disabilities and chronic illnesses face and what the veterinary profession can do to support their staff.
  • Dr Simon Fleming, an NHS Trauma and Orthopaedic Registrar, explained the impact that bullying can have on the person being bullied and those who witness it. He also outlined what an effective intervention looks like and what the steps taken before formal disciplinary action should be.
  • Jane Davidson, RVN, discussed how to set healthy boundaries and the extent that these, and time management practises, can be applied in a vet nursing role.
  • Jill Macdonald, RVN and VN Futures Lead and Dr Laura Woodward MRCVS, a veterinary surgeon and psychotherapeutic counsellor, explored what pride means and how employers and the wider profession can encourage pride in vet nursing.

Attendees were then invited to join breakout discussion sessions, where they had opportunities to openly discuss their experiences and how they felt the profession could improve the mental wellbeing of vet nurses. The key outcomes from those discussions were:

  • More needed to be done to make it clear that the MMI is for the whole veterinary profession, not just vet surgeons.
  • There needed to be additional resources and training to educate employers and the wider veterinary professions about the legal rights for people with a chronic illness and/or disability in the workplace and their expectations in terms of reasonable adjustments.
  • Training needed to be given to help people understand how to address bullying in the workplace and that this should be given as early as their initial veterinary training.
  • Some students said they would not feel comfortable challenging a senior member of staff and said that they would benefit from having training in how to address the behaviour of someone in a senior position.
  • There needed to be a change in the culture around taking breaks and that staff should be actively encouraged to switch off during their break times.

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative Manager, said; “We’re really pleased that so many people attended our Wellbeing Forum and engaged with the discussion sessions. Throughout the discussions, some people shared difficult and personal experiences and we want to thank everyone for being so open and for being respectful to those who shared their stories. Student and veterinary nurse wellbeing will be key components of the 2022- 2027 MMI strategy, which we will be launching this spring. The forum discussions, survey results and feedback from the student vet nursing community will be incorporated into the survey and guide the resources, research and support we work on to help improve the mental wellbeing of the profession.”

Jill Macdonald, VN Futures Project Lead commented: “I want to thank all the attendees and speakers who gave up their time so they could join us at the Discussion Forum to share their expertise and lived experience. It was incredibly helpful to get multiple perspectives throughout the day on these issues. A key component of the VN Futures Project is safeguarding the future of the veterinary nursing profession and ensuring that vet nurses have fulfilling careers with opportunities for progression. The feedback we received during the Forum’s discussion sessions and the survey will help us form the actions we take to help improve the profession for current and future vet nurses, through MMI, the VN Futures project and the RCVS’s work with the VN community.”

The full report of the Student Veterinary Nurse Wellbeing Discussion Forum can be found here vetmindmatters.org/SVN-report/