It has taken me a while to process the SBS Insight program on “Veterinary Care” (1). I guess the thing that really struck me about this panel of veterinarians, and the engaged audience, is that our profession is finally coming out from behind a cloak of whispers where we have failed to talk openly about the suicide rate in our profession, and even more importantly what are we going to do about it.
Since I took my big career leap into business as Director of VetPrac, from working in academia for over 20 years, I have met some incredibly passionate and brilliant people with energy and enthusiasm for the veterinary profession that is second to none. During a recent and very collaborative discussion about our profession, retention rates and mental health problems, I was reminded of the devastating statistic that the majority of recent graduates only stay in the profession for fewer than 6 years (2), approximately one year for each year of education. For various reasons, most young vets make the decision to leave behind the profession that they have been dedicated to for years of their young lives.
Now I’m taking a leap of faith here because I am going to assume that we all embrace the idea of people making “another decision”, and indeed I have done this myself. Some may argue that this is a symptom of today’s world, in which people are not tied to a single career
for their working lives, and mobility is prized. Is this really the case? Are young veterinarians leaving the profession with a skip in their step to embrace their next career challenge? Or is it possible that some young veterinarians are leaving the profession because they are heartily disappointed with their careers and probably themselves, and they want to escape as a measure of self-preservation? Are the expectations they had for this career simply not fulfilled? We must remember that some of the greatest disappointments in our lives come from unfulfilled expectations.
I also agree with the veterinarians on the SBS Insight Veterinary Care program that the problem is multifactorial. I believe that in order to begin to address this problem we have to go back to the very beginning, to the recruitment process, and look at what key characteristics people need to lead a fulfilled and long life as a veterinarian. One of these characteristics, resilience, is essential for an individual to achieve a successful, happy, and fulfilled life as a veterinarian. A few years ago, I learned a very important truth that resilience is not something you have or don’t have; it’s a continuum. It’s multifaceted and as dynamic as a human being. Resilience is a process rather than a trait, where individuals demonstrate the capacity to draw on personal and contextual resources, and utilise specific strategies in order to navigate challenges and work towards adaptive outcomes (3). This insight opens the door to opportunity, because people can be informed and educated about resilience, and we can also teach resilience. This is by no means a glib solution; however, it makes sense to identify an individual’s resilience process and include resilience education as part of a well-designed and multifaceted approach to managing the retention and mental health problems that are sadly a part of our veterinary profession.
Another reflective surface that cannot be ignored a moment longer is that we have to listen to the employers of our graduate veterinarians, and all veterinary professionals. I mean really listen to them and not just pay lip service to their advice, extensive knowledge and ongoing experience. The answers lie within the practising profession, we just have to listen and take action.
Finally, we have to educate the public about who we are, and what it takes to get to a point where we can stand with them and their livestock or pets on a farm or in a consulting room so that we can provide exemplary veterinary care. It is our job right now to educate, and create understanding and appreciation. Knowledge is power, and once the general public understands what it is to be a veterinarian, they will collaborate with us, and become our partners in their journey with their pets, and this will lift us all up with respect and honour.
VetPrac’s aspirational core value of “people first”, created and brought into being by Dr Ilana Mendels over a decade ago, is at the heart of all our workshops for veterinary professionals so that they can bridge the gap between learning and doing. Putting people first inspires our business, guides our response and communication, and reaches out to all our veterinary community. We are part of the retention solution; we care for and support veterinarians in all aspects of their work. The people of the veterinary future are worth every step we take, and every learning opportunity we create. Together we can build a stronger industry and community.
- Lincoln Institute Survey
- Mansfield C.F., Beltman S., Broadley T., Weatherby-Fell N. (2016) Building resilience in teacher education: An evidence informed framework. Teaching and Teacher Education, vol. 54, pp. 77-87.