47.8 F
Davis

Davis, California

Friday, November 26, 2021

UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine prioritizes student well-being

Veterinary students often face significant mental health challenges, but UCDSVM offers counseling, financial literacy curriculum and more in order to mitigate stress

By SONORA SLATER — science@theaggie.org

    Content Warning: Suicide. Resources for 24/7 national and local crisis phone lines and text lines are listed below.

For students seeking mental health support, here are some resources: 

・Mental health visits: Counseling Services are available by phone or via secure video conferencing. Schedule an appointment through the Health-e-Messaging portal or by calling 530-752-0871. All Mental Health Crisis Consultation Services are offered via phone consultation or secure video conferencing. Call 530-752-0871 to access these services.

LiveHealth Online: Have secure, online video visits with licensed mental health professionals and primary care providers; no referral is needed.

Therapy Assistance Online: Use interactive tools and self-care exercises for mental health concerns.

・The number for the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-8255; the number for the 24/7 Crisis Text Line is 741741; the number to speak with a trained counselor through The Trevor Project, available 24/7, is 1-866-488-7386 and the number for Yolo County’s 24-hour crisis line is (530) 756-5000 for Davis callers.

Prospective veterinarians face many hurdles, from high student debt to frequent imposter syndrome, competitive academics and simply the emotionally draining nature of the career. Female veterinarians were 3.5 times as likely, and male veterinarians were 2.1 times as likely to die by suicide as compared to the general population, according to a 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Despite rating job satisfaction highly, 52% of veterinarians in the U.S. would not recommend a career in the veterinary profession, according to a 2020 study by Merck Animal Health. The same study found that veterinarians, despite working fewer hours, had higher rates of burnout than physicians. 

With UC Davis’ veterinary school ranked among the best in the world, how does it balance its academic rigor and prestige — and an introduction to the realities of the profession — with its students’ mental well-being? 

One of the first obstacles the program faces, according to Dr. Joie Watson, the associate dean of professional education at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (UCDSVM), is helping students shift away from the competition mindset.

“It’s very competitive to get here, and that competition is almost all that they’ve known,” Watson said. “But once they’re here, what’s the mission for the next four years? To learn and understand so they can become the best practitioner they can be. The goal is not to be a better practitioner than someone else. We say it on the first day, we say it on the second day, we say it on the third day.”

Lindsay Allen, a first-year student at UCDSVM, said that she was pleasantly surprised by the emphasis during orientation on collaborating rather than competing with peers. 

However, during the undergraduate and application process, competition lives on, according to Natalia Gracia, a 2020 UC Davis animal science graduate currently in her first year at the Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine.

“Let me start off by saying I loved my time at Davis 100% and am so thankful for the life, the experiences, and the tools that it gave me,” Gracia said via Instagram direct message. “But, I think they could do better with their Animal Science students in terms of making [us not] feel like just a number. My first day of school at Davis they had everyone raise their hands who wanted to be a vet and said that less than a third of us would actually achieve this goal. That pretty much set the tone of the rest of my four years, creating a constant state of anxiety about my future.”

Despite the barrier that competitive academia poses, it’s not unique to veterinary medicine. So what other factors play into their statistics of well-being?

“The biggest one I’ve seen is imposter syndrome — people think you’re a lot more qualified than you feel,” Allen said. “They expect perfection, and that’s just not the reality. A lot of times you don’t know, there’s not a definitive diagnosis or you can’t fix it, or the client has a limited budget and you’re trying to work within that. And that’s amplified when you go into the workplace.” 

Kelsee Tran, a first-year student at UCDSVM, suggested another unique stressor.

“We are one of the only professions where it is okay to euthanize your patients depending on their quality of life, and I know that part can be taxing and stressful to veterinarians,” Tran said via email. 

Watson said that the program’s approach to supporting students through their challenges begins with knowing what those challenges are. 

“I think that having been a vet for 35 years, I know what challenges I’ve faced, but the thing that we need to figure out is the current students’ challenges and those are always changing,” Watson said. “It really starts with communication. Being in communication with our student body and finding out how we can best help them.”

One response they’ve had to reduce student challenges was significantly changing the structure of the curriculum in order to reduce the overall hours of class time from around 35-40 hours a week to 20-25 hours, according to Watson.

     “We were dealing with stress and burnout in students more and more, and we were worried that they weren’t getting a deep understanding,” Watson said. “They were binging and then purging information from their heads, racing from test to test.” 

    Watson went on to describe mental health support that the school offers, including two full-time psychologists who work with veterinary students and “intentional academic mentoring,” where mentors and students meet four times a year to discuss educational goals as well as any barriers to their education or other challenges they’re facing. She acknowledged that their support system was “imperfect.”

“We’re still working on it,” Watson said. 

    Even if students have exemplary support of their well-being while they’re in school, there’s a whole new realm of challenges waiting for them once they graduate.

“I think the vet school does have some responsibility for taking care of the mental health of their students, and I think [UC Davis does] a pretty good job taking care of their students,” Allen said. “I’m a little more worried about what happens after vet school than during vet school itself, when there’s all these resources to take advantage of.” 

Watson said that the school is working to integrate preparation for post-school challenges into their curriculum as well, including financial literacy courses as well as mock interviews and mock salary negotiations. 

She went on to emphasize that “there’s a time constraint that vets face,” with only four years to learn a vast amount of information, and so the school recognizes that they won’t be able to directly prepare students for everything they may encounter in their future careers. Instead, Watson said, “We want them to learn how to learn,” in a way that hopefully prepares them for a lifetime of learning and adapting to their work environment. 

“We were put on this planet to make a difference in animals’ lives,” Gracia wrote in a recent Instagram post reflecting on her first few weeks of graduate school. “To make the world a little bit brighter… I’m hoping this will resonate with at least one person that you matter, that your life matters…  Please, vet students, pre-vet students, and vets that could be reading this, be kind to yourself, and take care of yourself.” 

For students seeking mental health support, below are some resources: 

・Mental health visits: Counseling Services are available by phone or via secure video conferencing. Schedule an appointment through the Health-e-Messaging portal or by calling 530-752-0871. All Mental Health Crisis Consultation Services are offered via phone consultation or secure video conferencing. Call 530-752-0871 to access these services.

LiveHealth Online: Have secure, online video visits with licensed mental health professionals and primary care providers; no referral is needed.

Therapy Assistance Online: Use interactive tools and self-care exercises for mental health concerns.

・The number for the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-8255; the number for the 24/7 Crisis Text Line is 741741; the number to speak with a trained counselor through The Trevor Project, available 24/7, is 1-866-488-7386 and the number for Yolo County’s 24-hour crisis line is (530) 756-5000 for Davis callers.

Written by: Sonora Slater — science@theaggie.org

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here