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Preliminary findings from wellbeing survey of veterinary nursing profession revealed

A new survey of student veterinary nurses, recently graduated veterinary nurses and clinical coaches has revealed the prevalence of workplace stressors and unhealthy workplace culture issues across the profession, including concerns over the impact of widespread bullying and incivility within the veterinary workplace.

Carried out by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Mind Matters Initiative (MMI), the survey of over 650 people revealed that 96% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that bullying and incivility was a serious problem in the profession.

Furthermore, nearly three-quarters (70%) of respondents had personally experienced a mental health concern and only half had received professional support for their concern. Over eight in 10 (82%) said that they thought veterinary nursing was a stressful career.

The survey was conducted to address the current research gap in the mental wellbeing of those working across the veterinary nursing profession. Participants were asked questions on a range of mental wellbeing areas including the level and quality of support available in education and work settings, stress, discrimination and bullying in educational and work settings and coping strategies for stress and mental ill-health.

Some of the additional key findings from the survey were:

  • One in five (20%) respondents have witnessed or experienced discrimination in an educational setting and around one-third of respondents had witnessed or experienced discrimination in a practice setting
  • Less than one in five (18%) respondents said they believed that veterinary nursing is a well-respected profession
  • Just over half (51%) feel positive about their future in veterinary nursing

However, the survey suggested there was a good level of awareness within the profession about how to access mental health support, with three-quarters (75%) of respondents saying that they knew where to access support for mental health if they need it and almost three-quarters (70%) found their clinical coach supportive.

The full findings of the survey will be revealed at the upcoming MMI Student Veterinary Nurse Wellbeing Discussion Forum, taking place on Wednesday 3 November. Attendees will have the opportunity to discuss the key challenges highlighted in the survey and discuss how they think they can be addressed. The results will also be published at a session led by Jill McDonald, VN Futures Project Coordinator at BVNA Congress, taking place Saturday 2 October – Monday 4 October.

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative Manager, commented: “A number of our survey findings are extremely concerning, particularly the high levels of bullying, incivility and discrimination reported by participants. We conducted the survey with the intention of finding out more about what systemic issues across workplace practices were impacting on the profession’s mental health. We want to thank everyone who took part and shared their experiences with us. There were some upsetting accounts shared with us about experiences of bullying and discrimination – no one should go through this at any point in their life, let alone at their place of work. Decisive action needs to be taken to tackle this and we will be using the findings of the survey to help form our 2022-2027 strategy and decide what resources and training we create for the profession. Supporting the wellbeing of veterinary nurses and student veterinary nurses is one of our key priorities, and will be part of all future MMI activities.”

“I would encourage as many veterinary nurses and student veterinary nurses as possible to attend the upcoming Student Veterinary Nurse Wellbeing Discussion Forum and our session at BVNA to have your voice heard about what steps need to be taken to improve the mental wellbeing of the profession. We recognise that these results may bring some difficult emotions to the fore for many people, and we would encourage anyone who has experienced bullying or discrimination to seek help from an organisation such as Vetlife or the National Bullying Helpline. I would urge anyone who witnesses bullying or discrimination in the workplace to speak out, wherever it is safe to do so. This takes immense courage, but it is only by calling out this behaviour that it can begin to be addressed. We will be launching Active Bystander training in early 2022, to equip people with the confidence to call out unacceptable behaviour, and the skills to proactively support colleagues who have been targeted.”

Matthew Rendle, Chair of the RCVS Veterinary Nurses Council, added: “As a veterinary nurse some of these results were a difficult read and I would like to thank those student vet nurses and newly qualified vet nurses who came forward with great honesty and bravery with their views and experiences, as it couldn’t have been easy.

“We take these matters very seriously and opening up the conversation is an important first step. I hope that, following these results, we can take look at things such as strengthening reporting mechanisms for bullying and discrimination and encouraging better workplace practices to mitigate against these incidents.

“While it’s easy to focus on the negatives, I do think that these survey results have given us positive steps to build on, not least that people know how to access mental health support so they’re not suffering in silence and the role that our amazing clinical coaches are playing in supporting people with their mental health, and how we can better give them the tools for this support.”

Sarah Brown Grant graphic

Register now for international insight into veterinary mental health at Mind Matters Research Symposium

Mind Matters’ third Mental Health Research Symposium is now open for registrations and will see veterinary professionals from across the globe attend to present their latest research and insight into veterinary mental health and wellbeing.

The symposium will take place live online from 10am on Wednesday 24 November and will feature presentations from researchers based in the United States, Hong Kong, Australia, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as from the UK. You can register for this event via our MMI Events page.

Professor Susan Dawson, Chair of the Mind Matters Taskforce, will introduce the event and will be followed by the Symposium’s plenary speaker, Rory O’Connor, Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Glasgow and President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

Professor O’Connor’s talk, ‘When It is Darkest: Understanding Suicide Risk’ will draw upon his extensive research and work on the psychological processes which precipitate suicidal behaviour and self-harm, an area of expertise that has seen him advise the Scottish Government, as well as other national and international organisations, on suicide prevention strategies.

Following Professor O’Connor’s speech there will be presentations on studies funded by the 2020 Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant in which £20,000 was awarded to two separate research teams looking into veterinary mental health and wellbeing.

The first presentation will be from Dr Victoria Crossley from the Royal Veterinary College and Navaratnam Partheeban, co-founder of the British Veterinary Ethnicity & Diversity Society (BVEDS), on their research into the mental health impact of racism and discrimination on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) veterinarians.

The second presentation is from Professor Neil Greenberg and Dr Victoria Williamson from King’s College London on their research into the impact of ‘moral injury’ on the mental health and wellbeing of veterinarians. Morally injurious events are defined as experiences which violate one’s moral or ethical code.

The course of the day will then split into different research streams with presentations on a wide variety of topics including: the impact of cyberbullying and harassment; the wellbeing of veterinary interns and residents; stigma and stress in veterinary nursing; mental health awareness training in the undergraduate veterinary curriculum; and the relationship between ‘patient safety culture’ and staff burnout.

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Manager, says: “As with previous years the Mind Matters Mental Health Research Symposium promises to be a very informative and important day in terms of international researchers coming together to share their research, their conclusions, areas for further work and study, and best practice. Some of the topics we will be discussing, such as suicide, will be difficult, but research into issues affecting the international veterinary community is a vital first step to putting in place strategies and support mechanisms to help those in need. This is why research will be one of the key strategic priorities for the Mind Matters Initiative and our forthcoming actions in this area will be published later this year in our Mind Matters Initiative Strategic Plan.

“I would like to thank Dr Rosie Allister, a veterinary mental health researcher from the University of Edinburgh and manager of Vetlife Helpline, for putting together an excellent programme. As with previous years we are also offering free attendance of the symposium to those who have lived experience of mental ill-health, those who are currently not working, and veterinary and veterinary nursing students. If you have any queries about the event, please don’t hesitate to contact me on l.quigley@rcvs.org.uk to discuss further.”

For further details on the day and registration, please visit the MMI Events page. Please note that, for those not eligible for free attendance, the cost of registration is £10.

MMI App graphics displayed on a mobile screen

New wellbing programme for the veterinary profession takes flight as MMI Kite App officially launches

Today (6 September), the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Mind Matters Initiative is pleased to announce the launch of a new mental health and wellbeing platform, which has been created specifically for the veterinary community.

The platform, MMI Kite App, is one of the first programmes to provide mental health and wellbeing support, which is tailored specifically for the veterinary professions. The app has an extensive range of bitesize learning modules on different areas of mental wellbeing, which each incorporate interactive elements such as videos, journaling and reflection exercises to make learning as engaging as possible. From today, the app is now available for anyone working in the veterinary sector to download and start using to help improve their wellbeing.

The app has been created in partnership with The Kite Program, an organisation that specialises in microlearning programmes and who have previously launched mental health platforms for new mothers and the legal profession. The MMI Kite App incorporates microlearning techniques that make picking up a new skill possible with just five minutes of learning a day and have been shown to help learners retain and recall information.

These are examples of some of the learning modules that you will be able to use from today once you sign up to the App, and new programmes will be frequently added to the platform.

  • Calm Mind – Learn how to be mindful, manage anxiety and remain in the present
  • Hear Me – A module about how to listen to others effectively during times of stress
  • Resolve Conflict – How to resolve conflict in the workplace
  • Taking Care – Techniques for combatting compassion fatigue
  • Wellbeing Leader – Suggestions on how to lead the way with wellbeing in the workplace
  • Internal Compass – Discover how to explore and determine your values

When asked about the platform’s launch, Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative Manager, commented: “We’re so pleased to announce the launch of MMI Kite App and we can’t wait for people from the veterinary community to download and start using it. We know from our research that sadly vets and vet nurses are more likely than the general public to experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. One of the ways we’re addressing these mental health concerns is through providing a range of wellbeing support resources for the veterinary community, and the MMI Kite App is a resource that we’re really proud to be offering to the profession for free.

“We’ve designed MMI Kite App to be as accessible and engaging as possible, with content that learners will find valuable. We also used feedback from the app testing stages to make sure we developed programmes that the professions told us they felt the app needed to have. We’re confident that anyone who uses the app will find something that will help them with an area of wellbeing that they need support with.”

You can register here for the app on the MMI Kite App project page. All you need to register is your name and email address to get started. If you have any questions at all about MMI Kite App you can contact Lisa Quigley, MMI Manager by emailing l.quigley@rcvs.org.uk

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Pre-registration launched for MMI’s new app-based veterinary wellbeing programme

All veterinary professionals are now able to pre-register for a new mental health and wellbeing app being produced by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) ahead of the platform’s launch early this autumn. MMI has collaborated with The Kite Program to develop a mental health and wellbeing programme, called MMI Kite App, that incorporates bespoke microlearning modules for the veterinary professions.

Microlearning is a type of (typically) online learning which delivers content in bite-size modules. This type of training usually combines a mixture of interactive activities, images and videos, which can be worked through in short chunks of time. Veterinary professionals often have busy workdays and put in long hours, which was taken into account when MMI Kite App was being developed. All the training modules on the app can easily be incorporated into someone’s day-to-day work and personal life, with many only taking five minutes to complete.

MMI Kite App is completely free to use and will have a range of learning modules (affectionately known as ‘Kites’) specifically for the UK veterinary professions. The app allows users to choose the learning modules they want to take (there are no mandatory modules) and work through them at a pace to suit them. The first ‘Kites’ available on MMI Kite App will include modules on breathing activities, mindfulness, time management and physical activity for mental health. The platform will be adding new modules over the weeks and months and the MMI team will use feedback from members to ensure that the content is what is needed.

Angharad Belcher, RCVS Director for Advancement of the Professions, commented: “Veterinary professionals undertake vital work for animal health and welfare, but the intensity and pressure of their work can take its toll on mental health and wellbeing. Sadly, research shows that compared to the general population, veterinary professionals are more likely to experience mental health distress, including depression and anxiety.

“We recognise how hard it can be for veterinary professionals to fit wellbeing activities into their busy workdays and understand that everyone’s mental health needs are different. By collaborating with The Kite Program, we wanted to create a wellbeing platform that was accessible, flexible and had a range of activities to meet a variety of mental health and wellbeing needs. This app will be another useful tool for the professions, and we are pleased to be able to offer it free of charge.

“We are really looking forward to hearing feedback from the professions about the platform and creating more modules based on their wants and needs.”

Hannah Hardy-Jones, The Kite Program CEO and Founder, said: “We use a Kite as an effective analogy for talking about wellbeing. At the Kite Program, we believe this is a much easier analogy to explain and normalise wellbeing and mental health, which can often be very clinical and unrelatable. As people, we go between having soaring kites right through to having a kite that is broken and on the ground.  It takes practice, patience and skills to be able to fly your kite in any condition. Our app and programs are designed to help people learn to “fly” confidently. As you move through each Kite module within the app, you build skills in an accessible and practical way.”

All activity undertaken on the app is highly secure, as users can’t input any personal information into the MMI Kite App and the only data that MMI will hold is a record of active users. There is an extra level of security whereby if the app is not used for four consecutive weeks, then the user ID is marked as inactive, and the user will need to reactivate their account.

Anyone who would like to pre-register for MMI Kite App can do so by visiting the MMI App Project page and following the registration button link. Anyone who is attending BEVA Congress 2021 will be able to visit the RCVS conference stand to see a demo of MMI Kite App and ask questions about the platform. Once MMI Kite App is launched early registrants will receive email instructions from MMI on how to access and start their Kite journey.

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BSAVA’s Emotional Resilience Skills programme returns

The British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) has teamed up with the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative and Two Roads Charity, to reschedule their emotional resilience CPD courses which were postponed due to COVID-19.

Emotional Resilience Skills for the Veterinary Profession will be held virtually by the BSAVA Regions for the first time in the form of seven half-day programmes from September 2021 until March 2022.

The programme is designed to equip participants with an understanding of the role emotional resilience plays in protecting our mental health. Emotional resilience is mainly a learned behaviour, and there are recognised steps that can be taken to increase resilience and reduce the risk of developing mental health issues including depression.

Jennie Bartholomew, Education Coordinator at the BSAVA commented: “We’re thrilled to be able to offer these courses to the veterinary profession again, especially given the exceptionally tough year we have all experienced which has placed additional strain on mental health and wellbeing for many. We know that this programme will be well received and will be helpful to all members of the profession, wherever they are based.”

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative Manager, said: “We know how tough the last 18 months have been for the veterinary profession, and we are pleased to be working in partnership with two organisations who are as passionate about supporting the mental health of the profession as we are. We are really looking forward to the launch of the programme and we are sure that anyone who attends will come away with a better understanding of their mental wellbeing and how to respond to emotional challenges.”

Designed for the whole practice team, the programme is suitable for anyone who wishes to increase their own resilience and develop the ability to help others at work or at home. Participants will work in groups, and no personal disclosures are necessary, although participants are welcome to discuss private issues after the programme.

The programme is free to BSAVA members; £40 to non-members. Spaces are limited and the sessions will not be recorded. You can book your place here or find out more about becoming a BSAVA member on the BSAVA website.

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Invitation to tender open to help develop and deliver new MMI training programme

The RCVS Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) are relaunching their training programme and have opened the tender process that prospective providers interested in helping develop and deliver the new training sessions can apply for. The updated mental health training programme will provide participants with a broader range of topics to attend training on, including some new strands for 2021.

The MMI training team have already started working with external organisations and individuals to update some existing training courses. However, the tender process is now open for organisations to submit a proposal detailing how they can support the development and delivery of training across four new training strands. The new areas of training are:

  • General awareness of mental health and wellbeing
  • How to support others with their mental health and wellbeing
  • Looking after yourself
  • Equality, Diversity, Inclusion

When asked about the tender process and what MMI is looking for from prospective applicants, Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative Manager, said: “All MMI training sessions are extremely well-attended, and we always get such positive feedback from participants. We are excited to be expanding our training programme and are looking for partners who have experience in creating and delivering remote training sessions to work with us. We are looking for providers who have experience in developing training that supports participants with their mental health or teaches them how to support others with their mental wellbeing. We are also keen to hear from providers who can support us with creating training courses on improving equality and diversity in the workplace.”

Any training providers that are interested in submitting a tender proposal can contact Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative Manager by emailing l.quigley@rcvs.org.uk

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MMI and SPVS look for nominations for ‘Practice Stars’ who have kept up staff morale during difficult times

The joint Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) and Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) Practice Stars Awards have opened up again for 2021 and are looking for those members of staff who have helped keep up morale during a difficult year.

All members of the veterinary team are eligible to be nominated for a Practice Star Award including veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses, student vets & VNs, animal care assistants, practice managers, technicians, receptionists and other support staff.

To nominate a colleague for a Practice Star, practices should fill in this online form on the Vet wellbeing Awards website with a short outline of how the individual has helped keep up morale and support for their colleagues over the course of the past year.

Liz Barton, the SPVS Board’s wellbeing representative said, “This is a great opportunity for you to discuss positive initiatives together as a team, reflect on the great things that you are doing to help your practice wellbeing, and nominate one person who you would particularly like to thank.

“From previous Practice Star awards we’ve found that small acts of kindness – a gesture, a comment, a positive word or two – can have an enormous impact on the overall wellbeing and morale of a team. If you know someone who has had this kind of effect on the workplace then please make sure to get in touch and nominate them as a Practice Star.”

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Manager, added: “We will be publishing details of all of the nominations on the Mind Matters website and sending each of them a certificate. They will also all be entered into a prize draw with two being chosen at random to receive free tickets to the joint Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons and Veterinary Management Group Congress in 2022.”

More information about the Practice Star Awards can be found on the Vet wellbeing Awards website.

Dr Ralph Slaughter in the garden with his roses

Retired vet wins Mental Health Awareness Week competition with photo collection showcasing his love of gardening

An 81-year-old retired veterinary surgeon has won the Mind Matters Initiative’s Mental Health Awareness Week photo competition, launched in May this year to celebrate the theme of nature and its positive impact on mental health and wellbeing.

Australia-based Dr Ralph Slaughter submitted a 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, how it allows him to demonstrate creativity and how it gives him a sense of achievement.

  • Inherited hobby from parents and grandparents
  • Good for the mind
  • Relaxation is important
  • A sense of achievement
  • Good for the environment
  • Grow your own - a source of food
  • Gardening can be artistic
  • Encourages wildlife
  • Community relationships
  • Brings people together to make connections

Dr Slaughter graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 1965 and worked for three years in mixed practice before joining the Wellcome Foundation in 1968 working in pharmaceuticals. He moved to New Zealand in 1971 where he worked for both Wellcome and Merck Animal Health before moving to Australia in 1988. He continued to work in animal health, including doing consultancy work, until retiring in 2010.

He said: “All through those years, my main hobby was gardening which was strong mental support. My main interest is growing roses and I established 14 rose gardens in four countries.

“Since retiring, gardening has been the main aspect that has to date kept me in excellent health. Though only self-taught in horticulture, I spend my time involved in assisting others by way of talks and advice to Garden Club members. As President of a group of clubs in Gippsland Victoria, I am leading a project to involve more young people, and especially those that have depression and find it hard to cope with today’s pressure and stress in society.

“For my part, as long as I can, I will put forward my own involvement with gardening as a valuable assistance to those that experience stress in the workplace.”

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Manager, said: “Thank you so much to Ralph Slaughter for his very colourful collection of photos of his amazing gardening skills. As he says, gardening and other forms of interaction with nature can have a profound, positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing and we are so glad to hear that he is lending his skills and knowledge to help young people experiencing stress realise this.”

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MMI launches new programme of webinars examining mental and physical health issues affecting veterinary professionals

Starting next month we are launching a new series of webinars, which examine some of the mental and physical health and wellbeing issues that can affect veterinary professionals.

Each of these sessions is delivered by people who have expertise in the issues discussed, and many of the sessions will include practical tips and advice on how members of the professions can support their colleagues’ mental wellbeing, manage their own mental health, and help to create healthier working environments.

The webinars take place across August and September 2021 and are hosted by The Webinar Vet, a leading provider of veterinary CPD training. The times and details of the different sessions are:

  • Chronic Illness in Practice: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle by Claire Hodgson – Wednesday 11 August from 12:30pm to 1:30pm: This webinar will give you an introduction into what it is like to live with chronic illness, how you can support colleagues who are living with physical ill-health, and how you can build a supportive and inclusive workplace environment.
  • Managing Stress with the Right Brain by Mark Tabachnik – Monday 16 August from 12:30pm to 1:30pm: This webinar will use several techniques from coaching and mental fitness to give individuals more options to better manage their own responses to stressful situations.
  • StreetVetting: The Power of Pets and Companionship by Jade Statt – Tuesday 17 August from 12:30pm to 1:30pm: This webinar will look at the life-changing work of StreetVet, a network of mobile veterinary practices providing free veterinary care to animals within the homeless community in cities across the UK, and how the remarkable bond between humans and animals brings hope and purpose to the most vulnerable in society.
  • ADHD and the Vet World with Tasha Walsh – Monday 13 September from  12:30pm to  1:30pm: This webinar will explore the traits of ADHD and the impact of being neurodiverse whilst working in the veterinary world. Learn how to spot if your client potentially has ADHD, the impact for your clients and their pets if ADHD is present, and useful organisational and calming strategies for yourselves and your clients.
  • Taming your Inner Perfectionist by Olivia Oginska – Tuesday14 September from 12:30pm to 1:30pm – This webinar will explain the phenomenon of perfectionism and provide readily applicable tools to manage its negative impact.

For anyone who is not able to listen to the sessions live, links to the webinar recordings will be made available on the Events section of this website after they are broadcast.

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative Manager said: “We are really pleased to offer an incredible programme of webinars for our colleagues working in all areas of veterinary practice. We want to thank our amazing speakers for being part of our webinar series and offering us their time, expertise, and insight. MMI is passionate about helping the veterinary profession to be as welcoming as possible, which means making sure we all know how we can best support our colleagues and make our working environments inclusive. Every webinar in this series will be a valuable and informative insight into some of the issues that impact on veterinary mental health and wellbeing, and I encourage as many people as possible to attend the sessions.”

You can find the full listings for the upcoming Mind Matters Initiative webinars on the Events page.

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Student and newly-qualified VNs invited to complete survey to inform future mental health support projects

Today (25 June 2021) we’ve launched a new survey to help inform its future work with the veterinary nursing profession.

The survey is specifically aimed at student and newly-qualified (in the last two years) veterinary nurses, as well as the clinical coaches responsible for their practical training at RCVS-approved training practices (TPs).

The survey, which can be completed in between 15 to 25 minutes, asks a number of questions including around preferred sources of mental health support, levels of support available in education and work settings, levels of stress encountered, discrimination and bullying in educational and work settings, confidence, the impact of the RCVS, and coping strategies for stress and mental ill-health.

The aim of the survey is to provide veterinary nurses, particularly students, with the opportunity to provide the Mind Matters Initiative with information that will help it tailor specific events and projects for the profession.

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Manager, explains: “There is a bit of a research gap when it comes to the mental health and wellbeing of veterinary nurses – particularly student VNs – and we are seeking to address this, with this survey being a crucial first step.

“Mind Matters is committed to listening to the people that we want to reach, to help us understand the issues they face and what matters to them, and so if you are a student or newly-qualified vet nurse, or a clinical coach who supports them, we really want to hear from you, whether or not you have had experience of mental ill-health and/or needed support yourself. The survey itself has been developed with the input of veterinary nurses and student veterinary nurses and we are very grateful for their time and effort.

“All the responses will be treated in the strictest confidence but will be used to shape future projects, including an upcoming roundtable event on Student VN wellbeing and the Mind Matters Mental Health Research Symposium.”

Sarah Brown Grant graphic

MMI awards funding to research project which will identify and address workplace stressors for autistic veterinary professionals

Mind Matters has awarded £20,000 to a research project that will investigate the various workplace stressors that affect autistic veterinary professionals and present ideas for adjustments to address the identified stressors.

The funding comes from our Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant, which was set up in memory of RCVS Council member Sarah Brown, who passed away in 2017. We award the grant once a year to a research project that explores an aspect of mental health and wellbeing within the veterinary profession. Since it launched, the grant has been awarded to some exceptional research projects including last year when two grants were given: one to a joint project from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the British Veterinary Ethnicity & Diversity Society (BVEDS), which looked into the mental health impacts of racism within the veterinary profession; and one to a project from King’s College London, which looked at moral injury in veterinarians and the impact that this has on their mental health.

This year, the funding has been given to a project led by researchers from the University of Nottingham’s veterinary school. Veterinary surgeons are at a higher risk of workplace-related stress compared with other professions, and the lead researchers propose that autistic veterinary surgeons may be particularly vulnerable to mental health issues. The researchers felt if they identified workplace stressors that affect autistic veterinary professionals, they could make recommendations for workplace adjustments to help create healthier working environments.

The project will involve an in-depth study with 20 autistic veterinary surgeons to identify factors that contribute to either a ‘good’ or a ‘difficult’ day at work, and then develop ideas for reasonable adjustments that could improve their working day. The research will also involve a further survey of individuals with autism spectrum condition within the wider veterinary profession, where the researchers will find out how frequently the workplace characteristics that cause a ‘good’ or a ‘difficult’ day occur, what impact they have on someone’s mental health and to gauge responses to the suggested workplace adjustments.

The researchers will then develop guidelines for workplace adjustments that the sector can adopt to help improve workplace wellbeing for autistic veterinary professionals. The findings will also be presented as a report to one of our upcoming Mental Health Research Symposiums, submitted to peer-reviewed journals and sent to the sector’s press to help raise awareness of the issues that autistic veterinary professionals face.

After hearing they had won the funding, Lead Researchers, Dr Kirstie Pickles and Dr Brad Hill said: “We are absolutely delighted to have been awarded this year’s Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Award. We are passionate about raising awareness of autism spectrum condition in the veterinary profession. Having both received a diagnosis of autism, we acknowledge that we bring many strengths to the veterinary workplace, but also experience specific challenges. We hope that this project will identify common challenges for autistic vets so that more focussed workplace guidance can be recommended.”

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative Manager said: “We’re thrilled to award this year’s research funding to the team at the University of Nottingham’s veterinary school. We were impressed with how well-researched their application was and this is clearly an area that the lead researchers are passionate about through their own lived experience.

“This research project will also build on the work that RCVS have been doing to raise awareness of neurodiversity in the veterinary professions. We look forward to hearing how the research progresses and reviewing the recommendations for workplace adjustments that will help to support the mental health of autistic veterinary professionals.”

If any veterinary surgeons with lived experience of autism would like to be involved in this study, please contact kirstie.pickles@nottingham.ac.uk or brad.hill@nottingham.ac.uk for further details.

Mental Health Awareness Week 10 - 16 May 2021 - Nature theme graphic

MMI marks Mental Health Awareness Week with photo competition to highlight links between the natural world and wellbeing

This Mental Health Awareness Week the Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) is launching a photo competition on the theme of the links between the natural world, and our mental health and wellbeing.

Mental Health Awareness Week runs from Monday, 10 May to Sunday, 16 May and is organised by the Mental Health Foundation. This year’s theme is nature, specifically the link between being connected with the natural world and better mental health outcomes.

For the MMI competition, which runs until 30 June, you can submit photographs, artwork, creative writing or any other media on this theme by emailing Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Manager, on l.quigley@rcvs.org.uk with a short explanation about your submission and why nature is important to your mental health and wellbeing.

Lisa says: “There is a strong and increasing evidence base that time spent in nature – whether that’s hiking, gardening, bird-watching or any other activity – has positive outcomes on our overall mental health and wellbeing by instilling us with a sense of connectedness [see below]. With restrictions over much of the last year on what we can do and on seeing our friends and families, the appreciation of nature and its importance for us has only grown, and so this is a very apt theme for 2021.

“Of course veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses are in a very privileged position of working so closely with the natural world and so I greatly look forward to looking through this year’s submissions!”

More information about the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week, including an explanation as to why nature was chosen as this year’s theme, can be found here on their website.

For further details about the MMI competition, contact Lisa Quigley on the above email address.

Further reading about the links between the natural world and wellbeing:

  1. ‘Nature and mental health’: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/how-nature-benefits-mental-health/
  2. ‘The effect of nature exposure on the mental health of patients: a systematic review’: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30746588/

Dr Alexandra Pitman speaking at the MMI symposium

Call for researchers to participate in upcoming biennial Mind Matters Symposium

The RCVS Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) is calling on researchers from the UK and beyond who are working in the areas of mental health and wellbeing in the veterinary professions to submit their research papers for the upcoming Mind Matters Mental Health Research Symposium this autumn.

The event which will be taking place entirely online on Wednesday 24 November 2021, is titled ‘Understanding and supporting veterinary mental health’ and aims to bring together researchers from across the world who are interested in all aspects of the mental health and wellbeing of veterinary professionals.

MMI is now looking for researchers to submit abstracts so that they can present their research in 15-minute talks during the course of the Symposium.

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Manager, says: “In previous Symposiums we have had researchers from across the world, including Australia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands, presenting their research. We hope that, particularly as the Symposium is now entirely online, the international nature of this event will be repeated because it is really important to compare and contrast the veterinary professions across different countries.

“The nature of the research has also been a fascinating insight into the work that is going into the areas of diagnosis, treatment and prevention, covering everything from the prevalence of burnout among veterinarians, to the wellbeing of government vets, to how stress and unease can be converted to confidence and harmony through effective continuing professional development.

“We look forward to seeing the interesting range of abstracts that I’m sure will be submitted this year and I would like to thank Dr Rosie Allister, who is a member of the Mind Matters Taskforce and a veterinary mental health researcher, for organising the event once again this year.”

Abstracts should be no longer than 250 words and include: background; clear and explicit aims and objectives, hypotheses or research questions; methods; results; discussion; and conclusion.

All abstracts should be submitted as Word documents to Rosie Allister, who also manages the Vetlife Helpline, on rosie.allister@gmail.com by Friday 21 May 2021. Applicants will be notified if they have been successful within 14 days of this date. Speakers whose applications are successful will receive complimentary registration for the symposium.

In addition to any submitted research, the Symposium will feature presentations from recipients of the Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grants awarded by MMI in 2019 and 2020. These include:

  • Experiences of racism and its impacts on mental wellbeing in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people working and studying in the veterinary sector: Dr Navaratnam Partheeban, Dr Victoria Crossley and Naomi King, Royal Veterinary College
  • How farm vets cope: An exploration of how vets cope with the daily challenges of farm animal practice and how best these coping mechanisms might be developed into tools which can be easily accessed by the livestock veterinary community: Dr Kate Stephen, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC)
  • Moral injury in the veterinary professions: Professor Neil Greenberg and Dr Victoria Williamson, King’s College London

Those who have any further questions about submitting an abstract can contact Lisa Quigley on l.quigley@rcvs.org.uk for an informal chat about the process.

The full agenda for the Symposium, including how to sign up to attend, will be published in the summer.

Please note: this article was updated on 7 April 2021 to reflect the fact that the original deadline has been extended to Friday 21 May 2021.
Graphic of a a log fire on a green MMI background

Gather around for new Mind Matters ‘campfire chats’

The RCVS Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) has started a new programme of ‘Campfire chats’, informal online conversations led by members of the professions on some of the key issues affecting veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses and other members of the vet-led team under the current circumstances.

The free programme of events kicks off on Wednesday 26 February from 7pm to 8pm with a delve into online veterinary communities and how to beat isolation. The panel comprises Simply Locums founder and podcast host Ben Sweeney, VN Council member and blogger Jane Davidson, and founder of the Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify Facebook community Ebony Escalona. In their conversation they will consider how members of the profession can stay connected in a time of necessary separation and their experiences and challenges in fostering togetherness, celebrating community and beating isolation.

Angharad Belcher is the recently appointed Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Director of Advancement of the Professions who joined the organisation at the beginning of 2021 and has developed the programme with Mind Matters Manager Lisa Quigley.

Angharad commented: “No one in the professions need to be told that the last year or so has been extraordinarily tough, but what has got many of us through is a sense of shared experience and solidarity whether that’s with family, friends, colleagues or the wider community. These campfire chats aim to draw on the importance of connectedness by bringing together members of the veterinary community to share their thoughts, experiences and solutions in an informal and friendly online setting.

“Though we have panels hosting every session, these events are not formal talks or lectures and are very much about audience participation and feedback. We hope many of you can join us to talk about the struggles, challenges and occasional hilarities of veterinary life in the time of coronavirus and, in doing so, improve your own wellbeing.

“All those who sign-up are encouraged to join the proceedings with a cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows to keep up with the camping theme – please feel free to send us selfies of you enjoying these but remember, don’t light campfires indoors!”

Following the initial event on Wednesday 26 February, the next planned campfire chats are:

  • Wednesday 10 March – 7.30pm to 8.30pm – Pandemic parenting: Covid-19 has placed huge pressures on parents with many members of the profession juggling the competing roles of parent, employee and teacher, having to navigate difficult discussions with children, and being separated from extended family support. This event’s panel comprises Liz Barton, the Editor of Veterinary Women, Kit Sturgess, Editor-in-chief of RCVS Knowledge’s Veterinary Evidence Journal and Angharad Belcher.
  • Thursday 29 April, 7pm to 8pm – Chronic health conditions and Covid-19: This event is hosted by RCVS Senior Vice-President Niall Connell and Claire Hodgson and will look at the particularly serious challenges Covid-19 poses to people with chronic health conditions.
  • Wednesday 26 May – 7pm to 8pm – Supporting students and new grads: Hosted by a panel comprising Calum McIntyre, President of the Association of Veterinary Students (AVS), recent veterinary graduate Fabian Rivers and newly-qualified RVN Remi Onabolu, this event will focus on how Covid has changed the normal structures of study and qualification, including in terms of remote learning, searching for work and how the veterinary community can better support the next generation of veterinary professionals.
  • Thursday 24 June – 7pm to 8pm – Leadership: Leadership during a pandemic brings its own challenges and this event’s panel, featuring inspiring veterinary leaders Andrew Green and Carolyn Crowe, will take a look at how these challenges can be successfully navigated while maintaining a focus on team wellbeing, morale and motivation.

You can sign up to join any of the events for free by visiting the MMI Eventbrite sign up page.

Lisa Quigley

Lunch and learn about Mind Matters

MMI Manager Lisa Quigley is available to host lunch & learn events for veterinary practices or organisations that are interested in finding our more about the Mind Matters Initiative, how it works, what it does and how you can get involved.

These sessions will also look at some of the recurring themes and issues in terms of veterinary mental health and wellbeing and cover some of the latest findings and research into the veterinary professions.

To book a lunch and learn email Lisa on l.quigley@rcvs.org.uk

Sarah's Brown family with grant recipient

Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant open for new applications

The Mind Matters Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant, which has already funded three ground-breaking research projects, is now open for further applications for £20,000 grants for research on all aspects of veterinary mental health.

The grants were launched in 2019 in memory of elected RCVS Council member Sarah Brown who tragically passed away in 2017 and this is the third year of a five-year commitment to award the grants to fund research focusing on prevention, diagnosis, intervention and treatment in relation to the mental health and wellbeing of the veterinary professions.

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Manager, said:

“We are delighted to open the Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grants for the third year running. Sarah was a passionate campaigner on issues surrounding veterinary mental health and wellbeing and we are proud that we can fund some very important research that, in time, will lead to beneficial effects and interventions for the professions, in her name and with her family’s blessing.

“Applications for the grants are welcome from individuals at all stages of their research careers, including those who have not previously been published, and we welcome proposals on any aspect of mental health or wellbeing within the professions. For example, previous recipients have included Scotland’s Rural College for a project on mental health and wellbeing amongst isolated farm vets in rural Scotland; a joint Royal Veterinary College and British Veterinary Ethnicity & Diversity Society project on the impact of racism on the mental health and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic vets; and a King’s College London research project on how moral injury can cause psychological distress in vets.

“This year colleagues at our charity partner RCVS Knowledge will also be offering expert one-to-one advice to potential applicants on putting together research proposals – if you are interested please email me on l.quigley@rcvs.org.uk to arrange a phone or video call at no cost.”

Those who wish to apply for the 2021 Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant, should send their research proposal to Lisa Quigley on l.quigley@rcvs.org.uk by 5pm on Friday 21 May 2021.

On Friday 26 February 2021 Lisa will also be hosting a session at The Webinar Vet’s Virtual Congress 2021 in which she will be giving an overview of the process and talking to the lead researchers from some of the recent grant recipients. The webinar takes place from 8pm to 9pm and places are available

Applicants must be affiliated with a university and ethical approval must be in place before any award will be paid. Proposals should be no more than 3,000 words and include aims, methods, ethical considerations, proposed timelines, project costings, and a bibliography. Proposals will be judged on their relevance to the veterinary professions, the originality of the proposed research and value for money.

The recipient will be decided in May 2021 and will be invited to present their research findings at the biennial Mind Matters Initiative Research Symposium in 2023.

Please note: this article was updated on 7 April 2021 in light of the original deadline date for submissions being extended to Friday 21 May 2021.

Vet wellbeing awards logo

Practice Stars Awards celebrate those going the extra mile for team morale

The joint Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) and Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) Practice Stars Awards saw 50 members of the veterinary team nominated as ‘Practice Stars’ in recognition of their contribution to staff wellbeing and morale during an incredibly difficult year.

The 50 people nominated for the awards included veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses, student vets & VNs, animal care assistants, practice managers, technicians, receptionists and other support staff – all of whom were nominated for going the extra mile to make their practice a happy place to work.

All of the award recipients were entered into a prize draw to receive one of three pairs of tickets to SPVS-VMG Congress 2021. The winning Practice Stars were:

  • Hannah Brown, Patient Care Assistant for Medivet Stapleton in Nottinghamshire. Hannah was nominated by Medivet Area Manager Grainne Freeman for being ‘a superstar during the times of Covid’, having helped out in various different sites ‘without any fuss’ and ‘making a huge difference to the teams she has helped’.
  • Jessica Hewitt, Head Veterinary Nurse at the George Vet Group in Wiltshire. Group Director Linda Belton, who is also a member of RCVS Council, said that Jessica had recently received the group’s ‘Going the extra mile’ award because of the positive impact she has on her team. In particular she praised how she ‘leads and manages with integrity, humour, compassion and drive’ and how she cares for the team and the animals under their care.
  • Michelle Boyer from the Client Care Team of Pennard Vets in Kent. Director Dr Caroline Collins says that Michelle is ‘always there for you, she always tries her best to make everyone happy and she is the most compassionate person I’ve ever met.’

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative Manager, said: “The quality of the nominations we received this year were very high and all are deserving of praise and recognition, particularly during a year that has been so difficult, for doing what they can to support and encourage colleagues.”

Liz Barton, SPVS Board wellbeing representative added, “If there was one over-arching theme amongst all the submissions it is that small kindnesses, actions, gestures and comments can have an enormously positive impact on the wellbeing and morale of veterinary teams. Many congratulations to all those who were nominated and our three winners.”

Race Together Veterinary Survey UK 2021

MMI-funded survey to investigate experiences of racism in the veterinary sector launches

A landmark Mind Matters-funded survey investigating the experiences of racism and the impact it has on the mental wellbeing of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people working or studying in the UK veterinary sector was launched on Tuesday 19 January.

The group of researchers leading the project are calling for as many participants as possible to get involved to help shape evidence-based interventions to promote diversity and wellbeing within the profession.

The project is funded by the RCVS Minds Matters Initiative’s Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant, which was set up in honour of RCVS Council member Sarah Brown who tragically passed away in 2017, with the aim of funding research focusing on mental health and wellbeing within the veterinary profession.

Led by Dr Victoria Crossley at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and Navaratnam Partheeban, co-founder of the British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society (BVEDS), the survey is being conducted by researchers from the RVC, BVEDS, Oxford Brookes University and London South Bank University.

The ‘Race Together’ survey – open for participation until 31 March 2021 – will examine both overt and ‘everyday racism’ in the veterinary profession. This includes systemic, commonplace interactions with people, services or systems that intentionally or unintentionally leaves individuals feeling racially judged in a covert or deniable way.

The survey is open to all BAME people working or studying in any part of the UK veterinary sector. This could include staff working in general and referral practices (including vets, veterinary nurses and support staff), staff and students working in vet schools, and those working within veterinary industry, government veterinary departments and veterinary charities.

Previous studies have shown that everyday racism is associated with negative effects on mental health and wellbeing. Despite concerns around poor wellbeing and mental health in the veterinary profession there has been little formal research investigating the impact of racism on mental wellbeing in the UK’s sector to date. 

The project’s Principal Investigators, Dr Victoria Crossley (RVC) and Navaratnam Partheeban (BVEDS), are urging BAME people working or studying in any part of the UK veterinary sector to take part:

“This anonymous survey is open to all Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people working or studying in the veterinary sector, not only vets and veterinary nurses, and we would like to encourage people to take part and tell us about their experiences of racism, however ‘major or minor’.

“We hope that our project will increase awareness and understanding of the issues that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people experience while working or studying in the UK veterinary profession, and our findings will be used to inform the design of evidence-based interventions to promote diversity and wellbeing, and the monitoring of their effectiveness.”

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Manager, said:

“We are very glad to be able to support this important project, the first of its kind to look at the mental health impact of racism and discrimination in the veterinary professions.

“Diversity, equality and inclusion is a key strategic priority for the RCVS and hopefully this study will help identify some of the barriers and negative experiences that impact Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic veterinary professionals and develop the appropriate interventions both to tackle discrimination and improve mental health outcomes.”

Potential participants interested in taking part can access the survey and find further information here.

Mental Health Awareness Training 2020

MMI holding new awareness courses for all members of the veterinary team

We will be holding two mental health awareness courses in December to help members of the veterinary team better understand mental ill-health and how to intervene if it is affecting colleagues.

The two online courses, which are led by Trevor Bell, an experienced mental health trainer and campaigner, will take place on Tuesday 15 December between 10am and 1pm and Thursday 17 December between 2pm and 5pm. Additional dates will also be released in 2021.

The half-day courses will look at issues such as awareness around the signs and symptoms of common mental health problems; whether members of the team could spot the early warning signs of distress, anxiety and depression amongst colleagues; and whether members of the team feel they would be able to talk to colleagues exhibiting these symptoms.

Lisa Quigley, RCVS Mind Matters Manager, explains: “We recognise that this year has brought additional stresses and strains to both our professional and personal life. As a result, it is extra important that members of the veterinary team look out for one another and are able to recognise when someone may be experiencing mental distress.

“Just like physical health, we all have mental health which affects how we think, feel, and act and that, in any given year, one in four of us will experience some kind of problem with our mental health, with research showing that these numbers are even higher for members of the veterinary team.

“I do hope all members of the veterinary team can take part in this training which, thanks to subsiding from the Mind Matters Initiative, costs just £15 per person.”

Those with any further questions can contact Lisa Quigley on l.quigley@rcvs.org.uk

Two tone Illustration of equine vet and horse

RCVS Mind Matters and BEVA launch short film to support equine vet mental health

To coincide with this year’s World Mental Health Day we have joined forces with the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) to raise awareness of the mental health and wellbeing challenges facing equine veterinary surgeons, and to offer advice and support.

On 10 October 2020, MMI and BEVA will launch a short animated film featuring a typical ‘day in the life’ of a young equine veterinary surgeon, the highs and lows that such a day might encompass, and some simple measures to support good mental health.

Co-produced by our two organisations, the film depicts both the undeniable sense of accomplishment equine vets experience, for example, when saving a life or getting a tricky mare in foal, and the highly stressful days where things don’t go as well, despite best efforts.

The film goes on to suggest a number of simple changes equine vets can incorporate into their day to help maintain a healthy work-life balance, some practical ways to make the most challenging days more manageable, and general good practice to help equine veterinary professionals keep things in perspective.

Susan Dawson, Chair of the Mind Matters Initiative, says: “Well-established research has shown that veterinary professionals across multiple sectors are at a higher risk of serious psychological distress and suicide. There is also evidence, however, that implementing mechanisms to help vets cope with work-related stressors, as well as reducing barriers to them seeking mental health support, may well reduce these risks.

“We’re therefore very pleased to be launching this animation for World Mental Health Day 2020. Over the past few years, the increased focus on mental health and wellbeing amongst veterinary professionals has led to a greater understanding that if we, as vets, consistently implement small changes to our day, it can have a significant positive impact on our lives.

“Just simple things like listening to a podcast when driving to calls, calling a friend or colleague for a chat, and making time to stop for lunch, can increase our resilience and help us put things in perspective.”

Lucy Grieve, President of the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), says: “For most equine vets, most of the time, the job is fantastic – for many, it’s the only career we ever imagined ourselves pursuing. But some of us feel we should always be perfect, which can have a negative impact, particularly when things don’t go to plan.

“Recognising that perfection is not always achievable is crucial in maintaining a healthy work-life balance, whilst still striving for a fulfilling career. We know that, increasingly, equine vets receive some support from colleagues and mentors in practice, but this animation provides a few suggestions of small changes that everyone can make to help gain perspective. It’s not rocket science, or a magic wand, but there is strong evidence that small consistent changes can really help.”  

The animation also includes information about the support resources available from Mind Matters, as well as contact details for the veterinary community support charity, Vetlife, and encourages vets to make use of the support available as early as possible.

The animation will be available to watch and share on MMI, BEVA and RCVS websites and social media channels from Saturday 10 October. Any practices wishing to obtain a high-resolution version to use for training purposes should contact MMI Manager Lisa Quigley at l.quigley@rcvs.org.uk.