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From book clubs to boot camps – MMI awards four innovative wellbeing schemes

We have given out four £300 Wellbeing in Innovation awards to practices and organisations to help them to fund creative ways to go the extra mile for morale during the coronavirus pandemic.

The competition was launched in May to find out what innovative activities and projects practices wanted to put in place to enhance staff wellbeing, and support the veterinary team during the unprecedented difficulties caused by the pandemic, by providing a small award to help them with this good work.

The entries showcased a range of how technology could create a sense of togetherness and community spirit, even when teams couldn’t be together in a physical space.

The Mind Matters Taskforce chose four particular projects which it found to be outstanding examples of how innovation could be effectively used. These were:

  • Crown Vets in Inverness which has trained up members of staff to be ‘Wellbeing Champions’ who can help colleagues with emotional support and coping strategies as well as providing emergency contacts for those in need, including during the pandemic. The practice will be using the award to organise a virtual bingo night for staff, including those on furlough, with prizes.
  • Millennium Vets in Braintree, Essex, which has organised an online bootcamp-style exercise group taking place at 9.30am, 7-days a week so that staff could continue to socially interact while also improving their physical and mental health. The practice will be using the award to purchase exercise equipment for the practice so that staff can continue to exercise together before or after work.
  • The British Veterinary Ethnicity & Diversity Society (BVEDS) started an online fortnightly book group for its members to discuss books on racial justice, ensuring that all those involved have access to the books whether through a library or via audiobook. BVEDS will use the award to start building up a lending library for its members.
  • Friendly Animal Clinic in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, a small independent practice which had to furlough many of its staff during the height of the pandemic, will be using the award to fund equipment and refreshments for a 26km charity walk which will bring the practice team back together to wander through some of Yorkshire’s finest scenery.

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Manager, said: “I received so many lovely emails as a result of this competition from people and practices who were using innovative ways to keep up that crucial sense of community and friendship that really makes a fantastic working environment, even during these strange and unprecedented times.

“We know that the coronavirus has caused a lot of stress and anxiety within the veterinary community, whether that’s due to increased financial worries, being furloughed or being isolated from friends and loved ones, but it has been very encouraging to see practices thinking of ways that they can bring their colleagues together and provide that much-needed support and interaction. I wish these practices all the best and congratulate them on their awards.”

Further information about the Innovation in Wellbeing Award winners will be made available in due course.

Sarah's Brown family with grant recipient

MMI funds research projects to look into mental health impacts of racial discrimination and moral injury

We have awarded two £20,000 grants to two separate research projects, which will look into the mental health impacts of racial discrimination and moral injury in the veterinary professions respectively.

The Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant was founded in 2019, in memory of RCVS Council member Sarah Brown who passed away in 2017, to help fund research focusing on mental health and wellbeing in the veterinary professions, including areas such as prevention, diagnosis, intervention and treatment.

The inaugural grant was given in 2019 to Scotland’s Rural College to identify how to better promote job satisfaction and to break the cycle of negative thoughts and poor mental wellbeing identified amongst farm vets.

This year the Mind Matters Board awarded two £20,000 grants to:

  • a joint Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and British Veterinary Ethnicity & Diversity Society (BVEDS) research project entitled ‘Experiences of racism and its impacts on mental wellbeing in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people working and studying in the UK veterinary profession’. The project will be led by RVC Research Impact Officer Victoria Crossley, and BVEDS co-founder Navaratnam Partheeban. As well as gathering information about experiences of racism and their impact, the project will also determine what individuals from the BAME veterinary community think could, and should, be done to tackle racism in the veterinary professions, and gather the evidence to help design appropriate interventions for those whose mental health and wellbeing is impacted by racism and discrimination.
  • King’s College London (KCL) research project led by Professor Neil Greenberg, Dr Dominic Murphy and Dr Victoria Williamson, which will be looking at the experiences of moral injury in veterinarians and the impact that this has on mental health problems. The research will seek to understand the types of moral injuries veterinary professionals might encounter, their prevalence, the perceptions amongst professionals around how these moral injuries come about, and what support is needed when they occur. It is hoped that the research will ultimately help the development of tailored psychological treatments for veterinary professionals who experience moral injury.

Responding to the news of being awarded the grant, Professor Neil Greenberg and Dr Victoria Williamson said: “The King’s College London research team are delighted to have been awarded this funding to explore veterinarians’ experiences of moral injury. Morally injurious events are experiences which violate one’s moral or ethical code and, while moral injury is not a mental illness in its own right, it can lead to the development of mental health difficulties including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidality.

“This research project aims to explore the impact of moral injury on the wellbeing of veterinarians and their perceptions of need for support following such experiences. The findings are expected to inform future clinical practice and potentially improve the training, treatment and support available for veterinarians to help prevent moral injury and help those who suffer with it to recover.”

Victoria Crossley and Navaratnam Partheeban said: “Despite studies showing a clear association between experiences of racism and poor mental health and wellbeing, little formal research has investigated everyday racism in the UK veterinary profession and its impact on mental health. We hope that our study will help the wider sector to acknowledge and better understand the issues that exist in this area, and inform design and monitoring of interventions to tackle racism.

“As a profession that prides itself on compassion and humanity, it is important for us to remember that not only are our clients and patients important, but also our own people. The benefits of diversity within workforces are well-documented, and we hope that our findings can be used to help bring about the individual, systemic and institutional change that is required to retain diverse talent and support BAME people, to promote a stronger, more inclusive profession.

“We feel immensely honoured to receive this award in memory of Sarah Brown and are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to carry out this important research. We can’t wait to get started!”

Professor Susan Dawson, Chair of the Mind Matters Initiative, added: “Though it was a tough decision to choose the recipients of this year’s grants as all the applications were of a high standard, these two stood out because they are investigating two issues that we know are there, but which we don’t yet have the evidence-base for to really determine their prevalence, their impact and how we, as a profession, can tackle them more effectively.

“They also stood out for being solutions-focused in that the evidence will be used to find the best interventions and support mechanisms for those whose mental health has been impacted by racism and moral injury. We would like to congratulate the two research teams and look forward to working with them over the coming years.”

Both grants will be formally awarded at a special Honours & Awards evening event on Thursday 10 September and both teams will also be invited to present the results of their research at the biannual Mind Matters Mental Health Research Symposium in 2023.

Fergus Mitchell pictured with his dog

The power of exercise

Fergus Mitchell (pictured) is a 3rd year veterinary student at Nottingham University. He is the VetSoc’s Welfare Officer this academic year and is passionate about promoting mental health awareness amongst his peers. Combined with his love for sport, this has led him to start his own research into how exercise can positively impact vet students and others within the profession.

Exercise is good for us. It’s not rocket science or veterinary science for that matter, and in most cases it’s hard to argue otherwise. Regular physical exercise is well documented to benefit our physical and mental health. The recent lockdown in the UK has highlighted this further. During April and May “one hour of exercise a day” became a buzz phrase, alongside “stay at home” and “essential travel only”. Exercise was one of the things we could do, even if it were not our ‘normal’.

But, (there is always a catch, or this blog would not be worth your time) do you wish that you had more regular exercising habits?

The intense, demanding work hours vets, nurses, and students all encounter probably leave us short of time. Coupled with family lives, social lives, and never-ending to-do lists, we have plenty of reasons to not spend hours in the gym or play for local sports teams on a weekend.

I am sure a lot of members of the profession successfully manage to achieve these endeavours, but then I ask, when times get tough is it exercise that gets dropped?

I cannot speak for everyone, however, when it comes to a pressure point in my studies, for example, during exam time or on a placement, I struggle to exercise. No matter how much I know it is good for me and would help alleviate any stress, I fail to don my trainers and get out.

This personal struggle of mine and a passion for championing mental health awareness, led me to an informative talk held in the vet school. Charlie Mays chatted about his and Andy Rose’s work to set up VetFit, a research driven service for the veterinary community, which they founded after carrying out a study at the RVC. Their work led to institutional changes at their university and ignited a spark within me. For more details on their service and excellent work, search @Vetfitinsta on Instagram or visit the VetFit website.

One thing that resonated with me from that evening was this concept:

As members of the veterinary profession, it is common to identify as a vet/ vet nurse/ vet student before anything else. Many of us are so passionate about our work, it is understandably easy to let it identify us. However, does this subconscious mindset control us when it does come to pressure points (as I shared, in my experience so far, exams and placements). Do we forget the other things that make us happy and relaxed, such as exercise and sport?

After all, taking 20 minutes out of my day to go for a jog or stretching should not be an issue, I am not talking marathons or rugby matches here!

I was intrigued and wondered how we can change our habits for the better as members of a profession which is sadly, more frequently associated with poor mental wellbeing.

To investigate this further, I met with a couple of brilliant staff members here at Nottingham and planned to carry out our own research. At the time of writing this we have completed the data collection phase.

We invited first year, female vet students, who self-identified as exercising less than the NHS minimum physical activity guidelines for adults*, to participate in the project. We offered the students a free, 8-week exercise program comprising 3 sessions of activity per week.

The 3 sessions included:

  1. A circuits session led by the same instructor weekly.
  2. An intro to sports session led by individuals from already established sport societies on Sutton Bonington campus (I.e. netball, badminton, football). The sport changed weekly.
  3. A stretch/ reflect session led by myself and another student. The idea being to have a lower intensity session, relaxing the mind and body.

We had 12 participants who measured their well-being at the start, half-way through and at the end of the program, using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales. They will take a final well-being measurement 6 months after the program has ended. We aim to analyse how the structured, 8-week exercise program impacted the lives of our participants and if it has had any long-lasting effects.

We also asked for the participant’s resting heart rate at the start and end of the project and once a week during the peak intensity of their circuits session.

Additionally, we recruited a life coach to deliver a life coaching session during the program, which hopefully allowed the participants to reflect on their progress made.

Initially, we envisaged running an identical program for members of the first year April Cohort of vet students, starting their course this spring. However, due to the pandemic, their arrival on campus was postponed and as such we have not been able to go ahead with that this year.

The data collected will be analysed as part of my 3rd year dissertation at Nottingham University and I hope to share any findings with you in another blog soon.

I’d like to extend my thanks and gratitude to the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative team for helping us with funds, the UoN Sports staff for allowing us to use their facilities at a reduced rate, all the sports societies’ presidents and captains for giving up their time, Georgie Bladon, Sabine Tötemeyer and Amy Sansby who were brilliant support and Caroline Quarmby for kindly offering to take the circuits session each week for free. And of course, thanks to all the participants for giving their time and energy to the program too!

Without these people the project would not have been possible to run.

*NHS guidelines for adults – do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.

Open laptop on a desk

Time to reflect with Mind Matters

We’re pleased to announce we will be holding a series of free online ‘Reflection Time’ sessions over the coming months. These facilitated sessions aim to help veterinary professionals reflect on the emotional aspects of their work in a safe, confidential online space.

The series will be facilitated by Mind Matters Manager Lisa Quigley and each monthly theme will have afternoon and evening sessions (taking place 12.30pm to 1.30pm and 7.30pm to 8.30pm respectively) to ensure that it can be accessed by people with different working and/or caring responsibilities.

The themes and timings are as follows:

  • Support from my team – Wednesday 29 July
  • Everyday leadership – Thursday 27 August
  • Juggling it all – Thursday 17 September and Thursday 24 September
  • A lesson learned – Thursday 22 October and Thursday 29 October
  • Believing in myself – Thursday 19 November and Thursday 26 November

In addition to the Reflection Time sessions Lisa Quigley will also be hosting a free series of informal online ‘Lunchtime Learning’ sessions in which she will give an overview of Mind Matters activities and how to get involved.

Broader issues around mental health and wellbeing in the professions will also be covered. Each session starts at 12.30pm and will take place on:

  • Friday 31 July
  • Friday 25 September
  • Friday 30 October
  • Friday 27 November

Lisa Quigley commented: “The Mind Matters Reflection Time sessions are an excellent opportunity for members of the profession to take themselves away from their clinical day-to-day work, and to pause and reflect on the more emotional aspects of themes such as support, leadership, work-life balance and learning culture. All members of the practice team are welcome, including veterinary and veterinary nursing students.

“The feedback that we had from the previous sessions was very positive, with many saying they valued the opportunity to share and reflect on their experiences in a safe space.

“I look forward to hearing the reflections of members of the profession about these important topics and helping them to integrate their insights into working life, as well as introducing people to the excellent work of the Mind Matters Initiative via the Lunchtime Learning sessions.”

Details on how to sign-up are available in the Events section.

Vet wellbeing awards logo

‘Practice Wellbeing Star’ nominations open to recognise those creating positive workplaces in challenging times

The Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) and the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) has opened the 2020 Practice Wellbeing Star nominations to recognise those individuals who are helping to create a positive workplace environment even under the present difficult circumstances.

The nominations allow practices to recognise someone at their workplace who has helped to hold up morale during a time when practices are facing unprecedented staffing and financial issues, and have taken it upon themselves to foster a positive work environment even despite the current challenging climate.

The Practice Wellbeing Star nominations were launched in 2019 to accompany the Practice Wellbeing Awards. The Awards, which recognise practices with management systems and initiatives that promote wellbeing, will not be run in 2020 because of the current pressures on practices and because many practice staff have been furloughed.

Liz Barton, SPVS representative on the Mind Matters Taskforce, said: “With great regret we have had to postpone the Practice Wellbeing Awards as we recognise that practices may neither have the time nor resources right now to go through our comprehensive application process. However, there is still definitely a place for recognising those individuals who are going above-and-beyond to help their colleagues navigate their way through these difficult times.

“Nominating a team member is a great opportunity to discuss with your team and reflect on the positive things that are happening, and to nominate one person who has been particularly invested in contributing to creating positive team culture. The Practice Wellbeing Star nominations are open to all veterinary practices, and teams, including those working in universities, industry and business.

“We look forward to receiving your nominations and celebrating exceptional individuals who are committed to improving the mental health and wellbeing of their colleagues.”

Members of the veterinary team who are nominated for as a Practice Wellbeing Star will receive a certificate in recognition of their colleagues’ appreciation of their achievements. Alongside this, all recipients will be entered into the prize draw for a pair of tickets to attend the joint SPVS and Veterinary Management Group Congress in January 2021. Further information on how to nominate is on the Vet Wellbeing Award website.

The closing date for Practice Wellbeing Star nominations is Friday 20 November 2020.