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Graphic illustration of workplace activity with VN Futures and MMI logos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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