4th Annual AAVMC Wellness Summit Held at CSU

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 17, 2016 – As is the case in many of the health professions, wellness and mental health issues are a concern in both the veterinary medical profession and the academic centers that support it. But leaders from each have been teaming up to address the problem over the past several years.

Those efforts continued to build momentum during the Fourth Annual AAVMC Health and Wellness Summit, hosted in November 2016 by the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in Fort Collins. The conference was the first to involve veterinary students and practitioners, along with educators, social workers and counselors.

Themed “Reaching New Heights in Veterinary Well-Being,” the summit attracted about 270 people and included three days of presentations and workshops designed to raise awareness and develop strategies for addressing the mental health issues affecting both practitioners and students.

AAVMC Chief Executive Officer Dr. Andrew T. Maccabe noted during the opening session that veterinary medicine is tackling concerns about practitioner wellbeing that are shared in related fields, including nursing, dentistry and human medicine.

Maccabe called on veterinary colleagues to de-stigmatize mental health problems, to encourage resilience among students and practicing professionals, and to remember that help is available for those suffering with depression, anxiety and other mental-health concerns.

“This conference is aimed at raising awareness so that we can deal with this problem openly,” Maccabe said. “We need to turn to our professional colleagues in mental health to solve this issue.”

Dr. Michele Gaspar, a feline veterinarian and licensed professional counselor from Chicago, noted during an opening talk that veterinary medicine is physically, emotionally and intellectually demanding. The field requires that practitioners ably handle the medical needs of sick and dying animal patients, as well as the concerns of frequently distressed animal owners.

These aspects of veterinary work – combined with the traits of introversion and perfectionism shared by many people in the field – may contribute to depression, anxiety and even suicide among some veterinary professionals, Gaspar said. She suggested that veterinary schools consider ways to develop “antidotes to perfectionism,” teaching students the self-compassion that builds confidence, competence and resilience.

Dr. Mark Stetter, dean of CSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, demonstrated his own wellness pledge by riding into the crowded conference hall on his mountain bike, wearing cycling gear and a helmet. The entrance was meant to demonstrate that veterinarians must prioritize their own wellbeing to effectively care for animal patients and their human owners.

“This profession is facing a serious crisis, and we’re here to make a difference,” Stetter said in welcoming remarks. “When we’re healthier, we’re able to be more resilient, we’re able to deal with stress, and we’re able to demonstrate this in our personal and professional lives.”

As the conference closed, students, practitioners, social workers and industry leaders said they felt energized about the ideas and tools that were shared.

“There is a strong feeling that we have hit a tipping point and that this problem is becoming a top priority,” Stetter said. “We are poised to make a difference across the veterinary profession.”

The summit was sponsored by Zoetis and VCA, with additional support from the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), AVMA LIFE, AVMA PLIT, and Banfield Pet Hospital.

The AAVMC is a nonprofit membership organization working to protect and improve the health and welfare of animals, people and the environment around the world by advancing academic veterinary medicine. Members include 49 accredited veterinary medical colleges in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Mexico.

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The AAVMC would like to express its appreciation to the communications team at Colorado State University for their assistance in content development.

Jeff Douglas or Jeanne Johnson                                                                                      
Phone:  202/371-9195, x144                                                                                           
Email: jjohnson@aavmc.org