UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine prioritizes student well-being

Veterinary students often face significant mental health challenges, but UCDSVM offers counseling, financial literacy curricula, and more to help relieve stress

By SONORA SLATER – science@theaggie.org

Content warning: suicide. Resources for national and local emergency phone lines and 24/7 text lines are listed below.

For students looking for psychological support, there are some resources here:

・ Mental health visits: Advisory services are available over the phone or via secure video conferencing. Make an appointment through the Health e-messaging portal or by calling 530-752-0871. All mental health crisis counseling services are provided by telephone or secure video conferencing. Call 530-752-0871 to access these services.

・ LiveHealth Online: Secure online video visits to licensed mental health professionals and general practitioners; no bank transfer is required.

・ Therapy Support Online: Use interactive tools and exercises to help you self-care for mental health issues.

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

Budding veterinarians face many hurdles, from high student debt to frequent impostor syndrome, competitive academics, and simply the emotionally stressful nature of careers. According to a 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, female veterinarians were 3.5 times more likely and male veterinarians were 2.1 times more likely to die from suicide compared to the general population.

Despite high job satisfaction, 52% of veterinarians in the US would not recommend a career in the veterinary profession, according to a 2020 study by Merck Animal Health. The same study found that veterinarians had higher burnout rates than doctors despite working shorter hours.

Since UC Davis Veterinary School is among the best in the world, how does it balance its academic rigor and prestige – and an introduction to the realities of the profession – with the psychological wellbeing of its students?

According to Dr. Joie Watson, Assistant Dean of Vocational Education and Training at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (UCDSVM), is one of the first obstacles the program faces in helping students break away from the competitive mindset.

“It’s very competitive to come here and this competition is almost everything they know,” said Watson. “But once you’re here, what’s the mission for the next four years? Learn and understand so that they can become the best practitioner they can be. The goal is not to be a better practitioner than anyone else. We say it on the first day, we say it on the second day, we say it on the third day. “

Lindsay Allen, a freshman at UCDSVM, said she was pleasantly surprised by the emphasis on collaboration rather than peer competition during the orientation.

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

“Let me start by saying that I loved my time at Davis 100% and I am so grateful for the life, experiences and tools it gave me,” Gracia said via a direct message on Instagram. “But I think they could do better with their animal science students on manufacturing [us not] feel like a number On my first day of school in Davis, everyone who wanted to be a vet had raised their hands and said less than a third of us would actually get there. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of my four years and created a constant state of fear for my future. “

Despite the barrier that competitive science presents, it is not limited to just veterinary medicine. So what other factors play a role in your wellbeing statistics?

“The biggest thing I’ve seen is imposter syndrome – people think you’re a lot more skilled than you feel,” Allen said. “They expect perfection, and that’s just not reality. Often times you don’t know, there is no definitive diagnosis or you cannot fix it, or the customer is on a budget and you are trying to work within that range. And that is reinforced when you go to work. ”

Kelsee Tran, a freshman at UCDSVM, suggested another unique stressor.

“We’re one of the few professions where it’s okay to euthanize your patients based on their quality of life, and I know this part can be stressful and stressful for vets,” Tran said via email.

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

“I think I’ve been a veterinarian for 35 years and I know the challenges I’ve faced, but we need to identify the current challenges faced by students, and these are always changing,” said Watson. “It really starts with communication. To be in communication with our student body and find out how we can best help them. “

One response they had to ease the challenges facing students was to make significant changes to the structure of the curriculum to reduce total hours of class time from around 35 to 40 hours per week to 20 to 25 hours, according to Watson .

“We had more and more stress and burnout among students, and we were concerned that they weren’t getting a deep understanding,” said Watson. “They were happy and then erased information from their heads and raced from test to test.”

Watson went on to describe the psychological support the school offers, including two full-time psychologists working with veterinary students and “deliberate academic mentoring,” where mentors and students meet four times a year to discuss educational goals and barriers to their education or training other challenges they face. She admitted that her support system was “imperfect”.

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

Even if the students receive exemplary support in their well-being during school, completely new challenges await them after graduation.

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

Watson said the school is working to also incorporate preparation for after-school challenges into its curriculum, including financial education courses as well as mock interviews and mock salary negotiations.

She further stressed that “Veterinarians face a time constraint” with just four years to learn a great deal of information about their future careers. Instead, Watson said, “We want them to learn how to learn,” so hopefully they can learn for a lifetime and adapt to their work environment.

“We were sent to this planet to change the lives of animals,” Gracia wrote in a recent Instagram post reflecting on her first few weeks of college. “To make the world a little brighter … I hope this resonates with at least one person who is important to you, that your life is important … kind to yourself and take care of yourself.”

For students looking for mental health assistance, here are some resources:

・ Mental health visits: Advisory services are available over the phone or via secure video conferencing. Make an appointment through the Health e-messaging portal or by calling 530-752-0871. All mental health crisis counseling services are provided by telephone or secure video conferencing. Call 530-752-0871 to access these services.

・ LiveHealth Online: Secure online video visits to licensed mental health professionals and general practitioners; no bank transfer is required.

・ Therapy Support Online: Use interactive tools and exercises to help you self-care for mental health issues.

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

Written by: Sonora Slater – science@theaggie.org