New research indicates that the veterinary profession could be making progress in addressing issues such as stress, burnout and compassion fatigue which affect the mental health of many of those working in the sector.
The survey is the latest by the organisers of VET Festival to test the state of the profession’s well-being ahead of the event’s return in May 2022. In a key finding, more than three quarters (76 percent) of the 400 respondents described their mental health as “reasonable” or “very good”, while almost three quarters (71 percent) said there was someone at work they could talk to about their mental health and 80 percent knew where to access information and support.
These encouraging responses were given despite the backdrop of the pandemic, which the survey confirmed has put the profession under additional strain. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said their workload had increased since it struck, with just under half (44 percent) saying they were working longer hours. Sadly, despite 90 percent of practices changing their working practices during the pandemic, (85 percent citing online consultations and 35 percent citing flexible or home working), 63 percent felt that these changes had not been beneficial to their mental health.
That there is room for improvement in the well-being of the sector is reinforced by the fact that almost 60 percent felt that their work/life balance was not right and 82 percent were worried about their financial situation.
One respondent said that the problems they were experiencing weren’t necessarily the fault of their practice, saying: “It is really not the practice that is the problem. The main issue is chronic understaffing in our industry, outside of practice control… It doesn’t help to make practices easy scapegoats for this chronic problem, which has been made worse by BREXIT and COVID-19 but… has been a problem for years before this.”
The research was conducted among previous delegates to VET Festival and the wider veterinary community. VET Festival, which combines clinical CPD with a strong focus on veterinary well-being, will take place on 20 to 21 May 2022 in the outdoor setting of Loseley Park, near Guildford, with the support of MWI Animal Health. A similar survey VET Festival conducted in 2019 showed that half of those questioned hadn’t even recognised veterinary well-being as an issue.
The survey results show a complex picture with differences based on respondents’ length of time in the profession and their role. For instance, those who had been in the industry longest felt that the pandemic had impacted their mental health less (66 percent of those in the profession for 10 plus years compared with 79 percent for those in the profession for up to six years). They also appear to be more aware of where to access support and information (89 percent of those in the profession 10 plus years, 71 percent of those in the profession for up to six years), but feel they have fewer people they can talk to at work (68 percent of those in the profession 10 plus years, 76 percent of those in the profession for up to six years).
Interestingly, a higher proportion of veterinary nurses (76 percent) felt that they had someone at work that they could speak to than vets (62 percent).
Line managers appear to have borne more of the brunt of the impact of the pandemic. When asked how their workload had been impacted, 61 percent of those in management roles reported working longer hours compared with 41 percent of non-managers. One respondent commented: “As a director, I feel I should be available at all times which causes me stress outside work. If my colleagues could be mindful that I am also human, this would help.”
Overall, the research suggests that the veterinary profession is more aware of the pressures on veterinary teams and is taking some steps to mitigate it and support staff better. Encouragingly, 97 percent said they felt supported by their colleagues, 75 percent said they felt that their practice had strong leaders and managers and 90 percent said that they loved their job.
Respondents were asked what resources practices were putting in place to support their well-being at work. The provision of online resources was the most commonly reported (by 50 percent), followed by the availability of a counselling service (41 percent) and flexible working (40 percent). While this is an improvement, the fact that almost half of all those questioned still don’t have access to online resources to support them at work and almost 60 percent have no access to counselling or an opportunity to work more flexibly, is a continuing cause for concern.
When asked what more could be done to improve their well-being at work, simple solutions such as taking a lunch break, having a pleasant room at work in which they could relax and receiving recognition for hard work were the most commonly proposed. One respondent cited the importance of simple incentives, such as prizes, commenting that “workload and staffing levels are unlikely to improve in the near future so anything that can improve morale will, in turn, improve mental health.”
The survey was conducted by VET Festival, in collaboration with the Veterinary Management Group (VMG), the professional association for all those in leadership and management roles in the veterinary sector.
Commenting on the findings, VET Festival Director Nicole Cooper said: “It’s encouraging to see that some progress may be being made in improving wellness in the veterinary profession. It’s something that we have championed from the start and we hope that the results of our latest survey will add some insight into the challenges the sector still faces.
“We know from talking to our delegates that they’re really looking forward to getting back to face-to-face learning and we are delighted to be back. In addition to clinical learning, our wellness stream will, once again, give delegates practical solutions to help them manage their day-to-day stress, with topics such as developing resilience, managing change and evidence-based mindfulness on this year’s programme.
“We are looking forward to offering our delegates an unforgettable two days, during which they can properly catch up with colleagues and friends, learn and have fun in the great outdoors.”
Rich Casey, senior vice president of the VMG, added: “These findings are certainly encouraging but there is no room for complacency as the pandemic has made an already tough working environment even harder. The veterinary profession is diverse and multi-generational so an inclusive response is essential to ensure that all members feel supported and valued.
“Looking ahead, as the veterinary environment continues to evolve, it may be necessary to reimagine the way the profession works to ensure that we are, in the future, able to offer a working environment in which all of our teams can truly thrive.”
VET Festival also offers a unique Wellness Hub, supported by long-term partner international animal health products company MWI Animal Health, in which a range of practical activities will be offered to support delegates in improving their day-to-day well-being, with representatives of Vetlife also on hand to offer advice and support.