Wellbeing as A Day One Competency for ALL Veterinary Healthcare Professionals

by Virginia Corrigan

What if all schools and colleges of veterinary medicine, as well as all veterinary technology/veterinary nursing, and veterinary assistant programs, had comprehensive and evidence-based wellbeing frameworks and programs in place in order to best set up students, faculty, and staff for success? What if wellbeing wasn’t just something that was talked about, but was actually integrated into the culture, the formal and informal curriculum, and within the core values and leadership philosophy of the institutions themselves? How can prioritizing and operationalizing our approach to wellbeing help us to not only foster the passion that draws people to this profession, but also keep that fire burning brightly for a sustained and thriving career in veterinary medicine?

My idea is to develop a comprehensive wellbeing framework, including day one wellbeing competencies for all veterinary healthcare professionals, that could be applied to AVMA accredited veterinary medical and veterinary technician/nurse educational institutions. I propose creating a pilot program within our newly developed Veterinary Technology Program at Appalachian State University as the first step.

An excellent example that we can adapt on the human medical side is The Ohio State University’s LIVE WELL framework that is integrated into their human nursing program. The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) has recognized Ohio State as the first university in the nation as a role model in wellness and prevention. The efforts span across multiple areas of the university, and have resulted in a significant return on investment. The college has identified “personal and professional wellness” as core values and incorporates wellbeing throughout academic programs, as well as an established culture in the workplace.

In order to ensure that the wellbeing framework is comprehensive, all aspects of wellbeing should be considered; Cornell has an excellent infographic that outlines a holistic approach to wellbeing.

A specific program that can be piloted, alongside the framework, is the MINDBODYSTRONG program. This is an evidence based, cognitive-behavioral skills building effort that all nursing students participate in as part of the curriculum that enhances resiliency and mental wellbeing, and is backed by more than 20 years of research. A very recent JAVMA publication revealed that a pilot of the MINDSTRONG program in veterinary students led to significant improvements in depressive symptoms, anxiety, and healthy lifestyle beliefs and behaviors.

Proposed steps to implementation:
Research and adapt existing evidence-based overarching wellbeing frameworks
In Australia, The Enhancing Student Wellbeing project has been developed by the Melbourne Center for the Study of Higher Education, which is a suite of resources to assist university educators to develop policies, curriculum and teaching and learning environments that better support mental health. Looking at our colleagues in human nursing; an entire chapter within the recent book “The Future of Nursing 2020-2030” is devoted to supporting the health and professional wellbeing of nurses. Within this chapter, wellbeing frameworks for educational institutions are outlined that are recommended by the National Academies to support students, faculty, staff, and students to contribute to a culture of wellbeing as a strategic priority. Several successful wellbeing interventions within human nursing educational programs are also outlined.

Develop standards for workplace wellbeing and psychological safety
Regarding the clinical settings in which our students are being educated (inclusive of veterinary teaching hospitals as well as distributive model clinical sites); we can develop national standards for workplace wellbeing and psychological safety and utilize evidence-based approaches that are being implemented in other countries. Garth Jordan proposed integrating the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the workplace that has been developed in Canada.

Develop day one wellbeing competencies for all veterinary healthcare professionals, including methods of assessment
Define and refine what specific competencies are needed to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation in veterinary medical professionals, including resilience and mindfulness. The AAVMC Wellbeing Curriculum Competencies Working Group is currently working on developing wellbeing competencies, including specific assessment strategies, for DVM curricula within the Competency Based Veterinary Education (CBVE) framework. These could be translated over into the newly formed Competency Based Veterinary Nursing Education (CBVNE) framework. Implement evidence-based wellbeing educational programs, such as the MINDBODYSTRONG program, to develop and assess these core competencies.

Develop and implement needs assessment and outcomes assessment strategies
Wellbeing frameworks will need to be proactive, flexible, adaptable, and individualized in order to be successful. In order to best assess the needs in each specific setting, wellbeing needs assessments can be performed to understand what specific strategies will lead to the largest impact and return on investment. Many wellbeing needs assessment strategies have been outlined by the Department of Health in New Brunswick, Canada. Another validated instrument is the Wellbeing Assessment developed by the Wellbeing Collaborative at Wake Forest University. Another important piece of developing the shared competencies, frameworks, and standards will be developing methods to assess their effectiveness. There are many evidence-based instruments available that could be widely used and effectively implemented, such as the Professional Quality of Life scale and the PERMAH Wellbeing Survey, which integrates an evidence based theory of wellbeing that is the focus of Positive Psychology research.

Hire an Academic Wellbeing Professional to oversee, implement, and assess institutional wellbeing efforts. An Academic Veterinary Wellbeing Professional should be employed in each institution; in the Ohio State example, a Chief Wellness Officer is in place to lead university-wide efforts to create and sustain a culture of wellness.

With the potential for synergy, collaboration, and widespread positive impact, it makes sense for veterinary professional educational institutions and allied organizations to collaborate on efforts to develop comprehensive wellbeing frameworks and competencies for all veterinary healthcare professionals. A pilot program could be developed within the newly developed Veterinary Technology Program at Appalachian State University as the first step.