Helping veterinary students develop and succeed goes well beyond the classroom, and we take our responsibility to our students very seriously. That includes providing them with essential resources to better develop and protect their personal wellness so they can perform with excellence. Our veterinary students are academically exceptional: the class of ’18’s mean college GPA is 3.7, but evidence shows that students in both human medicine and veterinary medicine tend to experience more anxiety and depression than the general population and that they increase over the course of their four years of professional education. Even when students graduate and enter veterinary practice, some experience poor emotional health such as depression, anxiety, and—the worst outcome—suicide. This problem can be attributed to both the stressful aspects of veterinary education and practice. I have charged our college with looking at factors in our curriculum and culture that either support or inhibit the wellness of our veterinary students.

With the help of our associate dean of students, the Veterinary Social Work program, the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association and faculty, we surveyed our students on a number of topics and found they are really gritty, a quality associated with having long-term goals and being able to accomplish them no matter the odds. Our students’ level of grit is essentially identical to that of West Point cadets.

Regrettably, our students also report a high level of anxiety, and one measure points to a high rate of depression. Those results are in line with other veterinary colleges. We are addressing these issues by working hard to develop a comprehensive wellness program that supports not only our students, but also our college as a whole. Our faculty serve as role models, and it is important that they, too, know what it means to be a healthy person and a healthy veterinarian. We hope to address the wellness of faculty, staff, our students, and, ultimately, the wellness of the profession.
I consider this an almost grassroots movement within our college. Our faculty overwhelmingly supported the creation of a required course that will span all four years of veterinary education. The course will focus on leadership, communication skills, ethics, business management, and health and wellness. We hope to have that course in place as early as next fall.

Dr. Claudia Kirk, our associate dean of Academic and Student Affairs, incorporated a survival workshop during orientation for our first-year students that addressed financial wellness, stress management techniques, and test-taking skills—all primary concerns for first-year veterinary students. Last year, she also established roundtable discussions with students about balancing home and work life before they began their fourth year on rotations in the Veterinary Medical Center. We have several faculty members who lead group exercise programs on-site. In our survey we learned that 48 percent of the respondents exercise two times or more a week, and our short term goal is to improve that number to 60 percent over the next year.

People who write about suicide in our profession all agree the underlying issues need to be addressed while students are studying veterinary medicine. Instilling in them a need for self-care as an ethical responsibility to themselves as well as to their patients is our responsibility and should be part of our curriculum. So, it is fitting that we are taking steps to incorporate wellness in our students’ preparation and also for the lives of our faculty and staff.