There are four areas that we are focusing on to help students handle the pressures of the veterinary profession: information gathering, education, mental health counseling, and building a community of support.
Tufts University and Cummings School are proactively gathering information on how to support the mental health of our students. Tufts has launched a university wide Mental Health Taskforce. The task force which includes students, faculty and administrators hopes to better understand the needs and stressors for students, as well as remove the stigma around mental health challenges. The primary sources of information are from direct conversations with students, Listening Sessions, in which students gather to candidly share their concerns and thoughts regarding mental health, and the Healthy Minds Survey. Cummings School held its first Listening Session this past September. The Healthy Minds Survey is an annual web-based survey examining mental health, service utilization and related issues among undergraduate and graduate students. This will be the first year Cummings School will be participating in this study that has been administered at over 150 colleges and universities.
Numerous educational opportunities are available for students to help teach coping skills.
Tufts Healer’s Art Elective Course ran in spring 2017 with 25 students participating. The course consists of five 3-hour sessions and emphasizes experiential learning. The capacity of this annual course will be increased this spring to accommodate additional students.
We currently have 3 All One Health Seminars planned. Each will focus on a singular topic of mindfulness training, embracing stress, or time management.
Cummings Thrive is a student initiated group. The students, with faculty involvement, meet monthly for wellness training opportunities. Some of the topics they will be discussing include Positivity and Emotional Wellness, Team Building and Team Communication, and Conflict Management.
The Mental Health First Aid Seminars provide guidance to recognize others who might be in distress. The tools provide aid so attendees can be supportive, lead those individuals in need to professional assistance, and help them develop and use coping strategies. Seventeen faculty, staff and students attended the first of this series in October.
Additionally, Cummings School representatives including a counselor, faculty members and student leaders attended the Mental Health and Wellness Summit organized by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. The Summit brings together veterinary educators and leaders from around the world to share knowledge and best practices, while developing clear goals and actions to address mental health issues facing veterinarians. These representatives then bring their learning back to campus to be put into practice.
Counseling is available at Cummings School from two mental health counselors on campus for a total of 16 hours per week, as well as the 24 hour/7 day a week phone counseling line. Additionally, Cummings Veterinary Medical Center recently added a social worker to its full-time staff. This trained mental health professional works with clients as well as others working in the hospitals which includes students on rotations, interns, residents, faculty and technicians. He assists them in handling hospital issues including difficult cases and clients. In order to help alleviate academic stressors each new student is assigned a faculty advisor. They may also partake in academic counseling in the form of peer tutoring from residents, review sessions and study skills resources. There is also a big brother/big sister program for first year students to help acclimate them to veterinary school.
All of these programs help build a community of caring for students to feel comfortable addressing their wellness needs. This fellowship grows from programs that minimize the stigma of discussing difficulties, and identifies community members that will listen. Two programs that directly support a caring community are:
Finding Meaning in Veterinary Medicine. During the small group Finding Meaning in Veterinary Medicine meetings relationships deepen and support networks are formed. These off-campus meetings center on a single topic that is usually one of universal experiences or one of the basic values that doctors and students hold in common. The Finding Meaning conversations offer a rare opportunity to talk about experiences and issues not usually shared among students/peers with the kind of support, understanding and insight only possible in a conversation with others who share similar experiences.
The Wellness Button Campaign is a support network in which those community members wearing a button are signaling to others that they are committed to listening supportively and confidentially to the person in need. If the person is in crisis, the button wearer is also committed to connecting the person who seeks their help to a professional when appropriate. All button wearers have gone through suicide prevention training and a protocol is in place for employee assistance when needed.