Urge the RCVS to set minimum standards of support for new graduates to help mental health
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Mental health within the veterinary profession has long been a topic of reflection and melancholy for veterinary surgeons, nurses and students as well as for their friends and families. The professional body that governs vets within the UK (The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) has taken steps to investigate and promote mental well-being over the past few years, most recently in the form of the 'Mind Matters Initiative' (1) and the ‘Vet Futures Project’ both of which have made much welcomed recommendations. It has also been encouraging to see the Vet Futures Summit recognising this issue and recently voting as their top priority to support the Mind Matters Initiative. However it is disappointing to see little material change within the veterinary profession and its governance over the past few years despite the deeply concerning mental health statistics that have been evident for even longer.
Vets are 3-4 times more likely than the general population to die by suicide (2). Many reasons and work related factors have been associated with this shocking statistic but sadly, despite efforts, it has not decreased. A particularly difficult and vulnerable period within a vet’s career has been highlighted to be as a new or recent graduate and making the transition from university to clinical practice. Further studies have highlighted these concerns and produced more shocking statistics which include but are not limited to:
o 21.2% of new graduates having suicidal thoughts within their lifetime (3)
o 8.7% of new graduates contemplating suicide (3)
o 5.3% of new graduates currently suffering from mental health problems (3)
o 38.7% of veterinary students having suicidal thoughts (2)
When nearly half of the new graduates entering work have already experienced mental health issues and nearly 1 in 10 of them have considered suicide (which would equate to 15 of my friends and colleagues from my years graduating class) it is time to make rapid, meaningful and substantial changes to new graduates support across the country.
The main reason often associated with the poor metal health of new graduates is lack of adequate support. The clear deficiency of this support can be seen in many studies and the results of it can be seen in the statistics of the RCVS' very own new graduate survey.
o 23.7% of practices never discussed cases with new graduates (3)
o 35.6% of practices never gave new graduates appraisals (3)
o 16.2% of practices never had someone to help a new graduate when performing a surgical procedure for the first time (3)
o 72.2% of new graduates left their job within the first 6 months(4)
I urge the RCVS to fast track the creation of a set of minimum standards that practices must provide to their new graduates in order to adequately support them. I ask that the RCVS make substantial and material change in new graduate support, in order to prevent further mental health suffering and needless loss of life of some of the most compassionate and committed people in the profession.
1. Create an active and purposeful mental health working group or committee within the RCVS to tackle what should be the most important matter to them, the health of the profession.
2. Create a minimum set of standards for supporting new graduates that must be met and would either be incorporated into the Practice Standards Scheme (PSS) or the Code of Professional Conduct.
3. Have new graduate representatives, who know about and/or have experienced the issues we wish to address incorporated into the RCVS.
My own story:
I graduated from Edinburgh University in 2015 as a veterinary surgeon and joined a corporate veterinary group who had established a strong and supportive new graduate program. This program gave me a lot of the much needed support which other new graduates do not receive however I still recognised what a tough and sudden transition it was from being in university to working in clinical practice. I know many of my colleagues did not receive such good support and suffered for it. During my time at university I knew of at least 5 students, across all of the veterinary schools in the UK, who committed suicide which is a horrifying statistic in its own right. I attempted to improve mental health provision for students in partnership with Edinburgh Vet School and the Association of Veterinary Students (AVS) who have always been very supportive and interested in their student’s mental health. It severely frustrates me to find the veterinary profession nationally has not taken swifter and more meaningful steps to address the mental health issues within the new graduate community. Every year that passes without change, or simply discussion panels, puts more lives at risk, a lot of whom are my friends and colleagues. That is why I have created this petition, to urge faster and stronger changes in order to protect my colleagues and profession.
1. Mind Matters: new mental health initiative launched. www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-events/news/mind-matters-initiative-new-veterinary-mental-health-and Accessed June 21,2016
2. Vet Futures (2015) , Statistics about mental health within the UK veterinary profession
3. R.E.W Halliwell et al, (2016), Stress in new graduates: can the profession do more to help?, Veterinary Record 2016;178:635-636
4. Robinson.D and Buzzeo.J (2013), RCVS Survey of Recent Graduates,Institute for Employment Studies.
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