‘Confusing’ tone on health and well-being in Futures report - Veterinary Practice
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‘Confusing’ tone on health and well-being in Futures report

Shams Mir looks at the Vets Futures document on behalf of the BVU and finds that as far as dealing with stress is concerned the recommendations do not go nearly far enough.

to address the future of the veterinary

It has many valuable
recommendations for the profession’s
future: for instance, encouraging vets
to take a proactive
and leading role
in animal health
and welfare,
in scientific
advancements, and
in communicating
and demonstrating
the value that
we can bring to
society as a whole.

On subjects like
enhancing well-
being in the profession, however, we
feel the recommendations do not go
far enough, hence more focused action
is urged.

Although we are pleased to see that
the report devotes a section to the
health and well-being of veterinary
professionals, we find the tone of this
section somewhat confusing.

Unmatched expectations

According to the surveys cited in the
report, “half of vets who graduated
within the last eight years reported
that their careers had not matched
their expectations” and “10% said
they wished to leave the profession
entirely”. Furthermore, “vets who
were qualified for five years or more
were least optimistic about the future,
rating their opportunities for career
progression less positively”. The report
rightly recognises these figures as a
“wake-up call”!

Referring to various surveys included
in the report, it states that (1) “nearly
90% of vets … considered veterinary
work to be stressful”, (2) “stress of
veterinary work came high on the
agenda for vets and veterinary nurses
and others in the veterinary team”, (3)
“survey of BVA members found that
reducing stress was the single highest
priority for many – vets in small animal
practice, younger vets and women
[vets]”, (4) “better veterinary wellbeing
was the top goal for … veterinary
students and recent graduates”, and (5) “many vets in practice, and veterinary nurses, emphasised stress
in the telephone interviews and focus

Surprisingly, after emphasising all
the above, the report subsequently
appears to seek to downplay the issue
of stress – stating, for example, that “stress is not
always a problem
in itself” and
that “we do …
counsel caution
around allowing
the profession to
become de ned
solely in terms
of the stress”
and it goes on
to quote figures
from other high stress professions as if to legitimise
the stress experienced by veterinary
professionals. Surely the reaction
should be to address the issue, rather
than seek to justify or normalise it?

The report focuses on questioning
vets’ ability to cope with stress and
recommends looking into changes in
the selection process of veterinary
and nurse students, and the inclusion
of stress management modules in
veterinary curriculum. The only
“targeted” and “proactive approach”
the report puts forth to address
workplace stress in veterinary practice
is “regular appraisals for all members
of the veterinary team, as well as the
importance of personal development

We agree that some improvements
in selection of the veterinary and
veterinary nurse students might help,
as might the introduction of stress
management in veterinary education.
Indeed, workplace appraisals and
personal development plans are
important in any workplace setting,
but in practice they generally deal with
ensuring efficiency and productivity
rather than identifying and addressing
the level of stress faced by a worker.

In fact, in its entire discourse on
well-being, stress and suicides, the
report fails to make any mention of
industrial (employment) relations1 in
the profession, which we consider to
be quite a worrying omission. The
report refers to vets as “following a
vocation”, which implicitly suggests that they are supposed to put up with
whatever their job throws at them.

In a conclusive remark, it further
states that: “Many actions needed to
tackle stress fall to employers to deliver.
Any investment employers make here
should reap rewards in the long term.”
Of course employers will bene t
if their workforce is mentally and
physically t, but should not the focus
here be on
the well-being
of veterinary
rather than the
“rewards” for
the employers?

surveys have
established that
a great majority
of veterinary
enjoy their
professional work, so what factors then
lead to stress, mental health issues and
sadly in some cases to suicides? We
would suggest these have to be the
circumstances under which vets deliver
their professional services.

Appalling mistreatment

The BVU has previously published
stories in this periodical of appalling
mistreatment of vets and nurses
at their workplaces. We believe the
issues around working contracts, poor
working conditions, unreasonable
working hours, poor flexibility of
working hours, restricted clinical
freedom, fears of litigation and
professional misconduct complaints,
lack of support, bullying, excessive
pro t-related pressures, problems with
sick and maternity/paternity leave,
poor financial rewards, isolation and stagnation are the issues at the heart of
the stress and mental health problems.
There is no mention of any of these
issues in the Vet Futures report!

If stress and well-being-related
problems are to be genuinely
addressed, rather than continuing
to brush issues under the carpet,
the profession has to change its
mind-set and be open and honest in investigating
identifying the
root causes of these
and develop
strategies to
address them.

We do not
question the
intent of the
Vet Futures
project, but the approach and means being
adopted, which leave room for real
improvement. The project has got the
potential and momentum to make a
real difference to the state of well-
being of our profession.

We hope that the project takes on
board our above considerations in
a constructive spirit and we assure
the project implementers of our full
1. In the words of Lester, “Industrial
relations involve attempts at arriving
at solutions between the conflicting
objectives and values; between the
profit motive and social gain; between
discipline and freedom; between
authority and industrial democracy;
between bargaining and co-operation;
and between conflicting interests
of the individual, the group and the

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